SMASHFEST interviews with curators, makers, shakers, and wave slakers.
- Toddy Stewart
Toddy Stewart is a filmmaker and loving father living in Brooklyn, NY. He wrote and directed the critically acclaimed surfing short film, THE SURF MAGAZINES DON’T TALK ABOUT LAPSED CATHOLICS, and is a partner of the creative production studio Picture Farm. He is a wannabe sometime surfer. Toddy in fact spends more time writing about not surfing for the surf blog, The Endless Bummer.
Interview by Smriti Keshari
Your film, The Surf Magazines Don’t Talk About Lapsed Catholics resonated with many people because of the philosophical musings over the nature of being a surfer. How much does that philosophical depth influence the films you select?I think it makes a big difference. I tend to lean that way anyhow, and frankly, there are only so many surf films I really want to watch. And when I say "surf film" I mean specifically the sort of film a surfer would make for another surfer to showcase the technical side. Big airs, slash and bash, copious hanging ten, huge waves. At this point I'd be less bored by films that let more people into the process; people want to understand and connect to the inner dealings of it all without being able to tell a truly buried rail from some maneuver less "successful.". I look for films that translate the feeling of being there. How are the filmmakers able to viscerally transport the viewer in a glancing fashion? The second thing I look for is how the filmmaker is able to show the pure joy of surfing; the community and that sort of guttural happiness it all creates.
What would you advise filmmakers to concentrate more on?It seems surf filmmakers regard film as ultimately a visual art form but what you see with your eyes is not necessarily what you get with your ears, or any other senses. There’s much to be explored with sound in surf filmmaking. It just seems like people plop some really amazing visuals on a soundtrack and call it a day. How can surf films be more philosophically sonic?
How would you describe the current state of surfing in NY?Since surfing is becoming more culturally prevalent in New York, there’s an incredible opportunity to hand on habits in the water. There’s a positive energy to the people who have been surfing out here and it effects the way new people are learning and building this culture. There is an excitement, a newness to surfing culture in New York that isn't there on the West Coast. Surfing has been here for a long time, but now that it is some sort of fad, there is this poseur, wannabe thing happening that is counter-intuitively kinda great. People out there with smiles on their faces trying to wrap their minds around something. Sure, it's super annoying too, but I'd rather surf with people who are stoked to just be in the water.
You've been making a lot of films with your company Picture Farm, anything related to surfing?We got to make the promo films for the SMASH Fest with Tyler, the ones based on Saturday Night Live and Breakfast at Tiffany's. There were so many other good ideas we all came up with that we couldn't make happen thanks to crazy schedules, but those two were so fun to make. On that tip of making interesting films about sport, my co-director Chris Bren and I have been making these art films about Major League Soccer fan culture. MLS improbably bought an idea we proposed to make these little films about supporter groups and they've even more improbably bought the idea that we can make things really abstract. We're shooting with multiple cameras during games, focusing on the proximity of the fans to the action and the culture of these rabid fans. And we are recording with multiple microphones as well, getting layers of sound. I really want it to be as much a sonic explorations it is a visual one. We're sorta taking our cue from Zinedine Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait and Tokyo Olympiad, two of my favorite films. We just got back from Kansas City and Toronto and next up are the Red Bulls and DC United. I'm super excited about it.
How do you see the technology and surfing intersecting with one another?There is this whole side to the technology of board building that is way beyond me. But in general I’ve become apprehensive of technology. Forecast services have really changed part of the nature of how surfing works. It's an old argument, maybe too old, but there is this process of trial and error that might be lost. Thank god nature doesn't always cooperate. One of the best things about surfing is the anguish of the wait, you know, the process of the search. There’s a natural gratitude from taking part in that practice. On the other hand, technology can work when you incorporate it into a natural, organic process. Then again, on the flip side, technology can definitely enhance and educate a process. I have a couple friends who have this wonderfully analogue method by which they are creating a better surf forecast. They travel up and down the coast with their baby in tow, looking at conditions and documenting patterns with a surfer's eye. They plug all that first-hand info into some sort of digital algorithm machine and presto, there's a real translation of data and anecdote. They are, you know, sort of upending all that, at least bringing the process back to something organic and tactile. Which is probably, in the end, the point. Technology, as tool in the creative process, used in the process of actually living, what's wrong with that? I guess it's a matter of context. Besides I'm sure driving up an down the coast searching for waves, spewing out fumes and sputtering gas isn't all that good for the environment. Being able to make that surgical strike is pretty helpful in that regard.
