Photo: Trefz

The historic Rio Theatre in Santa Cruz played host to the U.S. premiere of Surfers’ Blood on Friday.

Under a moody fall sky at the Rio Theatre, Surfers’ Blood, the newest documentary from Patrick Trefz, premiered in Santa Cruz on Friday evening, its first showing in the U.S. after debuting at the 2016 San Sebastian Film Festival. The line was out the door, with an eclectic mix of families, surf personalities, frothing grommets, and your everyday film aficionados turning out.

Shane Skelton with O'Neill was eager to see the action as he prepared prizes for a raffle giveaway, all of the proceeds benefiting FleaHab, an alternative sober-living program founded by Darryl "Flea" Virostko to help local individuals with drug and alcohol dependency overcome their addictions through activities like surfing.

"Patrick does such a good job of showing the vibe of our tribe and community, especially in the spirits of individuals,” said Skelton. “He really gets their character. Instead of just their surfing and their hot-dogging, it's more about their experiences in the water."

Surfers’ Blood is a tale of man's perennial connection with the ocean, featuring profiles from ancient Basque oarsmen to Silicon Valley tech giants like Thomas Meyerhoffer, whose surfboard designs are aesthetically divergent, yet fully functional. All this lends to some great storytelling, and Trefz gently guides the viewer from the various segments as though guiding a balloon across vast expanses of time and thought.

Santa Cruz’s Zach Wormhoudt, who is featured in the film, said he’s always appreciated the range of Trefz’ narrative techniques.

"I was telling my kids that the cool part about Patrick's work is that he can take something that we look at every day, and where we might take a photograph or film, he'll do it from a perspective that's completely unique and different,” he said.

The opening segment of the movie silenced all whispers in the theatre. From 93-year-old Patxi Oliden’s dedicated shaping, to Kepa Acera's reverence for Mundaka, to Myerhoffer's tech-influenced take on the modern surfboard, you could sense a borderline sacred passion for the ocean from every surfer featured in the film.

The heart and soul of the movie, especially for the local Santa Cruz crowd, was Flea Virostko’s story of fame, destruction, and rebirth. It ends on a somber, yet touching note, as Virostko discusses his friendship with Shawn "Barney" Barron, and his remorse about not being able to do more for his best friend. Tears were shed during the tribute to the Santa Cruz legend – a kind man who would belittle you, then himself, then paint you a picture that same day.

Chad Underhill Meras, who now lives in Barney's house, shaved half of his face and head in tribute to his fallen friend. "The whole Flea and Barney part was definitely touching for me,” Meras said. “I was around that stuff watching it unfold as a grom. Every time I see that footage with Barn, and all the still images – I mean, I live at his house. It's a trip. Patrick honored him well."

For Trefz, the chance to share his vision with those closest to him was the highlight.

"It was awesome to bring the film home after the world premiere in San Sebastian,” Trefz said. “This Santa Cruz showing is a whole different deal, especially regarding Flea’s efforts with FleaHab and his commitment to give back to the community. Seeing all the groms and their families come out made for a great vibe."

The film screenings will continue around California, the East Coast, Germany, Switzerland, Spain, Portugal, and Brazil. Watch the trailer here: