Hunkered back in our bamboo fort above the train station in Del Mar, my friends and I watched curiously as the late Chris Bystrom skidded to a stop in his VW Squareback.
With his rust bucket still sputtering in neutral, Bystrom marched up and down the dirt parking lot, hastily stapling surf-film posters on wooden electricity poles. Occasionally he glanced at the mushy lefts rolling in–but as quickly as he arrived, he was off–down to La Jolla Shores to continue his mission, no doubt.
His arrival to our little Del Mar surf world meant only one thing: a new surf flick was on its way to the La Paloma Theater in Encinitas. Our social calendar for the summer was set. Our surf horizons broadened.
The year was 1981. I’m talking pre Performers, pre Off The Wall II, pre Taylor Steele. Those evenings at the La Paloma were magical. It was a complete bro-fest as my fellow surf brethren and I congregated in our obnoxious Echo Beach garb, talked surf, burped beer and loudly pleaded for a new swell. The surf fellowship charged the electric vibe of those summer evenings
Alas, around 1983, those magical surf movie evenings sadly became obsolete. Along came the surf video. In one fell swoop the surf theater experience was all but eliminated from our culture. Like the round-pin single-fin, we knew the surf theater experience felt right, but the newer, faster, more accessible VHS (and, God forbid, Beta) format gave us instant satisfaction–like a twin fin.
Luckily, just as the round-pin single-fin has made its way back into our quivers, companies such as Leslie Carlos’ Big Red Productions have brought back the magic of surf theater evenings. Carlos’ team runs feature-length surf films and videos on Thursday nights at various Mann theaters (mostly in Orange County). And Steele’s Poor Specimen understands the power of the surf theater experience too. They’ve been re-energizing the surf-theater experience for a couple of years now. Poor Specimen will be making the rounds this June with their premiere of Drive Thru: Japan.
Now a twist. A surfer by the name of Brian Musial has taken the surf theater concept in another direction. His fork-in-the-road idea brightened while he and a friend pondered a dismally lacking unemployment check over a round of a flat draught beer. “What do you really want to do?” asked Musial’s friend in an all too familiar paternal tone.
The answer was simple. Musial wanted to bring back the surf theater experience while also giving the independent surf filmmaker a venue to showcase his unique wares. Musial sketched out his idea on a cocktail napkin and WaveFest, a two-year-old independent film festival based in San Francisco, became the end result.