Peel Scores Another One for Quality Surf Films
by Ethan Stewart
A majority of the surf films coming out these days are shameless acts of self-promotion or glorified navel-gazing sessions cut to the tunes of Jack Johnson or some other guitar-strumming “friend of the industry.” The aforementioned films have less than nothing to do with the average surfer’s genuine experience. Can you imagine watching 50 minutes of Ron Jeremy’s greatest moments in porn with a Top 40 emo-punk soundtrack and then feel inspired to make sweet love to your better half? Perhaps you could. But the letdown — when you realize you can’t perform like the über-endowed Jeremy — would be somewhat akin to watching Andy Irons get spit out of a 10-second barrel in Indonesia and then trying to surf cold wind slop with 1,000 other people at Sands Beach. Surf movies are meant to make you feel good and get you moving in a better direction, not toward a therapist’s couch.
Luckily for the board-riding masses, not all is pulp and porn. Next Thursday night, up-and-coming surf filmmakers T.J. Barrack and Wes Brown (yes, the grandson of surf movie patriarch Bruce Brown) roll into town with their Endless Summer-esque travel piece, Peel: The Perú Project. Though far from groundbreaking, the movie offers a refreshing blend of high performance surfing, beautiful travel footage, history lessons, and a high degree of cultural sensitivity from which much of the surf industry could take a lesson. It chronicles two separate month-long trips to Perú: the adventures of Hawaiian hellmen Mark Healey and Jamie Sterling, and the escapades of California pros Randy Bonds and Jesse Colombo. The cameras roll as the boys make their respective ways from the dusty streets and warm water of Mancora in the north to the impossibly long lefts of Pacasmayo and Chicama. As anyone who has ever lived out of a backpack in a foreign land knows, the road is full of surprises and this movie does its best to pay homage to those bumps along the way. From car break-ins and wicked bouts of diarrhea, to alien footprints in the hills of San Gallan and human skulls in the desert, the movie — though occasionally overly dramatic — nails the essence of third-world travel.
But perhaps the best thing about Peel is the justice and attention it gives to the country of Perú, its people, and its rich surfing heritage. Seven-time national Peruvian surfing champion Magoo de la Rosa serves as the tour guide throughout the film. Besides plugging Barrack, Brown, and company into some truly world-class waves, he and current women’s world champion Sofia Mulanovich provide a unique look into this enchanted land of left point breaks. There are history lessons as the movie traces the lineage of Peruvian surfing from the mid-20th-century Waikiki Beach Club in Lima up to the surf-stoked “gromatitos” of today. The film includes visits to Machu Picchu and other breathtaking archeological sites, honest talk about Perú’s years of civil war, and a classic reed boat surf session that hints that perhaps it was ancient Peruvians — popular theory points to the Hawaiians — who brought wave riding to Polynesia.
Having wandered around Perú a number of years ago as your basic dirt-bag surfer, I have to admit this film does the experience justice. But even better, it gets you excited to dust off your passport, pack your bags, and light out for the wave-filled territory ahead. And that is exactly what a surf film is meant to do.
4•1•1 Peel: The Perú Project shows at the Lobero Theatre on Thursday, September 28 at 8 p.m. Visit peelperuproject.com for more information.