The Greatest Surfing Story Ever Told: A Movie Review

Deeper Shade_200X295I often feel like I need to pinch myself to make sure I’m not dreaming – my life is that good. And were it not just a metaphor, I’d have pinched myself black and blue last week when I was suddenly hopping a plane to L.A. to attend the premier of Jack McCoy’s 25th movie, A Deeper Shade of Blue, the most comprehensive movie on surf history, culture, and the evolution of surfboard design produced to date. The promotional materials cheekily assert that “this is not a surf movie.” However, it is that and yet so much more. It is an homage to the surfers who changed the way we surf, to the Hawaiian spirit of aloha, and to innovations in surfboard design that support the pursuit’s continued evolution.

hom·age |ˈ(h)ämij|
noun
special honor or respect shown publicly

The point is, however, that you don’t need to be a surfer to enjoy this movie. Watching it is the kind of experience during which you become part of the incredible vistas captured, giving even the most ocean-reticent land lubber a chance to experience what it feels like to be in, on, and under the water. Scenes like the massive waves at Teahupo’o breaking seemingly over the viewer’s head got my heart racing and made my breath catch in my throat. By combining cutting edge filming techniques with the skill of a true waterman, McCoy puts the viewer right there in the heart of the action.

McCoy is at heart an artist and this is his magnum opus. The soundtrack selections for each scene compliment the visuals so well that in several instances the melding of beauty pushed my emotional buttons to the point of eliciting serious eye misting. The underwater footage shot in crystal clear waters depicting surfboards slicing through waves rolling overhead, the reef below, and ocean life dancing in unseen currents was awe-inducing.

It contains little known historical facts, like that of the Hawaiian who dared defy the missionaries’ law forbidding surfing. I’m thinking you’ll be as surprised as I was to learn who induced Hawaiians territory-wide to return en mass to the waves. You’ll see mind-blowing footage of surfers doing what surfers do, but using radically different surfboards that seem the stuff of science fiction. Aussie Derek Hynd free-friction surfing to the sound of The BPA’s He’s Frank (featuring Iggy Pop) is inspiring, breath-catching stuff for sure. Yes, what would have happened in the evolution of surfing if the fin had never been invented? You may remember Derek from my blog post “Crossing Paths: Surf Legend Derek Hynd.”

The visuals, the story, and the way in which the director’s love for the subject matter and the community of surfers with whom he worked to produce this epic movie created an unparalleled surf movie experience for this viewer. It’s showing in theaters all over the U.S. this Thursday, March 28th for one night only. But don’t take my word for it. In one of those serendipitous events, much like those that brought me to the movie premier, Sir Paul McCartney was introduced to Jack’s work by a mutual acquaintance and the two ended up working on a video clip together called Blue Sway that includes additional footage taken for the movie and a previously unreleased song by Sir Paul. McCartney has said of Jack’s work:

I was blown away by the stunning spectacle of Jack’s work. Now that I’ve gotten to know him, I enjoy what he does even more and value greatly his contribution to the world of surfing.

 Watch A Deeper Shade of Blue right this instant by clicking on this link. How cool is that? (And in case you’re wondering, aside from the pleasure of knowing that I’m sharing a great experience with my fellow man, I stand to gain NOTHING from the sale of this movie).

Crossing Paths: Surf Legend Derek Hynd

photo by Dane Peterson

photo by Dane Peterson

Between holiday travel and the cold I inevitably pick up during said travel, I’m way behind on my writing. As promised I’m working on a story about a recent experience I had with peyote and a couple of Huichol Indians, but in the meantime, here’s a quickie about meeting a surf legend on my trip to Central California last November.

I returned to Hollister Ranch this past November with hopes of getting a little surf on this time around. My wonderful hostess Nancie, her brother Dana, and I headed down to a spot called Lefts and Rights to see if the surf was up and were treated to a vision of clean, solid four foot peelers. Considering the exclusive nature of the spot, I was surprised by the size of the crowd. Then I remembered it was a Saturday. Everyone and their dogs were at the beach.

I’d flown a nice quad surfboard to San Francisco from Maui en route to Baja, but decided to leave it in the Bay, wrapped in its protective coating of pipe insulation and cardboard. It had taken two of us enough duct tape to seal the joints in the Space Shuttle to wrap it up, and I’d never get it back together by myself for the trip to Mexico. Instead, from a collection of boards stacked in the shed attached to Nancie’s house, I borrowed an aged and dusty 6’10” egg that reminded me of my favorite Eclipse board waiting for me back in Mexico. Nancie pointed out that the board was shaped by Renny Yater’s son Lauren, another in her long list of surf industry friends.

