Big-Wave Peeps

Surf Film Chasing Dora Premiere

Text & photos by Shannon Kelley Gould

Last summer, while on vacation in Kaua‘i, I attempted surfing for the very first time. (I confess I’ve never had much desire here; I’m too much of a baby to deal with the frigid water and the uncomfortable wetsuits it necessitates.) As we paddled out, my instructor Sparky (no joke) took a look around at the overcrowded waves and said, “It’s a travesty to the sport of surfing.” Admittedly, the overcrowding did prove to be annoying; the first time I managed to stand up, I found myself headed straight for another student’s head, and jumped off the board scarcely in time to avoid being party to an unintentional decapitation. But the irony of Sparky’s complaint was not lost on me: Sure the waves were way too crowded to really enjoy, but teaching his sport to lame wannabes like me was paying for his mellow Aloha lifestyle. And it is this irony that is at the heart of Wes Brown and T.J. Barrack’s new surf flick Chasing Dora, which premiered last Thursday night at the Arlington.

The pre-party, which took place in the Arlington’s courtyard, had the feel of a family reunion: In addition to three generations of the legendary surf-filmmaking dynasty the Browns — Bruce (Endless Summer I and II), Dana (Step Into Liquid, Dust to Glory), and Wes — were three generations of surfers, all of whom seemed to have ridden waves together, at one point or another. They affectionately reminisced, enjoying delicious food, drink, and tunes from the Soledadeez, staying so engrossed in the feel-good mingling that no one (myself included) noticed that the movie didn’t get rolling until more than an hour later than scheduled.

Eventually the crowd was corralled into the theater; Tom Curren treated us to a quick music set, and the movie began. At this point, I could have left: I’d already had a great night, and, an admitted non-surfer girl, I wasn’t necessarily itching to see what I assumed would be the latest flick documenting the exotic travels of lucky young boys enviously spared the toils of the 9-5 grind. I’m so glad I didn’t leave — the film was a wonderful surprise, a compelling story that dramatically, humorously, and heart-warmingly follows the journey of three surfers whose ages span more than 30 years, taking up a “what-was-he-on-when-he-came-up-with-this?” challenge posed by the late, great, original king of the beach, Miki Dora. To say that Dora, one of the first surfers able to support himself as such, had a conflicted relationship with the increasing profile of his sport of choice is putting it mildly. Crowded waves, synthetic materials, short boards, and media hoo-hah pissed him off, even as it paid his bills. And he left this world with a back-to-the-basics challenge for any balls-out surfing renegade, the details of which I won’t disclose, except to say that watching Mickey Muñoz come in after meeting that challenge at Jeffrey’s Bay in South Africa made me want to stand up and cheer. In fact, I think I did.

And while the eschewing of modern-day pro-surfing hoopla would have undoubtedly made Dora proud, what made me respect these guys all the more was the conclusion they came to: Yes, crowded waves suck and corporate sponsorships are lame, but neither is strong enough to kill the thrill of the basic connection with nature that is catching the perfect wave. And if you’re getting paid to do it, what else can you feel but lucky? I think even Sparky would agree.

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