Discovering Forgotten Wavelengths

Get Ready for the World Premiere of Chasing the Lotus

by Ethan Stewart

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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.

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