At the break, I stood and studied the wave for several minutes before squeezing into my 4mm wet suit and heading out. The first thing I noticed was the amount of seaweed I had to cut through to get to the lineup. It tangled around my leash, creating enough drag to make me stop to pull it off in big long clumps. It reminded me of pulling long hair from around the drive shaft of a vacuum cleaner.

In the lineup, I took my time and watched as others caught one wave after another. The crowd was mostly friendly, but I sensed the tingle of territoriality hanging in the air. Wiry teenagers ripped on boards the size of potato chips, balding guys sporting spare tires around the midriff hung out on longboards waiting for their wave, and one woman, about my age, paddled by on a log. Despite the number of people in the water, it was easy to keep track of Dana in his bright blue wet suit, a thick yellow stripe running lengthwise down each side. He had an easy riding style and sat outside picking off the larger set waves on his longboard. I tried to stick fairly close without crowding him like a frightened child holding to her father’s shirt tails, despite feeling that way. Of course I wasn’t going to let anyone actually see that I was nervous. I knew I just needed to catch a few waves to stoke my confidence.

Every wave is different and every break offers the opportunity to learn something new about surfing. These waves break faster than the ones I am used to and I was glad I’d chosen the shorter Yater board over the longboards that were on offer. The wave, like a piece of music, dictates the rhythm of the dance one must employ to surf it. It took me several waves to begin to feel the beat.

Dana hollered, “Watch out!” good-naturedly as he took off on a wave I was paddling for, prompting a couple of chuckles by the men around me and a comment about the death of chivalry. The mood was improving and so were the waves.

Dana paddled back out followed by a curious-looking man with an Australian accent. He was skinny and had an odd look in his eyes. As he paddled past, we exchanged pleasantries and he commented on the conditions and how fortunate we all were. His expression of gratitude surprised me based on the general vibe in the water. I liked him instantly. He took off on one of the next waves and I looked on in amazement at what was the strangest surfing style I’d ever seen. He remained very low with his knees up by his chest, his feet lined up together like he was on a ski jump, not a wave. Nevertheless, he moved gracefully up and down the wave and even pulled a beautiful 360 that caught me completely by surprise.

Later, I watched from the beach briefly and wondered how he pulled off those spins, watched as he slid down the face sideways and did other strange maneuvers I can’t even begin to describe. When he came in, I noticed that the board he’d been riding was unlike anything I’d seen before. A series of channels ran along each side of the underside of the tail section where the fins ought to be. No fins? The tail was asymmetrical and made the board look, to this uninitiated kook, unrideable or at least like something an amateur had shaped. I was starting to think this guy might be the nutty professor of surfing when Dana introduced us.

The nutty surf professor and his ingenious finless board.

The nutty surf professor and his ingenious far field friction-free board.

“This is Derek Hynd,” he said gesturing towards the nutty professor.

Confession time. I’d heard of Derek Hynd, but didn’t know much about him, just that he was a big name in the industry and had surfed in the pro circuit long ago. I struck up a conversation with him and quickly got the sense that, like his board, his thinking was very non-linear. It was at times difficult to follow what he was saying, as it seemed completely out of context. I realized quickly that I was missing significant background information or perhaps even knowledge of the language being spoken. At one point he said something about the womb and feminist theory as it relates to surfing and I felt a sensation like whiplash jerk through my brain. To top it off, every time I tried to ask him anything about himself, he turned it around and asked me more about myself. I liked his vibe though and sensed I was the presence of a fully self-realized human being. I was hoping we’d be able to hang out with him for a while. Maybe try out that crazy surfboard myself (although I admit I probably wouldn’t do it any justice).

While we stood on the beach chatting, the surf built to well over six foot faces and everyone was saying how it would only get better as the day progressed. But Dana and Nancie had things to do and, as per the rules of The Ranch, I couldn’t surf without my host present. I reluctantly bid Derek and his friends adieu with the hope of one day getting to pick his interesting brain.

Back at home, I discovered that while there isn’t a Wikipedia entry for this enigmatic man, there are several articles written by and about him and plenty of video footage that provide a further glimpse into the mind of the legendary friction free surfer Derek Hynd.

Below I’ve shared some of the more interesting tidbits I found along with video footage of Derek on a board very similar to the one he rode that day. The waves we surfed were, shall we say, considerably smaller, but his style and approach to the wave are the same.

This video illustrates why Steve Pezman calls him the “best surfer in the recorded history of wave-riding.”

For more on Derek’s wild Far Field Friction Free ride, check out The Surfer’s Journal POV videos. In Part I he shapes the ride from an existing fish and in Part II he rides that same board.