- Rocky Romano
Rocky Romano, CEO and Director of more than a couple projects including iTVbranding, Maverickmoments.tv, and The Go Big Project is the Director behind Learning to Breathe. The film will premiere at SMASH Fest and is a raw story about 47-year-old Santa Cruz surfer Anthony Ruffo’s professional surfing and drug addiction. His transition from pro surfer to drug dealer to rehabilitation program leader leaves the viewer to draw their own conclusions. Rocky Romano shows the seedy side to the Santa Cruz surf scene as well as the inspirational side to Anthony Ruffo’s life. It’s sure to be a stirring piece of cinema and one that, if you find yourself in New York, should not be missed.
Interview by Reid Levin, The Inertia Assistant Editor
￼In your opinion, what makes SMASH unique? Why is it different from other surf film festivals?Founder Tyler Breuer and SMASH are unique in that they have chosen to highlight some very high-quality, truly eclectic surfing films. This, along with the overall philosophy of celebrating several facets of surfing art and culture, makes SMASH a truly unique festival. I am extremely honored to have Learning to Breathe playing with such amazing films–a selection that I feel is the lineup of the year. We had several surf film festivals inform us that the film was too controversial for their audiences so we were stoked that SMASH had the vision to select Learning to Breathe.
Can you give us a synopsis of your work in this film festival and what went into making it? What made you want to jump into that?“Learning to Breathe” explores the life of professional surfing legend Anthony Ruffo. Ruffo was a Santa Cruz legend, and he was known for his hospitality and kind nature, but his success as a surfer and rockstar lifestyle lead him into frequent drug use that quickly spiraled into addiction. Because he was such a strong role model, many surfers that we know as champions today ended up following suit, causing widespread drug use in the professional surfing world. Ruffo lost his reputation and his sponsors and had to support his habit by dealing methamphetamine. After having his house raided by the Santa Cruz police, Ruffo faced a five year sentence in state prison. This harsh awakening led him to step away from his addiction and try to heal his reputation and his community. The film is about his journey out of the darkness, and the obstacles he has to face to redeem himself along the way. I had a difficult time at first with making this film due to its very controversial nature. To step into Ruffo’s life and document this struggle was, at moments, intense, but in the end, I decided that the story was too important not to tell. I made this film for my son Kadin and all of our sons and daughters that need for us to tell the real truths, no matter how hard, to ensure that the younger generation is aware of the severe consequences that drug use and addiction can have. Although these consequences are very real, I did not want to paint a picture of an addict or a dealer as an unforgivable monster. These issues are very human, and I think the film does a good job of showing that.
What makes surf cinema unique?Surf cinema is unique because there are no preconceived formulas to creating a great film. The industry approach in Hollywood is very formulaic thus constraining the filmmaker’s ability to experiment. Surfing cinema is as unique and eclectic as the people that pursue the passion of surfing.
What is one thing that will blow the minds of this year’s SMASH attendees?The one thing that I hope will blow minds is the depth in which Ruffo fell into his addiction and criminality. I think the audience will be blown away at the level that this problem reached with some of the best surfers in the world. Several legends of the sport break the code of silence for the first time explaining their own downfalls with drugs. I was extremely grateful and impressed with not only Ruffo, but with all the athletes that stepped up and told the truth. It took real courage to do what they did.
