(Full event photo gallery below)
I am not a surfer. I am not a surfer yet. Hell, I can barely swim. Going to the fourth annual San Diego Surf Film Festival I was worried I would be out-of-place, out of my element, and mostly, worried I’d be bored watching hours and hours of surf porn. Those were foolish worries. The festival spanned four days and was a celebration not just of filmmaking but art, beer, community, respect & love for the ocean and each other. Typed out that reads to me like “hippie non-sense” as my dad would say, but in the moment it was just people embracing how lucky we all are to be here. Surf films were just the catalyst for the celebration. And for those looking for it there was still plenty of surf porn.
SDSFF kicked off with a party at Green Flash. There was beer, surf movies, Daphne’s Greek falafel and a live art expo featuring Matt Beard Art, Skye Walker, Heather Ritts, Nathan Ledyard, Paul Elder & Keith Boyd. There were also a lot of glorious beards.
Opening night parties generally set the tone for a festival. SDSFF’s really inoculated everyone with leisurely, good vibes to bring to the rest of the film fest. It’s hard not to get in a good frame of mind at a brewery party. There were a few announcements and some movies on the big screens, but the live art expo was the highlight. The artists were not only making incredible art but interacting with everyone AND drinking beer. Pretty impressive. The only weird part of the night was seeing Alpine Duet IPA on the tap list at Green Flash. Also, I’m pretty sure I saw Hemingway’s surfer brother…
The rest of the festival was held at the Sherwood Auditorium in La Jolla. Previous festivals were held at Bird’s Surf Shed which by all accounts was a great venue. There was even a little grumbling from some attendees who wanted the festival to stay there, but in order to grow the event a move was necessary. By the end of the weekend those grumblings had disappeared. The Sherwood provided a great outside space with a view of the ocean, gallery space for the artists and a premium movie going experience. The only downer was they wouldn’t let any of the delicious Green Flash Soul Style IPA in the building. No food or beverage in the museum. Next year I’ll remember to pack a flask!
The first major film of the festival was a memorial tribute to Sonny Miller. Sonny was legendary surf filmmaker & photographer. There were guest speakers including Tom Curren. It felt like a eulogy & a celebration of a man’s life and impact on his community. By the end of it I felt like I knew Sonny Miller not just as a filmmaker but as a man.
Long may you ride Sonny Miller. And now, it’s Miller-time.
The tribute was followed up by a short film, “Behind the Seen.” My notes about the movie read as follows, “Holy Fuck. This makes me feel like I’ve just gone surfing. Pummeled by waves, then flying, then being caressed by a wave, pummeled again, then calming and then a brain-cleaning calmness.” That was just the beginning. Surfing served as the common thread, but SDSFF crew did a great job curating films that covered a wide variety of themes common to all people, not just surfers. There were films showcasing surfers, surf spots, travel, adventure, environmentalism, the business of surfing and the people who make it a community.
The crowd at the Sherwood spanned the gamut from surfers, artists, families with plenty of groms to people just wanting to go to the movies. The festival was split up into “Sets” that generally spanned two to four hours, and included several short films and one feature-length film or presentation. And if you needed a film break the lobby of the theater was filled with artwork to peruse, Cedar Surfboards showing off their hand-crafted wooden surf & skate boards, and the folks from H2O Trash Patrol teaching about how we can help keep our waterways clean. H2O also hosted a beach clean-up on Saturday in Cardiff, and was the charity beneficiary of the event.
Somewhere in the middle of the all this I had a chance to chat with Petra Kavanaugh about the inspiration for the festival. She co-founded SDSFF along with her husband Pierce Michael (check out the interview we did with Pierce previously) after attending a surf film festival in NYC. They couldn’t figure out how in the hell NYC had a surf film fest and San Diego with all of it’s surfing history & culture didn’t. Instead of letting that be the end of it they came back, started a website and did something about it. That first year was a wild experiment that succeeded and it has done nothing but grow since. Together with Geoffrey Smart, the duo also run Misfit Pictures out of La Jolla.
There are so many good vibes here that you just want to help out. -Keith Boyd, Artist
Despite the scope of the festival, things seemed to run smoothly. As a guest it felt like a VIP experience from start to finish and if it hadn’t kept selling out every day I would have tried to bring more people with me just to experience it. The film highlights for me included “RICO: 60 years of Rico De Souza & Surfing in Brazil,” “The Coast” & “Behind the Seen.” Weekend highlights included watching artists work, photographer Chris Burkard’s presentation, meeting people over a beer on the patio & learning how they are connected or not connected to surf, and in general, just being surrounded by good people. The whole event was more about sharing culture and experiences than anything.
At the end there were fest winners, but I left before they were announced. I wandered out of the auditorium, around the corner and looked out at the ever expansive Pacific Ocean. Waves would be crashing in and I’d let my imagination run wild, my brain creatively saturated by the San Diego Surf Film Festival.
Want to be part of the next festival? This fall will see the launch of the first Action International Film Festival featuring action sports & activism films.
(click any image below to view as slideshow)