By Aaron Schall
It is a leader’s obligation, the hero’s modus operandi and a captain’s fate accompli. It is the determination to stick it out when things get tough, to see things through to the bitter end, and a willful stubbornness to seek success no matter the obstacle. It is a willingness to go Down with the Ship.
For big-wave surfer and La Jolla son Derek Dunfee, Down With The Ship has become more than a catchphrase—rather it has evolved into a personal mantra, a recipe for success, and the title for his just-released autobiographical movie.
On the evening of Thursday, July 29, an overflow crowd packed the Sherwood Auditorium at the Museum of Contemporary Art in La Jolla, California, to celebrate the premiere of Down With the Ship with Derek and his friends and family. Produced by Derek himself, edited by Ryan Broomberg and with the art by Taylor Dunfee, the movie outlines the events leading up to Derek’s crowning achievement—winning the 2009 XXL Monster Paddle award on an appropriately monstrous November wave at Mavericks.
Backtracking not nearly as long as one should, considering the severity of the injury, the storyline unfolds finding its roots in the barrel at Cloudbreak. On one day out at Cloudbreak, Derek happens to be at the wrong spot at the wrong time. The lip caught Derek at an awkward moment, folding his body in a way not within the range of human flexibility, thus violently breaking his leg. From here it is a story of dedication—dedication to recovery, a new dedication to a healthier lifestyle, and a re-dedication to the world’s biggest rideable and paddle-able waves. An obviously far from 100 percent healthy Derek is seen charging solid Puerto, as he insists on preparing himself mentally and physically for the upcoming big-wave season of the Northern Pacific—despite doctors’ concerns that the injury may not be sufficiently healed to withstand the terrible beatings routinely dished out on such a stretch of sand.
The rehabilitation a success, and an early winter storm a more than willing participant, we once again bear witness to two of the most significant waves in Derek’s life: a terrible beating on a top-to-bottom wave that seems more fit for fiction and nightmares than for sport, then the following day’s XXL wave of waves.
The film also documents the further pursuits of an elite core of big-wave surfers who seek to paddle into waves that many called un-paddleable. From well-known surfers like Greg and Rusty Long, Grant Baker, and Mark Healey to a poignant remembrance of Noel Robinson and to fellow La Jollans John Maher and JoJo Roper, the stage is set for Derek and friends to continue to expand the envelope of big wave paddle-in surfing.
The evening, which included a who’s who of the tight-knit and well-respected La Jolla surfing community, was a purposeful and rewarding success. With the money from a well-stocked raffle going straight to the Emerald Coast chapter of the Surfrider Foundation and its efforts to help with the Gulf oil spill, the good vibes and good will emanated far beyond the theatre walls. Many thanks to Volcom, Matuse, Sector 9, Nixon, and Stu Kenson Surfboards for their contributions and helping to make this an evening of celebration and kinship, an evening spirited in giving, an evening not to soon be forgotten.