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From Sea To Cinema: Surf Filmmaker Eyes the Big Screen

The intersection of the surfing and major cinema venn diagrams is rather narrow, probably only containing Point Break, maybe Jaws if you fasten your ties of association loosely. The contrasts between the two industries are much more evident, starting with their respective definitions of the word ‘critical.’ Their closest unifying link, especially for naked dormitory walls, is 1966’s ode to youthful fantasy The Endless Summer, built by Bruce Brown. The tale of early surfers, catching flights and taxis for 18 months in their search of swell has reached iconic status, yet some viewers are still able to point out its flaws.


“I didn’t like when it called being inside the barrel ‘the ultimate thing.’ Because now whenever anyone gets a barrel, and they make it out, they just hop out the back. That’s the end of their wave. No way. I want to still do some turns. {Continuous hand signals} Cut back up high wheeeesh , charge down the line shhhhhhe and smack the lip.”


More than any trophy, wave, or movie, the holy mark of a surfer – the sport’s true label of initiation – remains one’s skill with onomatopoeia.


Long Beach surfer Reggie Micks is no exception, at least not in that respect. Micks grew up in and around the water, waves catching him as much as he caught them during his formative years. He’s paddled out at every beach on California’s coast, but could never commit to trips to the fabled international surf spots.


“I’m terrified that those cargo guys would bust my board.”


Yet despite his local knowledge and years of expertise, Reggie is not especially noteworthy in the water. He won a few local contests in his youth, but was never on track to reach the upper ranks, a reality he had to confront as he was wrapping up high school. Micks went on to study Political Science at UCSD because they wouldn’t let him “put Undeclared down for a third year,” but it was a new interest he found outside the doldrums of Thomas Paigne that would end up governing his post-grad life.


“I just started watching everything.”


From Fincher to Capra, Hepburn to Chaplin, cinema quickly engulfed Micks’ life in much the same way that the tides had a decade prior. He feasted on the film buffet accessible by borrowing hallmates’ online passwords, became a regular at school screening rooms for a weekly taste of the gourmet. Immersed again in great enthusiasm, the new movie-obsession reminded Reggie of those first months and years surfing.


To pay the bills after graduating, Reggie became a surf instructor at his old proving grounds. He soon began posting videos of lessons and (semi)pro-tips on the internet, finally expanding his surfing to foreign waters, albeit digitally. Alongside the fulfillment of seeing new faces fall for his first love, Micks gained further satisfaction in actually getting inside of videography after admiring its more advanced forms from afar. He began to see his own reflection in students transitioning from haphazard participants to trim technicians, all while he underwent his own evolution from viewer to producer.


“In some of the early lessons when I talk about sight lines or arm positioning, the kids just kind of look at me funny, like: ‘what do you mean?..it’s just surfing.’


“And I was the same way when I started working on editing, reading about sound mixing and frame rates. But as we learn more, we get more interested in the details.”


The interest grew and careened into video projects beyond just how-tos. Reggie choreographed marketing videos for his surf school, rounded up old friends as stiff actors for his first attempts at narrative filmmaking. With these new experiences laying the foundation, Micks wants to keep building towards a full fledged career in cinema. He has his sights set beyond the more accessible path of traditional surf filmmaking, beyond chasing photogenic tubes around the globe.


He wants to direct feature films.


“No one surfs Pipeline on their first day in the water. But anyone can build up to that, if they put in the time.”


Reggie understands that there are still many skills and experiences he needs to gain before his big goal can be tackled, not to mention the barriers to industry-entry that a young man with few relevant connections will have to break through. However he is already taking the next step in his quest: working on his first medium scale film project – Moscow Mouser – produced on the scraps of savings his lessons have provided. It’s a 20 minute short inspired by Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita that he hopes will be able to gain some traction in the California film festival scene, and crack open some doors. Mouser is already 90% shot, but that still leaves “90% of the work to be done,” he says with a wry smile.


Before our interview, Reggie was wrapping up a video lesson, recording himself via tripod while he carved through the surf, demonstrating essential skills. On the final wave, Micks turned shoreward and for a moment seemed to stare directly into the shutter’s eye, suspended in a fitting purgatory of object and subject.


Later, I asked what the new filmmaker would say to Bruce Brown, given his opposition to the famous barrel quote.


“He probably already had this figured out, but I’d tell him that maybe being behind the camera was the real ultimate thing.”







*The quotes and characters and ideas presented in this article are made up