The 2024 Olympics are coming and, with them, the opportunity for athletes who toil at less popular sports like badminton, synchronized swimming and surfing a chance to shine on a global stage. While the bulk of games will be played in Paris, the surfing will be offloaded to French Polynesia and its glorious “Place of Broken Skulls.”
It will be surfing’s second Olympic running. The summer before last, brave men and women paddled out into two-foot Japanese beachbreak in order to showcase skill and thrill. Teahupo’o, there at the end of the road, serves up a different sort of challenge.
Namely, big scary.
Surfing’s first silver medalist, the heartthrob Kanoa Igarashi, recently sat down with Japan’s Kyodo News to discuss how he would go about the business at hand, saying, “The first time I was there, I felt very scared. I stayed for a week but could only catch a few waves. But…I made myself promise to make riding those kind of waves my strength. It became a project. It was pretty much always tough…but in the last couple of years I am finding it much more comfortable. I’m more confident now riding there.”
Ahhhh and what a benevolent gift.
As you know, surfing’s current champion, Filipe Toledo, has a distinct aversion to Teahupo’o, famously refusing to paddle for waves during two separate contests. If things continue the way they are, though, he will have to face fear and drop himself over the ledge. Lower Trestles, you see, is not an 2024 Olympic back-up site. There will be no final five.
But look, again, at Igarashi’s secret advice to Toledo. Making a project of riding big ledgy lefts.
Exactly like equally helpful BeachGrit tried to make happen five-ish years ago.
Benevolence all around. Benevolence and good cheer.
“Small and pretty” filmmaking phenom reveals the surf movie gamble that cost superstar directors George Lucas and Steven Spielberg millions!
John Milius trades Hollywood surf movie stinker Big Wednesday for Close Encounters of the First Kind and Star Wars!
Greg MacGillivray was 14 in 1960, the son of a Corona Beach lifeguard, small and pretty (his older sister was Miss Newport Beach) and absolutely relentless at whatever he put his mind to: paper route, math class, Boy Scouts—or, by 8th grade, making a surf movie.
Nobody saw Greg coming. He looked like a kid dressed up for Halloween as a surf movie-maker. He was almost invisible.
MacGillivray’s other superpower was that he could not be rushed.
Miss the deadline if you have to, but do the job right.
Greg later said he spent all his money (and borrowed from dad as well) and 90% of his free time on A Cool Wave of Color, his debut film, which took five years to make. He did the poster art. He painstakingly crafted little interstitial stop-motion animated graphics, which flash by onscreen in just a few seconds but really light the movie up.
Cool Wave debuted midway through MacGillivray’s freshman year at UC Santa Barbara. It screened a few times at various local Elks Lodges and high school auditoriums, and that was enough to earn a mostly-good review in SURFER.
“Cool Wave of Color shows blessed signs of creativity, [and] a musical score fitting to California waves.” (The criticism came near the end of the review, and was a small but literal kick to the nuts: “Greg is a young man and has a high-pitched voice.”)
First, in the Fall of 1964 MacGillivray gassed up his new white-on-white Ford Econoline van—and again, the ambition and drive cannot be overstated; Greg’s work ethic is two-parts inspiring and one-part grotesque and while I’ve never met MacGillivray face-to-face he is in my Spirit Animal starting-five—and set out on a 6,300-mile coast-to-coast Cool Wave tour in which the film played at three locations.
A pair of shows at the North Hollywood Women’s Club, another in Daytona Beach, another in Virginia Beach. Driving cross-country and back for four shows seems insane.
But no, just the opposite. The whole point, as Greg well knew, was not to turn a profit, but to get out there and be seen, build momentum, gather experience—and the experiences came one after the other, big and small, high and low.
Driving through Alabama, just a few weeks after 30-plus black men, women, and children were hospitalized after being beaten and gassed during a peaceful march in Tuscaloosa, Greg grabbed a KKK rally poster from a telephone pole as a memento and was escorted out of town by a group of locals in a gun-racked pickup. Later, in a side trip to Manhattan, he visited MoMA and splurged on a Central Park carriage ride for his wife-to-be. MacGillivray loved surfing but also loved new experiences of any kind.
