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Opening Night: San Diego Surf Film Festival

Inside the inaugural fest


Surfers convened at Bird’s Surf Shed this past Friday for the sold-out opening night of the inaugural San Diego Surf Film festival. That’s right—inaugural.

It’s surprising San Diego hasn’t hosted a surf film festival before, for a few reasons. For one, our reefs and beachbreaks have produced icons like Mike Hynson and Skip Frye. And many surfers here are part of a tight-knot community. Take the Windansea Surf Club, which is nearing its 50th anniversary. So it’s no surprise surfers welcomed the chance to celebrate local and international surf cinema.

La Jolla native Pierce Kavanagh and crew put together the three-day festival, which showcased 13 full-length films and two short films.   

The festival kicked off with a proclamation from the city of San Diego and a short film dedicated to Ted Smith, a La Jolla surfer who died from drowning after suffering a heart attack while surfing at Windansea Beach late last year. With the Rolling Stone’s “Sway” as the soundtrack, the moving tribute showed a group of surfers releasing Smith’s ashes into the ocean. At the end of the short, surfers were reminded to “Smile like Ted.”

“Sight/Sound” was the first feature. An eclectic mix of shots from snow-swept beaches and unrecognizable waves from across the globe featured the road less traveled. The surfboards were out there, too. As well as shortboards and longboards, surfers ripped on asymmetrical, Bob Simmons-inspired planks.

“Lost and Found,” the night’s final feature, was a reminder that surf film festivals are a participatory experience. Throughout the film, the audience cheered at the sight of barrels and audibly groaned when a particularly nasty wave demolished a surfer.

“Lost and Found” was more than just footage of perfect waves. It’s about filmmaker who discovered 30,000 negatives at a flea market in Los Angeles. In a cool twist, the negatives are some of surfing’s most famous photographs. The filmmaker then reunited with surfers and photographers to talk about what the negatives meant to them. Above all, “Lost and Found” was proof that narrative-driven surf films can work.   

Of course, it’s worth mentioning the festival was held at Bird’s Surf Shed, a shrine to all things surfing. Surfboards from local shapers lining the rafters above, it was a fitting venue for the occasion.

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