Director Jeff Parker Discusses Newport's Roots And The Birth Of An Industry

In the spirit of recent films like Dogtown And Z Boys and Bustin' Down The Door, Echo Beach focuses on the 1980's surf scene in Newport Beach, California and the underground fashion current that would eventually spawn brands like Quiksilver, Stussy, Volcom, and countless others. The original sense of entrepreneurship and high-performance surfing that was happening at that time was thoroughly embodied in four central characters—Danny Kwock, Preston Murray, John Gothard, and Echo Beach creator Jeff Parker all were off-beat pro surfers who never surfed contests but blazed the trail that we all know now as the life of a "photo pro." These early pioneers struck gold by expressing the creativity through bright wetsuits, loud music, and punk rock attitude in the face of the black-wetsuit-clear-board surf establishment of the time. All four members eventually graced the cover of the magazines, and they all went on to make profound marks on the surf industry. Echo Beach tells the unlikely story of how it all started.

The film premiered Tuesday, April 28th at Newport Beach's Lido theatre during the 10th annual Newport Beach Film Festival and was received by a sold out audience. SURFER caught up with Jeff Parker, who answered a few questions for us:

What was the inspiration for this film?

Jeff Parker: I always thought that our era was unique, interesting, controversial, and a story worth telling.

How long did it take to make?

It started as a conceptual idea about four years ago; once we had investors it took about two years to make.

What do you feel is the most important contribution that Echo Beach made to surfing?

It brought a spirit of innovation that ignited the surf industry, spawning what we now know as "Velcro Valley." Our relationship to Quiksilver built the foundation for what has become the relationship between most all of the sponsored surfers out there and the companies. We showed Quik how to use influential young kids in the magazines and they showed everyone else. It's still happening all over the world today, and it's a big business.

At one point you, Gothard, Kwock, and Murray all had been on the cover of the magazine. Did you realize the importance of what you were doing when it was happening, or were you oblivious kids?

I think we realized how important it was because of the impact of the two magazines. There as no Internet, and there were no videos or mass media publications. SURFER and Surfing ruled the world at the time.

How do you feel Echo Beach compares to some of the other contemporary surf culture documentaries like Z Boys or Bustin' Down the Door?

We definitely took inspiration from each but felt our story was different and had its own impact. The Bustin' Down the Door guys are pretty much our polar opposites—they were the Aussie contest guys who never got photos in the magazines but were great competitors. We made our living by being outspoken in print. There is a great story in the film about a kid who wanted an autograph from one of the O'Neill pros at a demo in the early 80s. The kid basically blew right by Shaun Thompson so he could get Gothard's signature! We were changing all the rules right under their noses.

Who else contributed to this film's production?

Stefan Jeremias is the co-producer, and he's released films like Singlefin Yellow and Stylemasters 1 & 2. He was great to work with. We also had a brilliant music master to score the film—M Phase [Geoff Harrington]—and two editors in Tague Hurley and Mark Whitledge, who really helped the story flow.

The turnout for the premiere was unbelievable! Did you anticipate that turnout, or were you surprised by the community's reaction?

It was better than expected, and we had high expectations.

What has the reaction been outside of Orange County so far?

So far, so good. We feel the film can show everywhere because it's about being innovative and not following everybody else. Everyone can relate to the cultural changes that took place at the time.

If you could do it all over again, what would you change this time around?

I don't think I would change much, but I would have appreciated the group of talented shapers a little more, because I think a lot of the soul of shaping has been lost. Without the surfboard we don't have surfing.