Fisherman’s Son, Chilean Hero

Ramon Navarro's biopic is a thing of beauty

Ramon Navarro, The Fisherman's Son himself, stoked at the April 8th La Paloma premier. Photo: Glaser

Ramon Navarro, The Fisherman’s Son himself, stoked at the April 8th La Paloma premier. Photo: Glaser

If the opening few minutes of The Fisherman’s Son are any indication, Ramon Navarro is the son of a very good fisherman. The film starts with Ramon’s dad, Jano, walking around a beach, a few enormous fish slung casually over his shoulders. Soon those fish are carved up and roasted over open flames, while charming old ladies share treasured seafood recipes, everybody donning the most phenomenal beanies. It’s enough to make Chile look like a slightly chilly (sorry) paradise—like California in the early 20th Century, maybe, when it was still the last best place on earth. It’s a paradise that Navarro has dedicated his life to preserving, and when muscular south swells wrap themselves around his beloved Punta de Lobos, it’s a place he’s dedicated his life to surfing, too.

Chris Malloy directed The Fisherman’s Son, and it’s a smart, well-crafted tribute to Navarro’s waveriding and progression from humble Chilean fisherman to humble Chilean activist/surf hero. We learn many things about Navarro, all told from the perspective of fellow world-class big-wave riders like Kohl Christensen, Mark Healey, and Greg Long, among others. For example, did you know that Navarro showed up for his first North Shore experience so broke that he built a mud oven on Christensen’s property and tried to hawk freshly baked empanadas from a cooler on the beach? And that those empanadas were maybe filled with feral North Shore chickens, shot with a sling-shot? It’s also refreshing to hear how utterly terrified Navarro was when he was dragged out to Waimea hours after he first set foot on the North Shore. A few years later, he was competing in the Eddie. Inspiring stuff.

What’s equally inspiring is Navarro’s mission to help protect the natural beauty and grace of Pichilemu, his corner of Chile. He’s been a big part of a local activist wave that’s fighting to keep pollution-generating pulp mills and sewage pipes from destroying the fragile marine ecosystem he calls home. Tales of Navarro’s activism and background are balanced well with footage of Navarro threading tubes in Chile, Hawaii, Fiji, and Rapa Nui. In Malloy’s low-key, caring hands, Navarro’s tale is a must-watch.

After watching The Fisherman’s Son, I called Malloy to find out more about the project.

“I first went to Pichilemu in, ’99 with Miki Dora. It’s a long, fucked-up story, but Dora and I stumbled onto the place after landing in Santiago and taking a little jog over to the coast; I was blown away by the place. There was nobody there. Just a couple surfers, and Ramon was just a grom. I didn’t know him then, but went back to Chile five or six times and was always aware of Ramon, but we weren’t yet friends. Eventually I crossed paths with him on the North Shore and knew that he was hanging with Kohl, and thought ‘Oh shit, he’s in for it.’ From there it’s been really fun to watch his trajectory. Over the last 10 years I’ve been more and more inspired by his story.”

“That piece of property [Punta de Lobos] is prime for putting in a hotel. Over the last few years there have been several private entities circling that zone. Ramon’s whole program is trying to use whatever happens at Punta de Lobos as an example of what mindful development can be. It’s not an anti-progress approach. It’s not anti-construction. It’s pro-mindful decisions from the people who have lived there for their whole lives and whose families have been there generations. That’s the whole message of the film.”

The Fisherman’s Son is currently on a film tour, and will be available everywhere on April 30. Watch the trailer here: