Words by Chris Nelson
Spoons: A Santa Barbara Story is an inspiring and insightful exploration of how a small corner of coastal California produced some of the world’s most talented surfers and progressive thinkers, including the likes of Renny Yater, George Greenough, Al Merrick and Tom Curren.
The epic waves of the region quickly became established as the ultimate testing ground for international innovators too - names like Bob McTavish, Nat Young and Wayne Lynch. This award winning documentary weaves a rich tapestry of renegade craftsman and waveriders whose drive and tradition go beyond time spent in the sea, to define the evolving ethos of generations forging an oceanic life around the notion of heritage and place.
The film has its UK premiere at the London Surf / Film Festival on October 10 (see HERE). We caught up with award winning director Wyatt Daily to find out more about tracking down legends, being granted access to archive footage by the likes of Bruce Brown, Sonny Miller and George Greenough, and his project, 7 years in the making, which captured the hearts and minds of the surf community.
What do you think is it about the Santa Barbara area that has made it such a corner stone of surfing and surf culture?
WD: Rincon is the star, providing the canvas for all manner of surfboard advancement and means for a surfer’s self-expression. But any area has its own culture and they’re all important because they contribute to the great big tribe that is surfing. To quote Marc Andreini, “It’s about the waves, the surfers and the boards that they ride.”
So, what was the seed that made you want to make this film?
It all started with an archive of the Rincon Classic surf contest that my friend showed me. Exploring that archive clued me into a lineage of incredible surfers - both well-known and underground. But it was when I first interviewed Renny Yater in 2013 that I realised there was an incredible depth to this story, and a direct link to surfing’s Golden Era.
Telling the story of the Santa Barbara surf scene is such a huge undertaking – were you daunted by the prospect?
I started just exploring the subject and making the film mostly as a solo effort. It was a personal education for me. But before I knew it I was too deep to get out. The more I learned the more I recognised the importance of the story and the more daunted I became; but ultimately I realised I had a responsibility to share what I learned.
There are so many interesting threads – how did you decide which elements would be central?
I’m inspired by stories of work, ethic and determination. So knowing Renny Yater was one of the original surfboard builders, and that he still shapes boards 5 days a week in his 80s, I knew his inclusion would be the guiding thread. From there, each subject represented a different branch of how craftsmanship and innovation manifested.
The film has some awesome archival footage and a great wealth of interviews – how did you go about sourcing these? Were there any you would have liked to have included?
Sourcing the archive was the biggest joy and also the biggest challenge. It started with a box of slides and VHS tapes from one random local contest. I would cut something together and another person would say, “Hey, I have some stuff you might like to see.” And we would pull out their super 8mm or 16mm films they shot as kids and have a look. From there, we made a new cut and a new reference to other shooters.
The big break came when we interviewed Bruce Brown, and he handed over some rolls he had on his cutting table for like 30 years. From there, it just built among the most legendary filmmakers; Greg MacGillivray, David Elfick, Bill Delaney, Greg Huglin, Sonny Miller’s Archive, George Greenough, Andy McAlpine, and on... it just built and built. But it wouldn’t have been able to grow without the stoke and support of the filmmakers who liked the story we were putting together and were happy to be a part of it. I’m so thankful for all the closets and shoe boxes we opened up. Real treasure chests.
The same went for finding interviewees. When people heard I interviewed Renny they figured I was safe... but I didn’t get a chance to re-interview Renny until 2018.
Wow, so how long did the project take from start to finish? What were the hardest parts of the process – what were the most rewarding?
2012 - present. It’s been a concerted effort since mid 2016. Every single part has been difficult. Each time we overcome an obstacle another new challenge comes up that seems insurmountable. Building toward the premiere was insane. We have some real war stories, it looked like our ship could be torpedoed on an hourly basis.
But I’ve been able to keep going because of the amazing team that rallied around this story. Without a doubt the most rewarding parts of making the film are the relationships I’ve been fortunate to build thorough the process. My producer Justin Misch and editor Dana Shaw, the rest of our crew, and of course the people interviewed in the film. Sometimes I pinch myself when I watch it after so long and realise that everyone talking in the film is talking to me, answering a question. It’s humbling, and an amazing honour. Reading the credits and seeing so many talented filmmakers and photographers who provided imagery; they’re legends!
London Surf / Film Festival is hosted 9th – 12th October 2019 at the iconic Regent St Cinema, bringing to the UK a hand picked line up of the very best films from across the globe that represent the pinnacle of contemporary surfing right now. Accompanied by ‘Audiences with…’ some of the most exciting surfers and creatives - from icon of our times Alex Knost to award winning filmmaker Chris McClean, plus live music, good times and more, it’s a celebration of the cream of cinematic surf culture. Full line up for 2019 is HERE. Tickets are on sale now via the Regent Street Cinema HERE