Featuring never-before-seen interviews and footage with some of the biggest names in surfing, director Wyatt Daily illustrates in his feature-length documentary Spoons why Santa Barbara is one of the most influential surf cities there is. The film explains how this came to be, showing area legends Reynolds Yater and George Greenough inspiring the modern shortboard to Al Merrick becoming the biggest surfboard maker in the world. The Independent caught up with Daily recently to talk about his surf doc, which is slated to be the Closing Night Film of the Santa Barbara International Film Festival.
The film shows that Rincon and Santa Barbara have had a tremendous impact on the entire surf industry, with both legendary surfers and surfboards coming from here. Do you think, historically, Santa Barbara’s influence on the surf world has been overlooked? Absolutely. To me, surfing history has always been told this way: Hawai’i invented it, Australia embraced it, California commoditized it. But when you look at the deep roots of surfing in Santa Barbara and how much it has contributed to the culture, the impact is profound. And it continues to be.
In what ways, in 2019, do you think this influence continues to occur? Well, Santa Barbara still produces top talents in surfing, with athletes like Conner Coffin and Lakey Peterson competing at the highest level in the World Surf League. In any given session, you will be treated to the world’s best surfing right next to nameless shredders and low-key style masters. The talent pool is deep and diverse. And Santa Barbara continues to be a torchbearer for the cottage industry of handmade surfboards.
Surfboard shaping is a crucial part of the surf culture, so the fact that so many quality shapers continue to produce and innovate equipment while celebrating the craft is very important.
Finally, there’s Rincon. It’s the ultimate test track for surfboard design, and it’s an excellent wave for surfers to experiment with and express themselves. It’s so versatile, so high quality, and so perfectly situated that it will continue to be one of the world’s great proving grounds of surfing.
One of the most fascinating characters in the film is George Greenough, with his early inside-the-barrel footage and his tiny kneeboard that helped spark the shortboard revolution. How would you describe Greenough and his impact on surfing today? George’s influence is in every surfboard fin, in every cutback, and in every barrel ride. He showed us the way to ride waves. And, he’s the ultimate backyard surfboard builder. He experimented with radical materials like carbon fiber way before they became commonplace. But he also built boats, cameras, and camera housings. And the windsurfers he made in the ’80s could be considered some of the most technically advanced boards designed to ride on water. Many of his ideas that he was pioneering in the ’60s haven’t even been fully explored yet! Shapers like Marc Andreini have been experimenting with his edge board concepts, which could open a whole new world in big-wave paddle surfing and unlock yet another approach to wave riding.
But I think George’s greatest achievement was his attitude for innovation, and that’s what I hope people get from this film; to inspire people to completely disregard the status quo and take their own path.
Beyond having access to the miracle of Rincon, what is it about Santa Barbara that breeds such a flourishing culture of surf innovation? It’s really tough to say. Santa Barbara is just a little spot on the map, and the locals would like to keep it that way. There is very much an attitude of being humble, not making a lot of noise, and appreciating surfing for what it is. Despite being a bastion of wealth, Santa Barbara has the roots of a working-class community; fishermen, farmers, and ranchers built it to what it is today. And that culture is still very much alive. Maybe it’s the unique geographic location — the way the mountains seem to plunge into the sea and how sometimes there seems to be its own weather system. Or maybe it’s the spirit of the Chumash. Whatever it is, Santa Barbara is a truly special place, and I think that fact alone shows a correlation with the surf culture.
SBIFF Closing Night Film Spoons: A Santa Barbara Story premieres 8 p.m. on Saturday, February 9, at The Arlington Theatre (1317 State St.). See sbiff.org.