Where do you think surf filmmaking is heading in the future? Paint a picture for us.I believe the future of surf filmmaking is wide open. My team and I push to create surf stories that can appeal to the frothing grom as well as a mom in the Midwest. I believe that mainstream audiences are ready for surf films, but we just need to allow the formula of the film to appeal to more than just one niche. The element of storytelling is important to that, and it is something I try to incorporate into my films whether it’s through a narrative format or something more abstract. With recent developments in technology, like the GoPro for example, do you think it will help or hinder surf films? How? There have been technological developments for as long as film has been in existence. Every new technological advance brings the same question–from the advent of the home video camera to the new POV cameras. In the end, the heart of a great piece of content comes from talented storytellers, and last time I checked, that does not come in the box of your new POV camera. On the flip side, I believe that it will allow for more creative angles and produce talented storytellers that before could not afford to get in the game. I am always stoked for any new advancement in technology as it is the nature of the game and keeps things interesting!
- Heather Hudson
Heather Hudson–a Californian, surfer and filmmaker–fits into the picture in that she too educates her surrounding surf community as well. As co-producer, alongside Peck Euwer, she created The Women and the Wave–a great documentary about women surfers that captures the character of some of the sport’s surfing souls. This, amongst her other accolades, qualified her to be a curator for the film portion of the SMASH festival–an opportunity she did not take lightly once Tyler Breuer, SMASH festival founder, opened the door for her.
Interview by Reid Levin, The Inertia Assistant Editor
￼In your opinion, what makes SMASH unique? Why is it different from other surf film festivals?SMASH is unique in that it endeavors to embody all aspects of surf culture (ie: movies, art, shaping, history). I really like the fact that SMASH embraces independent filmmaking as well as industry filmmaking. The surf culture is vast and not just defined narrowly by a few large mainstream companies.
Can you give us a synopsis of your work in this film festival and what went into making it? What made you want to jump into that?When I received an e-mail from Tyler [Breuer] asking me to curate for the film portion of the festival, I immediately replied, “YES!” What better way to spend my spare time over a few months but to watch a huge number of surf movies! My family and friends laughed when I told them because they know how much I would be tortured doing this. Haha! Anyway, as a woman who has surfed since the 70’s, I have seen a lot happen. I feel grateful to know that my opinion is respected.
What makes surf cinema unique?Surfing is very special to so many people. It is their life! There are many amazing and talented people within the surf culture. How awesome that their stories are being told. What could be better than to be told by the surfers/filmmakers themselves?
What is one thing that will blow the minds of this year’s SMASH attendees?The films. They are awesome! Great stories, beautiful to watch and thought provoking! I must say, there were so many that were so very good that it was difficult to pick my top choices in each category. Each film on the “Curators Picks” is so unique and worthy of a look!
Where do you think surf filmmaking is heading in the future? Paint a picture for us.With the advancement of technology and communication, the world is becoming smaller by the minute. The technology is becoming so user-friendly. Just like the saying that today “everyone surfs!” It is also said that “everyone is a filmmaker!” We are learning so much about surfing from individuals around the world. The view is broader and the stories endless. We are becoming saturated in it! But in the end, to me, it’s still obvious that it still takes talent and a good eye to make a great film.
With recent developments in technology, like the GoPro for example, do you think it will help or hinder surf films? How?New developments in technology will no doubt keep coming out. It’s exciting to see things that we haven’t seen before. The only downside I see is that they get overused and become status quo and redundant. That said, it is refreshing to see something new and different! I look forward to seeing what’s next!
- Danny DiMauro
Danny Dimauro can be found ripping spots on both the east and west end of long island on a daily basis. Notably last year his mustache and physique earned him the nickname 'Tom Selleck' while surfing a popular queens jetty.
Interview conducted by Fynn Sloyan
Your and Tin's movie Kook Paradise is classic, can you talk about who provided the inspiration for the film?
Tell me about a movie that describes everything that you love about surfing but is not a surf movie.Wall Street, a tale of greed where everyone out there wants to get his, and will do what he has to do to get it. Where Wall Street Hedge Fund Guys are subject to a level playing field with the blue collar worker. Surfing, the great equalizer. Sometimes I feel like a lab rat in cage hitting the reward button, get one, paddle back out, get another, rinse, repeat..... It’s not love, it’s a disease called addiction.
