‘Soul is the goal’ of new film about the surf scene in La Jolla
By Steven Mihailovich
When entering the La Jolla home of Gary Seagraves to meet him and collaborator Taylor Butz, there’s no need to guess at the passion that drives and defines the pair. Almost a dozen surfboards stand near the doorway in a pen created to hold them; the numerous artworks on the walls consist exclusively of photos and other depictions of surfers riding the waves; and even the coffee table is ingeniously crafted from a surfboard.
Seagraves and Butz are surfers through and through. What makes them remarkable is that they’ve harnessed their zeal to produce a documentary about the surfing culture and personalities at their favorite haunt: WindanSea and the La Jolla surf world.
“It just kind of shows our little scene,” said Seagraves. “It’s not ours but we’re a part of it. Our goal is for the film to be a cult classic. People 30 years from now can watch it and know what it was like at this time and place, like stepping into a time machine.”
Titled “Nightmare on Neptune,” the 30-minute documentary interviews legends like Skip Frye and Mike Hynson as they reminisce about the development of the local culture while showcasing local talent such as Michael Myers and JP Marengo riding colossal breakers from the 2010 El Nino winter.
The film features three generations of La Jolla surfers, Butz said, adding, “We have guys from a generation when surfing was at a different place and they’re not going to be around forever.”
Seagraves said the emphasis on the local surf culture suffuses the entire film down to the soundtrack, which features only local La Jolla and San Diego bands such as Bulldozer, Bad Card and Tarus Mateen Band. The result is a loving tribute that takes pains not to reveal its secret to a broader audience.
“We don’t even name the spots because we don’t want people to come,” Seagraves said. “It’s about localism. We felt it was our duty to include the guys that represent.”
Resident Jean Paul de Kervor, who first surfed at WindanSea in 1972 and was crowned National Champion in Mexico in the Over 40-years-old category in 2009, said he took part in the project because of its local flavor. De Kervor’s musician son, Alec, contributed to the soundtrack.
De Kervor said he has appeared in a number of surfing films but “Nightmare on Neptune” was the first time he was interviewed for a documentary, talking about the crowds that led to an accident that caused him injuries requiring two surgeries and an eight-day stay at the hospital. Ironically, de Kervor didn’t surf for the movie because of those afflictions.
“The old me would have just put my head down and tackled a wave,” de Kervor said. “The movie is a documentary that shows a snapshot in time. There are not a lot of top pros in it, but the guys who are surfing there every day.”
According to Jane Schmauss, historian at the California Surf Museum in Oceanside, although WindanSea has been highlighted in many memorable surfing movies, such as “Endless Summer” and “Liquid Stage,” Seagraves and Butz’s film could very well be the first entirely about La Jolla surfing.
Ever since Woody Brown first surfed WindanSea in 1938, Schmauss said some La Jolla residents have deliberately ignored the surfing roots of their affluent community, just as well known for its restaurants, art galleries and theater.
“There’s a segment of La Jolla that doesn’t want to admit that surfing is a huge part of their culture and development,” Schmauss said.
Surfboard designer and shaper Carl Ekstrom, who was born in 1941 and raised at WindanSea, also couldn’t recall a documentary focused solely on his old neighborhood.
Seagraves has been a surfboard shaper in La Jolla since 1991 and Butz came to San Diego from Seattle to major in film at San Diego State University as much as to surf. Although 21 years apart in age, Seagraves and Butz teamed up in November 2009 to make a short promotional video about Seagraves’ surfboards.
However, when they started filming during the El Nino winter, Seagraves said the duo knew they had something larger in their hands.
“It turned into a bigger project because we started getting great shots of other guys [surfing],” he said. “The waves were really good. Epic waves. It hasn’t been that good since.”
Adding the interviews and shots of daily life, the filmmakers ended up with 50 hours of video when they finished shooting this June. While the editing was completed earlier this month, Butz said the process was fairly effortless because of the quality of footage.
“There was a lot to go through,” Butz said. “But the story told itself. We just pieced it together when we went through it.”
The film cost a paltry $5,000 to make, Seagraves noted. Although the pair plan on submitting their documentary to the almost 100 surf film festivals nationally by Butz’s count, they can’t contemplate premiering their work anywhere but in La Jolla.
Toward that end, the documentary will be screened to potential investors and distributors at a private screening to be held at Hennessey’s Tavern. A date was not yet determined at press time.
“You don’t want to come out of the gate half-assed,” Seagraves said. “You want to have your (stuff) together.”
Seagraves said their ultimate aim is that the documentary gratifies the subjects that it glorifies: the local surfers themselves.
“You know if your own crew is stoked on it, and they’ll be watching critically, then everyone else is going to be stoked,” Seagraves said. “We want it to be authentic and have soul. Soul is the goal.”
“Nightmare on Neptune”
Producers: Gary Seagraves and Taylor Butz
Genre: Documentary about WindanSea surf culture
Length: 30 minutes
Private screening: Hennessey’s Tavern, 7811 Hershel Ave.
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