The Westsiders is a surf documentary that follows the lives of three remarkable young men — Darryl “Flea” Virostko, Jason “Ratboy” Collins, and Shawn “Barney Barron” as they struggle to transition from a difficult life in the Westside of Santa Cruz to professional surfers. Along the way, they find mentorship in Vince “The Godfather” Collier, and learn what it takes to survive in the cutthroat world of professional surfing. The film was directed by Joshua Pomer, a friend of the three young men profiled, and a graduate of UC Santa Barbara.
I understand that you’ve been filming your friends since high school. At what point did you decide to turn it into a full-fledged documentary?
Well, I made a couple of short documentaries before, so this was the next logical step. When I was growing up with these guys, I always knew I wanted to make a feature-length documentary about them. When I felt like I was ready, I basically started. I graduated from UC Santa Barbara, and I started making a lot of action movies, and I started making documentaries, and I put everything I had into this documentary, and stopped doing everything else. This was the first opportunity that I had where I had someone backing the movie to make it.
Obviously the filming took place over a number of years, but how long did it actually take you to wrap everything up, with the interviews included?
It took about 2-3 years, probably. At least three years. Three years of slow time just working on Westsiders and nothing else. A year and a half to two years of interviews and gathering stock footage. At least a year of editing, because I had to go through thousands of hours of stock footage.
Is the Westside of Santa Cruz still as tough of an area as it was when you were growing up?
No, definitely not. Times have changed. When I was growing up on the Westside, the older kids would regularly beat you up. They would come up with broken lips, with really bad punishment, on a regular basis. You don’t get that sort of pummeling people anymore, which I think is a good thing. When I went down to the Lane, you had to have eyes on the back of your head.
Is localism still very prevalent in Santa Cruz surf spots? If you’ve surfed in Santa Barbara, how does it compare to here?
I think that localism in Santa Cruz is definitely still there, especially at the Lane. There’s pretty hardcore localism in Santa Barbara. There are surf spots I don’t surf ever, and probably never will, in Goleta, and in Carpiniteria. There are spots that are strictly locals only, and you have to live within five miles of the spot. If you grow up surfing the same spot every day, and you see someone new, it’s just natural to ask, “Who’s that?” You don’t see a lot of violence, but there are a couple of spots. It’s not as prevalent. It’s not always a bad thing. The locals protect their spots from trash, they make sure their beaches aren’t being trashed. They make sure they look out for one another … That there’s going to be someone there to help you. That’s why we want to protect Naples. There’s people who love that spot more than anything.
Watching the film, I noticed that the guys surfed some incredibly big waves. Were there any moments where you actually feared for their lives? What was the biggest wave they rode?
There were definitely moments like that. Being out at Mavericks with Flea … Especially in the beginning of big wave surfing, no one really knew if you could survive a wipe out like that. People have died there. It’s pretty threatening to see your friend ride a huge wave and wipe out and you’re just wondering if he’s going to come up. Seeing them drop into a 50-foot wave and just be held underwater for minutes at a time can be really scary. I always thought that they could die at any second.
What advice would you give anyone who might be facing tough times at home, but looks forward to a brighter future through surfing?
You need your friends around you, to back you up when your parents around. You need that support. You’ve got to have good friends, and you have to support your friends, and you’ve got to be there for them. That’s what these guys did. They also worked really hard. Flea surfed eight hours a day. You have to have a really hard core work ethic, where you’re going to outdo the next person.
The Westsiders will play on February 4 at 7:30 p.m. at the Arlington Theatre. The schedule is subject to change, so see independent.com/sbiff for updates.