There were a couple of days this winter out west where you were killing it on your Fowler V machine, what is your most memorable surf of the last yearWell thank you for that, that is very kind. It’s a "Stoker V Machine" designed by Goleta Legend Randal Rostoker AKA "Stoker", shaped by Bruce Fowler who is an incredible shaper with close to 40 years under his belt, Bruce now handles the label "Stoker V Machine" for Randal. Two moments stand out. The first was last hurricane season and getting this tube in Rockaway in front of Charlie Smith before the "duffel bag of cash" contest who was standing on the beach with some of the Saturday's kids and no one thought I was coming out (including me),needless to say I did, not bad for 43. It’s a shame I didn't get that tube in the contest. The second was a 3 day swell I surfed in March at the Rock with my buddy Tony Farmer. Please see attached photos. Shortly thereafter I got denied paddling out and Farmer broke my balls. I found out that a congenital birth defect in my heart had gotten to a point where my heart isn't functioning correctly. The doctor told me I shouldn't surf anymore. That was a bummer. How do you feel now Tony Farmer? Anyway, no more winter surfing for me until I get a new valve. Of course I'm still surfing, I'm Diet surfing now.
Being a judge takes a lot of patience and stamina and is known to impose havoc on the body, is it true you will be performing extensive yoga before watching this years movies?I’ll be eating popcorn and eating Twizzlers washing it down with a large Coke. Do they sell Twizzlers in Williamsburg, Buschwick, wait, where am I going? Yoga's for girls. I'm flexible enough. I've heard that line before by the way.
Your tastes seem to fall closer to Andrew Kidman than Taylor Steele, what was the last mainstream high performance surf movie you enjoyed?Yea, I can't do aerials, not my generation really. I just saw this film called "Kill the Matador" with this cat called Otis Carey. I had never heard of him. I have never seen anyone combine tricks like that and surf so aggressively while maintaining his own definitive style. He reminds me of early Christian Fletcher with his approach, where you don't feel as if you are watching Moto Cross or BMX, its new. He launches airs without any concern of the outcome, he hits the lip like he's in a street fight. It's pretty punk rock. The dude is into what he's doing. He is quite the opposite of someone like Craig Anderson. Craig is like watching Butter melt in a pan all smooth and stylie while Otis is like watching a bomb go off in a building. Both those guys are two of my favorite new surfer's in that genre. Go watch it, it’s on Vimeo.
Which movie at this year’s festival are you most excited to watch?I'm really excited to see "Sexy Midgets in Tampa" and "Deep Throat 15", wait, wrong festival. Where am I? Oh right, I wanna see all of them!!! I’m super stoked for "Daughter", I was supposed to be in it but I got spooked because of my health issues, all that was happening at the same time. Oh well. I wish everyone good luck!!! Thanks for having me!
- Julie Gilhart
Julie Gilhart, former fashion director at Barneys New York, is a veteran and pioneer in the fashion business. Her interests are vast and cross many sectors though she is most focused on not just the pursuit of “fashion for fashion’s sake,” but also how to raise the consciousness in fashion. Currently, her role is a fashion consultant with a diverse client base including Amazon.com. She continues to support socially responsible causes that in some way reflect fashion including Fashion Girls For Humanity and serves as Ambassador for 1% For The Planet. Julie struggles with finding enough time to surf.
Interview by Smriti Keshari
Can you walk us through how surfing & fashion has changed through time?
Is there a difference with New York & California surf fashion? ￼Of course! Is there a difference between LA and NYC?! Overall, I think it is primarily driven by the differences in urbanism vs suburbanism. I love the fact that in this country the two can co-exist very separately but influence each other as well!
How has the increase of women surfing played a role in surfing today?I'd like to think and hope as more women come into surfing, the more awareness of the values that surround surfing will come more into play. Not just the fashion, which is inevitable, but issues like preservation of coastlines, water quality, animal health - essentially conservation and environmentalism. Women are the original nurturers and the more they partake in surfing, the more need to nurture and care for the oceans will become prevalent.
