Where to begin with Santa Barbara's contribution to surfing? For decades the region's attracted and cultivated a diversity of innovators while continuously churning out top-tier talent. Any attempt at a comprehensive list of influential Santa Barbara-locals seems a fool's errand.
That’s a notion that filmmaker Wyatt Daily understood before starting in on his documentary film on Santa Barbara's surf history. And it’s one would that would be reinforced over and over again during the making of the film “Spoons: A Santa Barbara Story.”
"I can’t tell you how many people – when I told them what I wanted to do – told me it couldn’t be done, especially not in 60 minutes or less," Daily says of his new film, which through talking head interviews with giants of the sport and never-before-seen archival footage provides a distinct perspective on the Southern California surf town. "My hope was that I could present something people in Santa Barbara could identify with, and which inspires others in the broader surfing community, and even non-surfers."
“Spoons”—which draws its name from Santa Barbara-shaping legend Renny Yater's novel and popular design—is set to premiere at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival on February 9th. And though the film is finished, Daily's not quite done with this formidable project, as he's launched a Kickstarter to help pay for licensing of the archival footage he dug up and used in the film.
We caught up with Daily to find out more about the film before its premiere.
From Greenough to Merrick to Lovelace, Santa Barbara seems to continue to attract and cultivate a special breed of tinkerers and innovators. From your research, is there some connective tissue between these folks. What is it about the place that inspires such outside-the-box thinking?
In my view Santa Barbara surfing is all a mix of tradition, and radical innovation. Both are incredibly important. It takes radical innovation to make leaps and bounds, but it also takes dedication and a careful, measured approach to lead to refined concepts and gradual progress over time.
These two spirits very much define how people surf as well. It’s important to have the fundamentals of speed, power and flow in order to make more radical maneuvers. So all of that is to say the connective tissue is of course, Rincon. That’s what keeps everyone coming back, building surfboards, and expressing themselves through their surfing.
At a glance, this seems like a behemoth of a project–so many names, innovations. Where did you start?
The sad truth is that I couldn’t fit everyone in the film. The breath of talented surfers and shapers in Santa Barbara is just too rich and deep. So in order to keep it cohesive without becoming a ledger of everyone who has influenced the sport of surfing, I tried to stick to a few voices and convey what the overall approach to surfing that makes Santa Barbara unique. My hope was that I could present something people in Santa Barbara could identify with, and which inspires others in the broader surfing community, and even non-surfers. I hope people who respect work ethic, mentorship, and culture will appreciate this film.
I felt there was a need for this information to be out there, and to discuss the roll that the region at large has had on surfing’s development. I also felt that it should leave people wanting more, because those are my favorite surf films.
There are so so many people who for one reason or another I couldn’t get in the film, who I wish I could. I wish I could just keep making this film for the next ten years, it’s been that fun.
How did you go about collecting all of the archival footage?
This film began from the first moment as an archival documentary. It all started when I was a Film & Media student at UCSB and my roommate Grayson Nance brought a big box of VHS tapes and slides of the Rincon Classic surf contest and sat it down on our table. He asked if I could digitize it, which seemed easy enough. It wasn't.
The Rincon Classic is a local’s only contest. And when I was looking through the footage and the heat sheets I saw well known names I recognized. Al Merrick, Tom Curren, even Josh Brolin. I learned about local legends like John Bradbury and Davey Smith. And I watched these tapes of these guys as really young and I just realized that there was a great story of surfing there! I’d been surfing my whole life and I had no idea so many big names came from Santa Barbara, and why was that?
So what started as a little project about the Rincon Classic surf contest turned into conversations with Nat Young and George Greenough and Bruce Brown and countless friendships and a lot of stoke. The more I asked around, the more stuff people pulled out of their closets and basements. I held on to that box of Rincon Classic VHSs for about six years. I think there are maybe 20 seconds of it in the film.
What was the most exciting clip you found during your research?
I loved finding a clip of Tom Curren in the 1984 Rincon Classic, before he won his first world title. He’s giving an interview with Michael Tomson and says, “Up here in Santa Barbara, it’s pretty mellow. There are a lot of good surfers but there’s really no one on an international level”. That was buried in hours of scratchy VHS tapes, but when I found it I just busted up laughing. I knew it was special.
But by far the most exciting moment was when we were interviewing Bruce Brown, and afterword we asked if he would show us his cutting table. He took us to the back office, and even though he hadn’t touched it in years, everything was just like he stopped in the middle of what he was doing. Cigarettes still in the ashtray. I idolize Bruce; his films changed my life – as they have for many others. So seeing where “On Any Sunday” and “The Endless Summer” were cut was visiting holy ground. I felt it in my chest. It was the first time I’d seen a reel-to-reel editing setup, so I asked if he could show us how it worked. And sure enough he reached over and grabbed a can off the table and read the label: “San Miguel Island.” Inside were a few rolls of 16mm film. One titled “Hammond’s Reef.” Another unnamed. He opened it up and put it through the viewer and showed us something I don’t think anyone else had ever seen before. Then he closed up the can and handed it to me and told me to do something with it. My mouth was on the floor. I couldn’t believe it. I still can’t believe it.
Bruce died about one and a half months later. I can’t thank John Tipich, his grandson, enough for introducing us and being such an important collaborator. I hope to meet Dana Brown someday, and I hope he likes what we did with the film. And even though I’m sure Bruce was just taking time out of his morning to entertain us with his jokes and stories, I like to think that maybe he placed that film can there right before we showed up just to see what might happen.
And lastly: the film is finished. You’re premiering it on Feb. 9. But you’re seeking funding to license all the archival footage you’ve used. Tell us a bit more about why this is necessary and how folks can help?
We’ve got a lot of amazing footage from some of surfing’s biggest names, but we need to pay them in order release it. Right now, we’ve only got permission for this one showing, because everyone is stoked on the film and they believe in the project. But without financial backing we won’t be able to bring the film to the world. This film was made with pure passion, bootstrapped from the ground up. No sponsors, no external forces, just our passion and stoke for making a film we love. And now we’re the Closing Night Film! We’re playing at the Arlington Theater, which has 2200 seats! We’ve gotta pack the house! So we hope anyone who is psyched about the film and wants to see it will be willing to come and be a part of the process.
Click here to learn more about the film and/or lend your support to the project.