The other thing: Greg headed up the second unit on the Big Wednesday shoot, and his description of that episode in Five Hundred Summer Stories reminded me yet again of that film’s humiliating public debut and its otherworldly rehabilitation.
Sharpen those knives, folks.
If you’ve been with me here awhile you know that time and tide have not mellowed my view of Big Wednesday, which was directed by John Milius and released in 1978 by Warner Brothers.
I first spaghetti-whipped it here, and did it again here. I make an exception for Gary Busey, who singled-handedly carries the first reel of Big Wednesday, and I also have a soft spot for Bear, the fallen shaper whose “lemon next to the pie” quote is sad and poignant while at the same time, and not intentionally, the movie’s comic highpoint.
But I stand by the idea that the Big Wednesday bad-review dogpile—read the Times takedown here and the Surfing magazine review here—was totally deserved, and that Big Wednesday getting unceremoniously yanked from theaters after a week or two was a mercy to all involved.
Except Milius, of course, got the last laugh—many laughs in fact.
Big Wednesday found new life in the 1980s as a video-rental favorite and then found a place into the Baby Boomer treasure chest of once-scorned-now-sacred cultural artifacts, right next to the Monkees and Ronald Reagan.
But before that happened, there was a second and maybe more astounding Big Wednesday consolation prize, which I believe is a one-off in the history of Hollywood. MacGillivray tells the story:
I began making day trips to Milius’ office at Warner Bros. In the adjoining office sat Steven Spielberg [who was] working with Milius, writing and prepping the comedy feature “1941.” The unions still had incredible control over Hollywood, but Spielberg, Milius, and their friend George Lucas were challenging the status quo with enormously profitable films. One day the three of them were at John’s office and we were all joking around about filmmaking. I would later learn that they had each agreed to share some of the profits from the three personal projects they each had in production. Incredibly, Lucas’ film was Star Wars and Spielberg’s film was Close Encounters of the Third Kind. John’s film was Big Wednesday. [Each filmmaker] gave each away two points from the net profits they owned in their own creations [to the other two filmmakers]. This was their way to show the old-time studio bosses that a new era had begun of youthful, creative collaboration.
“The deal worked out better for some than others,” Spielberg later told MacGillivray, laughing at the lost millions of dollars. “We haven’t repeated the practice.”
"Chris was larger than life. He had a big lion heart, he had amazing charisma. He was loud, cheeky, and funny."
A little over one month ago, the Narrabeen surf prodigy Chris “Kingswood Black” Davidson died after an alleged one-punch attack outside a bar in rural east coast Australia.
Davidson, who was forty-five, was allegedly punched in the face by Grant “Grub” Coleman outside the South West Rocks Country Club at around eleven pm on Saturday, September 24.
Sources close to BeachGrit allege the pair had a run-in at the bar and that Coleman was allegedly thrown out by the club’s security.
Paramedics treated Davo at the scene and he was taken to Kempsey Hospital but pronounced dead a short time later.”
At North Narrabeen on Saturday, the beach and its associated culture that shaped Davo, hundreds of mourners celebrated the sneering, Billy Idol-esque preternatural talent that electrified surf fans.
Davo’s two kids and his sister, Carlie Maudson, paddled floral tributes into the Narrabeen lineup, joining the circle of mourners.
“We had the wreath on top of the surfboard … they took it out to the middle of the circle and said a few words and let the wreath go, let the board do one last catch of the wave in,” Maudson told ABC news.
A service, with speeches, photos and previously unseen videos, followed.
“I think he’d be surprised at how many beautiful memories we put up on the screen and how many beautiful photos that we’ve found looking through all the old surf magazines,” she said. “Chris was larger than life. He had a big lion heart, he had amazing charisma. He was loud, cheeky, and funny.”
