Chris Bystrom! Jesus, what a feisty bastard. Do or say something he didn't like, and you'd hear about it, fast. I remember being on the receiving end of a Bystrom-penned flogging in the late 1980s, when I was in charge of the SURFER letters column. He didn't approve of the magazine's review for his latest movie. Can't recall which one. Freeze Frame, maybe. Or Son of the Last Surf Movie. Dude put out a lot of product, it was hard to keep up. I'd met Chris 10 or so years earlier, when he was still living in San Diego, and we'd always been friendly. He was ridiculously energetic, had a good sense of humor. Decent surfer. A fun guy to be around. But after that review he let me have it, with both barrels.
No, just one barrel. He saved both barrels for Roy Fleming, who reviewed Bystrom's Madmen '93 for Australia's Surfing Life. "Where the hell did they drag you up from?" Bystrom wrote in a just-controlled rant that ASL published under the heading "Angry Letter of the Month." Fleming was a "purse-carrying nancy boy," Bystrom said, and his Madmen review was "the slimiest piece of yellow journalism I've ever read." (Magazine editor Derek Reilly stepped in to say there were "no hard feelings," and mailed Chris "a handsome green corduroy ASL cap." Cheeky fuck.)
Bystrom died in a car accident in 2001, at age 51. All told, he made something like 30 surf movies and videos. Published a surf mag, wrote a book, sang in an men's choir, coached a pee-wee basketball team. Guy was just fizzing with energy and enthusiasm. Had six or eight projects in the hopper when he checked out, as usual.
Last month I found a DVD copy of Blazing Boards tucked into a desk drawer. For some reason it didn't get loaded with all the other surf movies I've been cannibalizing for EOS. Boards came out in 1984; just before I got to SURFER. I'm sure I saw it way back when, but I have no recollection.
Anyway, it seemed fitting that I pop it in the drive and give it a quick review. Thirty years late, but what the hell.
POSTER ART: This used to be a real thing, one of the best things actually, about surf movies. Bystrom got Rick Griffin to do the Blazing Boards poster, so we're off to a good start. (Things got worse later. A lot worse.)
OPENING SHOT: Brainstorm himself, in a fine extended bit of surf-filmmaker goofery, drinking lighter fluid and telling us that the movie we're about to see is shit. I kind of love this. Not exactly sure why it's supposed to be funny, but I appreciate that Chris took the time to write that bit of dialogue (or freestyle it, better still!), and that he's got the nuts to open his movie in such weird fashion.
DEMOCRACY: Bystrom spreads it around. Glen Rawlings, Don Johnson, Pat Mulhern, Bird Mahalona, Zappa Wybrow—if you were anywhere near Bystrom's viewfinder in '82 or '83, there's a good chance you got a shot in Blazing Boards. Bystrom viewed himself as a bit of an underdog, and he had a lot of time for lesser-known surfers.
EDITING: On the other hand, do we really need to see Zappa Wybrow and Pat Mulhern? Blazing Boards is 90 damn minutes long. I could have watched last night's Daily Show and a Downton Abby rerun in the time it took me to get through this monster. Give me one afternoon on Final Cut Pro and I'd trim this fucker down to a tidy 35 minutes.
SOUNDTRACK: All comes down to how you feel about Men Without Hats.
FINAL CALL: Like the purse-carrying nancy boy I am, I'm going to punt—all the way back to Surfing editor Chris Carter, who closed his 1984 Blazing Boards review thusly: "Lots of hot surfing. A wide variety of good waves in a large variety of locales. You can't ask for much more than that—but I always will."
RIP Chris Bystrom. Surfing is a less-fizzy place for you're not being here. We miss you.