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Yater’s Spoon

Final Replica of Apocalypse Now's Surfboard Hits eBay

A one-of-a-kind surfboard from Santa Barbara’s own master shaper
Reynolds “Renny” Yater hits eBay’s auction block this month, with
all proceeds feeding a wilderness retreat program that helps war
veterans battle posttraumatic stress disorder. The sleek,
nine-foot-long pintail — an exact replica of the Yater Spoon from
the Charlie’s Point surf scene in 1979’s Vietnam War film
Apocalypse Now — is the last of a limited run of 90 such
remakes built and sold by Yater since early last year.

YaterBut this charity board stands apart from the rest — it’s the
only one autographed by Robert Duvall (the film’s crazed Lieutenant
Colonel Bill Kilgore, who orchestrates a surf session under heavy
enemy fire) and Martin Sheen (the film’s Captain Willard, who
steals the board from Kilgore in Apocalypse Now Redux, the
2001 expansion that includes several minutes of previously unseen
Charlie’s Point footage). Duvall’s autograph includes “Charlie
don’t surf,” while Sheen’s commands “Never get off the boat.”

To uncover the board’s provenance, dig way back to Joseph
Conrad’s 1902 novella Heart of Darkness, a reading of
which can clarify the story line and symbolism found in Francis
Ford Coppola’s war epic. Connecting the dots between Conrad’s river
jungle and Coppola’s Charlie’s Point is fairly straightforward, but
from there the history takes a few uncanny twists.

Enter Ben Katz, a Conrad buff and Tulane-trained intellectual
property lawyer based in Los Angeles. After watching
Redux, Katz marveled at Kilgore’s willpower to surf in the
midst of war. Katz doesn’t surf, but he wanted that surfboard — or
one just like it — to hang on his office wall.

“Yes, Kilgore’s insane,” Katz said recently. “He’s bombing a
village just to go surfing and that’s just obscene. But to me, that
napalm-crazed colonel’s Yater Spoon symbolizes determination.
Kilgore’s bombing-cum-surfing raid is pure determination and
tenacity. It’s that same determination I tap into to execute a
difficult project for a client — even when everyone around me keeps
reminding me it’s Charlie’s Point and I have no chance in hell to
make it happen, I look at that board to remind myself that anything
can be done.”

After Katz tracked Yater to his Santa Barbara shaping room, he
soon discovered that Coppola had never sought the surfboard maker’s
permission to display the Yater logo onscreen. Katz is in the
business of helping companies protect and promote their
intellectual property. “But,” he said, “we figured, why fight, why
litigate, why create a big mess when we could do something
positive? The aim of any good lawyer is to find a solution, not to
bomb the tree line.” So they pushed forward with Katz’s idea to
produce a limited reissue of the famed board. Katz took care of
permissions and paperwork, while Yater modeled the new line after
an Apocalypse original from Jim O’Mahoney’s now-defunct Santa
Barbara Surfing Museum.

While pushing through the licensing deal with Coppola’s cadre of
lawyers, Katz also asked Apocalypse screenwriter John
Milius to sign off on the project. “I told Milius that I was
working on this and that I’m donating my cut to charity,” Katz
said. “And Milius said he had the perfect charity and told me about
this rehab program that [retired Green Beret] Colonel Robert
Rheault had created to help returning soldiers.”

Launched in 1983 by Rheault, the Outward Bound rehabilitation
excursion sends small groups of veterans into the wilderness to
work through the stress, insomnia, flashbacks, suicidal tendencies,
and other mental and emotional torments they’ve brought back from
the battlefield. Guided into the Rocky Mountains outside Leadville,
Colorado, and decked out in combat gear — minus the
weaponry — veterans team up and draw on rock-climbing,
orienteering, trekking, shelter-building, and other soldiering and
survival skills without having to worry about getting left behind
or killed. At the same time, they’re encouraged to spend time alone
in the vast solitude to reflect on their new lives back home. “What
we hope,” said Outward Bound’s Meg Ryan, “is that they [find] a
renewed sense of connection to civilian life, that they’ve learned
more about what’s going on internally with their struggle and
stress, and that they’ve had the opportunity to have some
camaraderie.”

For Katz, it seemed all along that an unseen hand had guided his
push for the board reissue and charity auction, especially when he
learned from Milius that a much-publicized event from Rheault’s
military history in Vietnam — he was accused of killing a
Vietnamese double agent, and though the charges were later dropped,
his reputation suffered — served as a building block when the
screenwriter penned the film’s Colonel Kurtz character.

“Everything’s connected,” Katz said, “an invisible string tying
this whole thing together. And it was very inspiring to me that
there’s this man who dedicated the rest of his life to helping
veterans heal from the horrors they had seen in war. My dad was a
Holocaust survivor. He suffered from posttraumatic stress disorder.
That impacted him deeply his whole life, and it impacted me, too,
because I cared for him. It was tough.”

Milius added, “I just wish Yater would make another 90 boards
and auction off a whole bunch of them so Colonel Rheault would get
more money for his program.”

4·1·1
eBay.com is expecting to launch the
auction on its homepage in January.

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