We all have ancestors, but our connections to them can become a source of great personal insight. The Crest looks at two young, American, surfing cousins from opposite ends of the country who’ve recently become aware of each other. They travel to Ireland’s Blasket Islands to retrace their roots to the Irish king who was their great-great grandfather.
How did this story find you?
It is unique subject matter to say the least. I remember the exact moment this story fell into my lap. I was at the Vermont premiere of my first feature-length documentary, A Band Called Death (ABCD). After the Q&A, my friend and collaborator John Kane came up and introduced me to his cousin Andrew Jacob, a surfer from Cape Cod, Massachusetts. They both told me this crazy story about how Andy had recently discovered that he has a cousin named DK, who lives in San Diego and is also a surfer. They found each other through a blog that had been written about the discovery of an old family fiddle that dates back to their great-great grandfather in Ireland, who was called An Rí, The King of the Blasket Islands.
Andy and DK were planning on meeting for the first time in the land of their ancestors and John was curious if I’d be interested documenting their story. And I was definitely intrigued, as it had many similar themes to ABCD, and the more I talked to them, the more my gears started rolling and I started to see the film in my head. Next thing I knew we were all in Ireland!
I would imagine production was a bit of a logistical tangle. Any good adventure stories from along the way?
There are always going to be challenges whenever you make a film, however, this one really tested my limits. The first nightmare happened when John and I got stranded at an airport for two days due to bad weather while our entire film crew and John’s entire family made it to Ireland safe and sound. Because of that, John and I missed being there for Andy and DK’s first meeting. However, thanks to the powers of technology, I was able to direct my crew the entire time we weren’t there. Thank God for people like my cinematographer Georgia Pantazopoulos. She knows what I like and how I like to film it. But that was the least of our worries. I never realized how much hard work goes into searching for waves in Ireland. I have hours upon hours of footage of the boys driving around looking for waves.
Another issue we had was corrupt media cards. I don’t know if it was the weather, or bad cards, or what, but a lot of our footage was erased due to some unresolved issues. Those are just some of the many nightmares that happened along the way, however we must have had the luck of the Irish on our side, because somehow it all came together in the end.
Talk a little bit about the intersection of surfing and the Irish heritage of Andrew and DK? Having been to the Blaskets now, would you consider their respective love affairs with the sea to be genetically-based?
I think without a doubt, 100 percent of their love of the sea is genetic. Anytime I’m with the boys I feel the ocean calling them. It’s in their blood, that’s for damn sure!
How do you hope audiences feel after watching The Crest?
My hope is that people will leave the theater wanting to learn more about their own ancestry. That they’ll look at all the things that shape their lives and compare them to the traits of their ancestors. They may be surprised how similar they really are.
Would you have been as interested in this story if not for the surfing aspect?
There seems to be a certain poetry in that. Believe it or not, surfing was not the first thing to hook me when I was first approached to make this film. As a matter of fact, at the time, all I knew about surfing was from what I had seen in Surf Nazi’s Must Die, and that it looked pretty sick in the movie Point Break.
What hooked me from the very beginning was the fact that these two kids, who are related, never knew the other existed. Yet, somehow, they shared this great passion for the ocean. It instantly reminded me of the sons of Bobby Hackney, Sr. from ABCD. His three boys became punk rock musicians at a very young age, without any knowledge of their father’s band from the ‘70s. It’s stuff like this that captivates me. It’s stuff like this that makes life worth living.
Describe the magic in watching someone reconnect with their ancestry. What does it mean to them and to a culture at large?
It’s pretty cathartic to say the least. Having grown up with little connection to my own family, I’ve always been drawn to stories like this. Not unlike what I experienced with ABCD, through the process of documenting these families I am able to fill a void that has existed in my own life. What began as a film about two Irish-American surfers meeting for the first time in the land of their ancestors ultimately became a 120-year journey of not just a single family, but of an entire culture of people who were at the forefront of preserving a nation’s legacy.
These themes don’t apply just to Ireland; they are universal. Inside all of us is a desire to understand not just who we are, but where we come from and what our purpose is. I’ve discovered through these films that you can find many of these answers through family connection.