Rich, flamboyant, dangerously addicted, and wildly in love with surfing, Bunker Sprekles died way too young in 1977. Using never-before-seen footage from famed surf photographer Art Brewer taken during Sprekles’ last years, Japanese filmmaker Takuji Masuda tells the story of the young wave rider while trying to put his extravagance in its proper cultural context. See bunker77film.com.
For the uninformed, what did Bunker Sprekles mean to surfing in the 1970’s? What does he mean now?
Bunker was a visionary. He was a very stylish American rebel who chose to live an extraordinary life. He elevated the surf community not only by riding very short boards with edges in the dangerous waves of Hawaii’s North Shore 50 years before that style of equipment became the norm but, in his later years, he cleverly blazed the praxis of programming his own reality in a successful effort to become a media personality. This is what most professional surf stars must do today in order to get noticed, stay relevant, and be paid from sponsors. He was definitely an avant-garde.
How did you find this story? What attracted you to it?
The story was retold with archival elements from my mentors Art Brewer and C.R.Stecyk, both of whom worked with Spreckels. I made a trilingual beach culture magazine called Super X Media with them in the 1990s. I was drawn to Bunker’s spirit of “going for it” whether he had money or not. Also, I wanted to better understand what made him who he was.
It has been roughly 40 years since his death. How was he remembered by the people you interviewed? What was the general vibe? Is he celebrated or considered a tale of caution?
After recording the interviews, I got that his friends miss him, adore him, and are still angry at his early departure, etc. But, in general, the community was very confused by his behavior when I began reviewing his life. His is both a celebration and a cautionary tale. Both elements often co-exist in someone taking the risk to pursue one’s original vision.
What surprised you most about him?
The immensity of Bunker’s background and his foresight into the future of this surfing/skating/snowboarding lifestyle that has become so internationally popular. He was beyond a first implementer and perfectly equipped to be a pioneer of that rock and roll surf style that still thrives today.
What was the hardest part about making the film?
It was my first attempt at making a feature length film so every step was complicated. I wanted to make an interesting film that Bunker deserved. I was blessed to have so many awesome collaborators and friends who gave their time and talent to help me realize my vision.
What do you consider to be Bunker’s legacy to surfing and Southern California beach culture?
He has influenced some of the biggest names in board riding like Tony Alva, Laird Hamilton, and Wayne “Rabbit” Bartholomew who all defined the style and attitude of who we are as a board riders today. Bunker also elevated the artistic level of my mentor and his photography, Art Brewer, through their photographic collaboration as no other documentation comes even as close to what the images Bunker left behind. But above all, he reminds us to keep “going for it” as well as remind us about the very real risk that comes with it.
What is your goal in telling the Bunker Sprekles story so many years after his death?
Many of us have had some one like Bunker in our lives or, maybe, a similar moment or two of his paradigm in ourselves. I hope that my film becomes a reminder of those moments to reflect on as well as be able relive a little bit of the adolescent period of West Coast beach culture which was Bunker Spreckels’ life.