Surfers like to tinker. They’re constantly reworking and perfecting their art. Ding repair is a DIY project. Shaping is more popular than ever. And there’s an entire consumer arena for surf invention — wetsuit socks, gear bags, fin designs, repair products, UV apparel…in many cases — junk.
Despite the novelty and the kitsch, that’s how surfing moves forward. Tinkering, advancing, progressing.
And in many ways, that’s the premise of Jack McCoy’s latest film, “A Deeper Shade of Blue.” The project spans the full scope of surfing’s history through the lenses of watermen and their tinkering. The often interrupted, nonlinear storyline propels forward because of surfers with ideas.
Tom Blake developed the first fin, a concept he borrowed from his sailboat. Tom Morey’s body board, or boogey board, married an otherwise exclusive sport with sudden Costco accessibility. And Pat O’Neill’s leash has saved countless boards and prevented incalculable injuries. (Of course, it also directly caused the need for Jack O’Neill’s iconic eye patch.)
“The goal of the film was to share what I’d learned and lived through,” said McCoy. “Ninety-eight percent of surfers worldwide have no idea of the trial and error it took to refine the little plastic toys they all enjoy today,” he added. “In just over 100 years, surfboards evolved from cutting down a tree and crafting it with crude tools, to the lightweight, plastic magic carpet of today.”
It’s this breed of story that clearly raises McCoy’s interest. And that makes sense. McCoy himself is a part of that history. He’s a mainstay in surf cinematography. He’s produced massive surf films for 40 years, and he holds more than 25 film credits. McCoy grew up in Oahu, Hawaii, where he started surfing at a young age, and dabbled in surf film promotion and distribution as a teen.
He moved to Australia in 1970, and began work on his first film, “Tubular Swells,” in 1975. His subsequent titles include, “Storm Riders,” “The Sons of Fun,” “Sik Joy,” “Occy the Occumentary,” “Sabotaj,” “Blue Horizon” and “Free as a Dog.”
McCoy also sustains his career as a surf cinematography specialist, consulting for commercials, music videos, documentaries and films.
His latest film is poised to be “the greatest surfing story ever told.” It’s certainly epic, and not in the way that your friend describes the surf on a choppy two-to-three-foot day. It’s the story of this timeless art disguised as a sport. The timeline is there. The key names and moments are highlighted. The past is balanced with the future. And it fits together nicely.
But it’s made for the masses. And I’m not certain I like that. It’s educational and it’s accessible. Historically, surfing is neither.
The strongest segment of the film featured big-wave rider, Marty Paradisis of Tasmania. The scene was set to Foo Fighters, which really worked for me, and the massive footage of Paradisis at his frigid, shark-infested home break was simply incredible.
Paradisis said, “We know we’re in the middle of nowhere. And we know we’re so far away from everything.”
Part of this relates to the danger of the setting. Part of it, I think, relates to the appeal of the setting — more simply, the appeal of surfing.
Feeling detached and deeply connected at once is an omnipresent theme in McCoy’s film. It’s true of the impressive stuff, like Teahupoo and Tasmania, and occasionally, it can be true of surfing in general.
I think that unique appeal leads McCoy’s categorization of surfing as an art form. “To dance on a liquid platform moving quickly to its last gasp is not a sport in my eyes. It’s an art,” said McCoy.
Let me be clear. McCoy’s film didn’t make me want to surf Tasmania, but it did make me want to surf. And I think that’s the point of any good surf film.
La Paloma Theatre in Encinitas is hosting a limited screening of “A Deeper Shade of Blue,” starting April 5. For details, visit lapalomatheatre.com or jackmccoy.com.
Spencer Hirsch is a marketing professional, community worker and writer. Follow @spencerhirsch on Twitter and Instagram, and email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.