How does your background in style and fashion influence the films you’ve chosen?From a fashion perspective, I need to be pleased by the overall "look" of the film. That's always important and what touches your soul. Aesthetics will always capture me. I have the greatest respect of the surfing capabilities exhibited in all these films and that's what gets the heart pumping. What truly "does it" for me is the story lines. In Minds in The Water, Dave Rastovich pursuing a path of ocean activism is totally hot! Jeff Clark in Discovering Mavericks talking about surfing massive waves for years solo and how he would choose to move into fear instead of backing away blows my mind. Anthony Ruffo's struggle with drug addition all the while dominating the waves in Santa Cruz and how he tackled this and tried to help others is humbling and heroic.
- Mikey DeTemple
Mikey DeTemple is one of the curators for this year’s SMASH Fest. He is a professional surfer, filmmaker, a born and bred New Yorker and alterna-board advocate. He is also the Producer/Director behind the 2009 movie “Picaresque“–a gem in the world of surf cinema. These qualifications made Mikey an obvious choice to be a curator at SMASH. When longtime friend and fellow New York surfer Tyler Breuer asked him to jump on board, he joined the talented team of curators. With his experience and keen eye for film, those in attendance will be treated to a well-picked selection of high quality surf flicks.
Interview by Reid Levin, The Inertia Assistant Editor
In your opinion, what makes SMASH unique? Why is it different from other surf film festivals?SMASH is unique to me as I feel like it’s general purpose is to truly give back to the filmmakers. Film festivals wouldn’t happen without them, and Tyler and his crew really make everyone feel that way. It’s also in such a geographically unique location with a thriving new surf culture. That really makes the curators, judging panel and films selected so interesting and vibrant–like New York.
Can you give us an idea of what it’s like to work on this film festival? What made you want to jump into that?I was one of the five festival curators and watched all of the submissions. Tyler is a great friend of mine who I’ve grown up surfing with in NY. He asked me if I would be involved as a curator in the very early stages of the festival. I was thrilled to do so and even more thrilled to be curating it alongside some of my favorite and extremely talented New Yorkers.
What makes surf cinema unique?Surfing has such a unique culture so with that comes unique films. No one really views surfing the same and that is so apparent in the world of surf films. From surf porn to documentaries, there are so many stories to be told and so many ways to tell them.
What is one thing that will blow the minds of this year’s SMASH attendees?How different the films are. You could see every film in the festival and feel something totally different each time.
Where do you think surf filmmaking is heading in the future? Paint a picture for us.That’s a tough one. People will continue to tell awesome stories. Pictures will get better with the availability of better equipment, but what it really comes down to is where these films will live. It’s a strange era right now with the DVD slowly fading into uselessness. Technology will tell the future.
With recent developments in technology, like the GoPro for example, do you think it will help or hinder surf films? How?Perfect timing on this question with my above technology rant. I hated the idea of the GoPro when it first came out. That’s because it was a pretty useless tool as a filmmaker. The quality was terrible. Fast forward to now. It’s an amazing thing to have in your camera bag. It’s just making things easier to tell the story you want to tell. There are so many variables to what makes a good surf film and mixing one of these into the medium you shoot on is great but all in moderation.
- Aeriel Brown & David Yun
Aeriel Brown and David Yun are the duo behind New York City’s latest print surf magazine, WAX. When I lived in New York, I was always painfully aware of the irony in living on a tiny island with such restricted access to surf. It undoubtedly takes a certain type of surfer to appreciate life in the Apple and it seems somehow appropriate that Aeriel and Dave both grew up essentially landlocked, only getting their beach fixes during holidays to the East Coast’s well-loved seaside towns. In other words, they’ve had to work to build lifestyles around surfing; they didn’t just stumble into them. And they chose to do that in fabulous New York City: A capital of publishing. A capital of surf? Not so much. But the New York surf community is a strong one, and it’s growing stronger, as is evidenced by both the birth of WAX and the upcoming SMASH [Film] Fest. Both Aeriel and Dave have extensive experience editing photos and collaborating with photographers, but Sea Change, which is part of the inaugural SMASH Fest, is their first foray into the curation of photographic exhibitions. Sea Change will be on display July 25th and 26th, when two enormous black and white prints, comprised of several smaller images, will plaster the walls of Villain in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. The images by Michael Marcelle, Andrew Blauschild, Rob Kulisek, Timothy Briner, Samantha Casolari, and others tell a tale of unity and strength in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. I asked Aeriel and Dave to tell me a tale about editing a surf mag in “New York Gritty” and joining forces with SMASH. Read on.
