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5/01/17

Drew Kampion, The New Yorker, Riding Giants.

Three wonderful things, listed chronologically, to guide my journey to this broke-ass yet weirdly elevated career stage. Throughout the 1980s, my muse, my creative North Star, was to try and be as smart and funny as Kampion was during his ’69-’70 SURFER heyday. My 1991 New Yorker subscription, unbroken to this day, lifted me dripping and afraid from the cheap blue plastic lawn pool with “SURFERS ONLY!” Sharpie-marked on the side and dropped me beachfront on the Bay of Finnegan, to observe and learn and wade forth. I am still wading.

Riding Giants took my kink for hardcore surf History and tricked it out. Do the research, always. Know your business. Know twice as much, ten times as much, as what you put out there. But lighten it up. Make it dance. Add sparkle. Riding Giants director Stacy Peralta does this again and again throughout his superb movie, but for me the real come-to-Jesus moment is seen at 00:34 in the clip above. Two quick shots. Paperboy riding on the sidewalk, followed by an Evening Outlook smacking down on a brick porch. Zoom in. Oh, It’s that famous Makaha pic with three surfers riding in formation, the legendary shot heard ’round the American surf world, the siren call to pack your duffle and steam over to Hawaii to live in a moldy Quonset hut with a five other surfer-campers and ride the big ones.

Surf nerds like me had seen the photo. We knew AP wired it out in late ’53 and the thing got printed all over the place. We knew it was life-changing for Ricky Grigg and Fred Van Dyke and others. All fine and good. What Stacy did was put us in the doorway when the paper hit the bricks.

What a rush! For the surfer bending down to the snatch up his paper in 1953, and for me in a theater seeing Giants for the first time in 2004—partly because I felt connected to that surfer of 50 years, but also because Stacy had just handed me a sharp new tool with which to chip away at surf history.

Like I say, trick it out. As in, use trickery. Don’t lie, but do what you gotta do to make it pop and sing. That first shot, of the paperboy, is just some period-appropriate stock footage. It’s the setup. The shot of the paper itself is where the magic happens. I’m just guessing, but Stacy or an assistant probably spooled through the Evening Outlook on microfiche at the local public library (Giants wasn’t made pre-internet, but I doubt the Outlook was online in the early 2000s), found the issue, had the front page mocked up, carefully wrapped the mock-up around a 2002 LA Times, then filmed the thing hitting the porch. In other words, a shitload of work for a three-second shot that on some technical level isn’t history at all, but sleight of hand. Then again . . . it is perfect. It literally raises the dead, and history, surf or otherwise, can do no better than that.

  • Sandy Ordille

    Well done Matt. Needed to rejuvenate the adventure spirit that drives us as surfers to search out exotic locations with sparkling waves to ride. The scene with surfers wrapping their boards in sleeping bags, (before the invention of board bags), got me. It brought back fine memories of traveling before the age of TSA and overbooking.

    • Matt Warshaw

      Used to have to make it us as you went. I caught a little of that in the ’70s, but those ’50s guys were full DIY

  • Celya G

    (sleight, sleight of hand, [slahyt], 1.skill; dexterity. 2.an artifice; stratagem. 3.cunning; craft.)

    • Matt Warshaw

      look how the meaning changes as you go from word to word: skill, dexterity, artifice, stratagem, cunning, craft. I love this.

      • Celya G

        Yes. Your writing’s enjoyable, spelling helps color the pictures you weave with your words. If my suggestions are wrong tell me, I’ll delete or change my suggestion.

        • Matt Warshaw

          No, no, no. I need all the help I can get! Thank you Ceyla.

          • surferpl

            And I’ve been keeping my mouth shut all this time…

    • Matt Warshaw

      Oh! I see . . . misspelled the word, duh.

      • Celya G

        Yes, I was confused so I looked up the word so the illumination for me was correct & thought to share it with you.

  • surfjac

    I routinely recommend “Riding Giants” to non-surfers. The film does it all; it informs, it celebrates the history and stories of the roots of the sport and shows surfers at their best. I’m biased but I think it’s one of the best films ever.

  • Aviva Rosenthal

    Yes. Loved that. Real struggle when you’re writing historical fiction, though, with how much to incorporate; most of the time people aren’t that engaged with fashions or current events to the point of consciously remarking on them, and sloppy writing can lead to tedious, listy, listless crap. But Stacy nailed it; still one of the best movies out there and raised the bar for the whole industry.
    Sleight, btw.

    • Matt Warshaw

      No, not at all. I meant fine, slender hand. : )

      • Aviva Rosenthal

        You are a very master of subtlety, sir.
        (I never know how to point out typos. There’s just no way to do it that doesn’t sound judgey, but when your writing is great, I figure, fuck it, worth the risk).

  • Eric Pederson

    Humans are storytellers; it is our most essential art, I believe. Those 3 seconds work brilliantly.