“So, is it a longboard movie?” a friend asked as we headed to La Paloma Theater on Friday night. “Um, no, not really,” I responded. I’m not really quite sure how to describe the Thomas Campbell genre. In one pseudo-succinct statement, I’d call it an artsy-groovy-16mm-shortboard-shredfest-meets-fish-alaia-bodysurf-log movie.
And, as a film that encompasses every version of wave-riding, it attracted a crowd of equal diversity to its sold-out world premier in Encinitas —families, the young, the old, the Japanese (they eat this stuff up), and the super-hipsters (skinny jeans are in right now, in case you didn’t get the memo) and those who worship them. Ray Barbee and his fellow spiffy suited musicians welcomed the standing-room-only crowd with the brand of instrumental melodic refrain that’s possibly as emblematic to Campbell’s films as sewing-machine-enhanced art and detailed line drawings.
Between the two showings that night, almost the entire cast made appearances. They raffled off T-shirts and soundtracks, and they gave away a Michel Junod surfboard at the later showing. All in all, it was a night that lived up to La Paloma surf premier standards in every way (except that, unlike the A Fly in the Champagne premier at the same location the previous week, there were no chips or salsa at the door).
In a word, the film is encompassing. It has a little bit of everything: exotic locales, good music, The Big Name, Cool-Because-He-Doesn’t-Care-If-We-Think-He’s-Cool Shortboarder (Dane Reynolds), a slew of legends, world champions (of the shortboard, longboard, and bodyboard realms), wood boards (it’s rad to be green, if cutting down a tree to make a surfboard is green) and the surfers who ride them (Malloys, Rasta, Machado), beards (facial hair makes you rugged), ethnic dancing, and, of course, no modern surf movie is complete without the obligatory comic relief (I won’t spoil it, but let’s just say it involves a NordicTrack, incredible hair, and a ladder).
Personally, I loved the movie. I liked the eclecticism of it, the promotion of the “ride-everything ethos” and the idea that regardless of what stick we’re taking to the lineup, we’re all just riding waves (yes, that’s completely after-school-special of me). But, I also must admit I am a big fan of Thomas Campbell films. I’m also a longboarder. With friends in the film. Who’s always enjoyed this genre. So I suppose I’m not an unbiased reviewer. (Is anyone?) My only gripe with the film would be that, compared to Campbell’s previous films, The Sprout and The Seedling, films that seemed to blend effortlessly from one scene to the next, The Present seemed a bit more disconnected and lacked the same harmonious flow.
But if the test of a good surf film is how strongly it leaves you wanting to go surf, then this film can be considered a definite success in anyone’s book. I left wishing the sun hadn’t set yet and I could go get a quick session in—but it had, so I settled for a beer next door.