Interview by Casey Butler
Now, you’re both staples on the New York surf scene, but where are you originally from?We actually both grew up landlocked! Aeriel’s from Pennsylvania and was always at the beaches of NJ, Maryland and Delaware when she was growing up. David was raised in Connecticut.
How do you think editing a surf mag geared towards New Yorkers is different than a surf mag geared towards, say, Californians?Surfing is so intrinsically entwined with California’s history and culture. It’s likely that a California reader brings a whole different set of assumptions and understandings to a surf magazine than a New York reader, who has probably had less exposure to the history of surfing, surf lingo, and aesthetics. [We want to] share stories that are equally striking to either audience. Our goal--at least one of them-- is to supercede pre-conceived notions of what surfing “looks like.” At the same time, we try to provide enough context and information [so] that uninitiated readers can enjoy our content.
What kinds of things has WAX done to support the community in the wake of Sandy?We felt really passionately that anyone who benefited--in any way--from the coastal communities had a real responsibility to help the people who lived there after the storm. We tried to deliver on that. We helped produce Mikey DeTemple and Toddy Stewart's show, "Within Sight," earlier in the year, and were a part of the Waves 4 Water round table that came together right after the storm. Two days after Sandy hit, we were at Picture Farm taking in clothing and food donations and helping to coordinate relief teams. We have a photo of Tyler [Breuer] trying to siphon gas from a kind couple so we could get out to the Rockaways to deliver food about 24 hours after the storm hit. We spent a lot of weekends out there digging people out, putting up drywall and things like that, and also spent a lot of time coordinating to get people there. Sandy, obviously, was horrible. But if there is a silver lining, it’s that all of these people came together to help, and that’s really inspirational.
How did you get together with Tyler [Breuer] and become involved with the SMASH Fest?One of our writers, Matthew McGregor-Mento introduced us to Tyler and we hit it off! We wanted to collaborate on something for SMASH. He first told us about wanting to do an art show late last year.
Had you ever curated a photo exhibition before?
Okay, tell us about it.The exhibition, entitled Sea Change, looks at photography in coastal areas affected by hurricane Sandy over the course of a year.
Why do you think this photo exhibition works well with the firstever SMASH Fest?The idea came from Tyler’s charge to make a show that focused on community. Given the events and aftermath of Sandy, we felt like it would be interesting to look at photography that stretched over the course of a year and gave us perspective on everything that happened. It’s a topic that the surf community was directly and indirectly affected by, and connects closely with areas that are featured in many of the films at SMASH Fest.
Are these photos that have been featured in the mag, or is it all new material (from artists you know and love)?It's a mix. Most of the artists are people we've collaborated with for previous issues (and some of the photos have run). Other people are artists we reached out to because we admire their work and wanted to start a relationship.
What were you looking for and trying to say in curating it?We tried to weave in and out of surf and water-themed imagery and documentation of the storm, infrastructure, and people affected by it. There’s a theme of connectedness that runs throughout [the exhibition]. [It] reinforces the simple idea that disparate communities, though ravaged by the storm, were also connected through the events. We were not interested in conveying anything more complex than that in the curation of the show itself--we leave that to the artwork.
It sounds like a really interesting and unusual concept, using such large images. How did you come up with that?The concept came first out of necessity: To fill a large space and leave a strong impression on the audience. Secondly, to draw a strong connection between the artworks and allow us to present the images in a linear and chronological method. Finally, we wanted to make a show that would not rely heavily on framing and various installation methods, which would be expensive and take away from the community-oriented nature of the event.
And finally, why are you proud to be a part of this surf community?For us, the best part of making our magazine is the friendships we've forged. After Sandy, we felt particularly grateful to count a lot of these people as friends, because not only are they creative, fun, smart people, but they're really compassionate, too. For us, that compassion is one of the reasons we’re so proud to be a part of the New York surf community.