No one would have minded if the surf was crap – this being New York – but it fired throughout the three-day event, which felt like a blessing upon this festival’s inaugural year. I was there as a judge, but surf duties had downtime priority, and though I missed Day One, I spoke with Chile-based eco-activist/film-maker, Josh Berry that night. He apologised for being spaced out but, he said, having surfed smooth overhead barrels all day, he was only half on this planet. “I just couldn’t believe I was in New York.”
On the Saturday, Long Beach and Rockaway offered groomed, glassy barrels in the 3-4ft range, and by Sunday the rock jetty A-frames had upped to 5-6ft. Co-organiser Tyler Breuer commented on what a pleasure it was to see “pumping waves for the whole weekend with so many esteemed film directors from around the world getting worked in the NY surf.” He and his crew did a great job, and Hui clearly approved, so he had a right to take pleasure in such happy misfortunes.
Oh yes, the festival. There was, ostensibly, nothing odd about the streetside sign saying “Surf Movie Tonight”. A little nostalgic maybe, but not jarring, until you flashed, again, that you were actually in core of the Big Apple, 10 minutes walk from World Trade Center ruins and never more than a block from an all-night deli. A surf film festival here? How … strange, and yet how …core. And as the general public strode by, the way people do in NY, NY, conversations halted mid-flow as they noticed the overspilling throng of blond hair, surf wear, and eyes glazed from days of barrels. The throng, for their part, were a happy mix of New Yorkers, regional pilgrims and international drop-ins who came in nightly waves so that every show sold out – 2,500 people watched 26 films over three days. The manager of Tribeca Cinemas said he’d never seen so many people sitting on the floor to see a movie and be so excited about it. The post-show Q&A sessions offered great insights from the film-makers in attendance. Favourites that I caught: Bill Ballard’s background to Archy, a brilliantly personal look at ‘80s icon and addiction-battler Matt Archbold, that brought this delicate creative process to life, allowing us to further appreciate the humble Ballard’s great talents as much as Archy’s. The guest of honour was John Milius. Somehow, watching Big Wednesday for the umpteenth time became magical with Milius and co-writer Denny Aaberg sitting at the back of the theatre. They showed a short, Little Big Wednesday, beforehand – a behind the scenes look at the making of the big one, with hilarious, dry conversational over-talk by Milius and Aaberg – followed by more moving and hilarious Q&A talk afterwards. New York loved it and clearly the Hollywood heavyweight did, too.
A winning film was almost impossible to choose, but in the end it was the truly deserving Mick Sowry’s Musica Surfica (about a few whacky days on King Island orchestrated by fins-free futurist Derek Hynd and musical master Richard Tognetti) that won the Best Feature Award. Best Short: Distant Shores by Matt Katsolis, and the Viewers’ Choice Award went, appropriately, to Mark Temme’s The Rocks, a look at the vibrant, hardcore and, I have to say, truly fantastic, New York surf scene. 2009? Be there, for more stoke and the city. ADR