Davo’s alleged attacker Coleman, who is forty-two, was refused bail and remains behind bars.
He’ll face court on November 23 for assault causing death and intentionally choking a person.
Brazilians go to polls for hotly contested election as World Surf League signals intent to mine precious resource from developing nation for exploitative colonization-era windfall!
Brazilians are heading to the polls, this morning, in one of the hottest election in years. On one hand, the right one, countrymen and women have incumbent Jair Bolsonaro. The firebrand has made much news, over the course of his reign, with provocative statements, eyebrow-raising stories, a great and important friendship with professional surfer Gabriel Medina. “I’m expecting our victory, for the good of Brazil,” he told reporters as he cast a vote for himself. “God willing, Brazil will be victorious today.”
On the hand, this one left, sits Luiz Incio Lula da Silva, a former union leader, who was once much-loved and president for seven years but then got tossed in jail but then released.
The race is impossibly tight.
“Politically, Bolsonaro is stronger than had been imagined,” said Rodrigo Prando, a professor at Mackenzie Presbyterian University in Sao Paulo. “Mathematically, Lula is in front.”
No matter who wins, one thing is certain. The World Surf League has signaled its intent to come south and mine a precious resource from the developing nation and ship it directly north, to the United States of America, and its vast eyeball and click vaults.
In naked provocation, WSL CEO Erik Logan told Brazilian news outlet Exame, “Currently, there is no other market like the Brazilian one for professional surfing. Just see what happens with our events held in the country. When you arrive at the Saquarema stage and see 50,000 people on the sand, the passion of Brazilian…”
The thought remained unfinished, though was clearly taking a left turn.
Or maybe right turn.
In either case, talk of a United States-based company referring to the Brazilian “market” for “our” events smacks of such colonization-era behaviors that it is, frankly, shocking.
Do you think either Bolsonaro or Lula will be able to stand up to the Yanqui menace?
“Explosive creative talent” responsible for surfing’s most iconic images gravely ill following liver transplant; family buried under insane medical costs, “The bills are exorbitant with his specialty critical care…the first bill received exceeds 250K (with insurance!)”
Peel off a shekel or two and help a legend in the surf game…
It’s impossible to overstate the influence ol’ Arty Brewer, the American surf photographer who, among other things, created the legend that surrounds the surfer Bunker Spreckels, who died aged 27 after walloping a fifty-mill inheritance in six years.
“Without all those incredible Brewer photos, we wouldn’t even be talking about Bunker Spreckels,” Warshaw told me a few years back. “Bunker in many ways was Art’s muse. He made Art a better photographer, helped bring out the genius.”
Art, who is seventy-one and “referred to as the sport’s most naturally gifted surf photographer”, owned the seventies, eighties, nineties in the American surf mags before splitting to do more lucrative commercial work, although his surf spirit still soared.
“Brewer’s size (he once weighed nearly 300 pounds) and flaring temper, meanwhile, further suggested the idea of grand, even explosive creative talent. At times Brewer played on his aggression. Asked to supply a self-portrait for a 1997 portfolio, ‘this big elephant seal of a man,’ as described by surf journalist Evan Slater, provided a green-tinged face shot negative, jaggedly cut in two, then taped and stapled back together, with the handwritten caption: ‘Surf photography constipates me!’”
But also: “Brewer’s eye for color and framing is unmatched in the surf world, and much of his best work has been done as a portraitist, when he has unfettered control over light, texture, and mood.”
Art has been in UCLA’s intensive care unit since July following a liver transplant.
And, this being the US, his fam is drowning under medical bills. In a GoFoundMe set up for Brewer, Nena Cote writes,
Art has recently been experiencing life-threatening medical issues that have become a substantial financial burden and stress on his family. I have organized this fundraiser to help pay for medical bills and ongoing care. The bills are exorbitant with his extended hospital stay and specialty critical care…the first bill received exceeds 250K (with insurance!)
One-fifty gees sought, thirty-two in the bag so far.