Get Ready for the World Premiere of Chasing the Lotus
by Ethan Stewart
Sometimes a story’s desire to be told is an undeniable force of nature. No matter how heavy the weight of the years, some stories simply shake off the cobwebs and return to shine brightly and captivate the modern age.
Throughout the 1970s and ’80s, Southern California surfers and filmmakers Greg Weaver and Spyder Wills were underground legends, famous for their far-flung adventures, world-class cinematography, and uncanny habit of documenting surf spots and cultures long before anyone knew these places existed. They were elusive figures, traveling in shadows and stepping into the light — with cameras rolling — at just the right time. Ever heard of the films Big Wednesday, Pacific Vibrations, Uluwatu, and Forgotten Island of Santosha? That’s their work.
But today — or at least until now — their legacy has been more or less forgotten by the current generation of celluloid-starved surf junkies. While their movie titles may ring a bell, the mention of their names causes only question marks to pop into the minds of today’s younger board riders. After all, until recently, the majority of the duo’s formidable body of super-8 footage had been buried in cardboard boxes in a closet at Weaver’s Newport Beach home.
Cobwebs begone, though, as Weaver and Wills’s misplaced work returns in the new documentary Chasing the Lotus: The Lost Reels of Weaver and Wills. It’s the sophomore effort from UCSB Film Studies alum Greg Schell, whose first movie, The Far Shore, went on to critical acclaim after rocking our own film fest several years back, and — with its homage to ’70s surf travel pioneers Craig Petersen and Kevin Naughton — helped kick off a modern revival of surf exploration. In the same vein, Chasing the Lotus mixes classic, never-before-seen footage with contemporary interviews with surfing luminaries. Add the narration by S.B. homeboy Jeff Bridges, and you’ve got a movie experience that’s simultaneously historical, inspirational, and fun.
From Buttons Kaluhiokalani’s space-age backside attack at Pavones, Costa Rica, during the late ’70s and a young Mark Occhilupo tearing into Uluwatu, to Hindu dance ceremonies on mystical Mauritius and LSD-addled groovers at the 1971 Laguna Music Festival, this film runs an exhilarating and unparalleled gamut of surf stoke. The experience is akin to talking story with certifiable surfing legends — only the real-life movie depiction of the tales they tell are playing in the background.
On a recent sun-soaked fall morning, Schell — fresh from the south swell stacked peaks of Jalama — expressed his continued amazement at the series of events that led to the making of Chasing the Lotus. After connecting with producer Chris Bell, the two went over to Weaver’s house and “he just opened up this random closet and there were just hundreds of reels from the ’60s, ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s from places like Cabo San Lucas, South Africa, Hawai‘i, and Indonesia. It was absolutely incredible.”
While Weaver lamented that the best work was totally lost, Schell and Bell — no doubt salivating at their discovery — immediately began viewing and editing the hours of super-8 footage. Two months later, Schell’s phone rang and it was Weaver — somehow the missing box had been found during a garage cleaning session. “I had to start all over,” Schell said. “It was immediately obvious that we had just found the real gems.” And with vintage footage of Gerry Lopez, Dick Brewer, Rory Russell, and Buddy Boy Kaohe, contemporary stuff of Occy and Sunny Garcia, and acid dose-dropping from airplanes and eye-popping Hindu ceremonies, the term “gem” is an understatement. As Gerry Lopez comments on film, “Both Weaver and Spyder were on their own wavelength. They would go do stuff that nobody was doing.”
Thanks to Schell, that “stuff” is back from the fringe once again, ready to fuel the fires of adventure for an entirely new generation of surfers. And with the first signs of winter churning around up in the Gulf of Alaska at this very moment, I can think of no better time to indulge in such a feast of surf stoke from the past, present, and beyond.
4•1•1 Chasing the Lotus has its world premiere courtesy of Magic Lantern Films at the Isla Vista Theater on Friday, October 6, at 7 and 9:30 p.m. Filmmaker Greg Schell will be on hand as well for questions. Tickets are $4. For more on the film, see chasingthelotus.com.