Pep ‘reels’ in culture, pays tribute to surfing

Staff Writer

For more than 60 years, surfing has not only defined Malibu, but created a culture that can’t be captured anywhere else in the United States.  There is no better way to honor that sacred culture, than through three days of celebrating films that encapsulate the essence and evolution of surfing.  From March 15th through March 17th, Payson Library will be hosting “Reel Sessions: A Festival of Surf Films Spanning 60 Years”, a free event for the Malibu and Pepperdine community.

Malibu Mayor Ken Kearsley, an avid surfer, might even make it to the event.  Kearsley said he watched his first surf film in 1953.  The film was made by Bud Browne, who is now one of the most popular surf filmmakers and whose film “Surfing the 50s,” will be shown Thursday.  Kearsley said surf films are awe-inspiring. 

“When you get down to it, all you are watching is one guy on one wave after another, but you never want to stop watching,” Kearsley said.  “That’s the beauty of it.” 

Over the three-day period, 12 films will be shown on campus with guest speakers from the local surfing community introducing each film.

The festivities will begin Thursday commemorating the early years of surfing with movies such as “The Endless Summer,” a documentary following the travels of some California surfers, and “Surfing the 50s”, a collection of surfing footage Bud Browne collected during that decade.

Friday’s films will shift the focus to an era when Hollywood capitalized on the surfing industry with films like “Gidget”, a film based on the book about a real teenage girl in Malibu who made her way into the male-dominated sport of surfing, and “Big Wednesday”, a fictional movie about three surfing buddies who reunite after 12 years to face the reality of the 1960s and the Vietnam War.

The festival will come to and end on Saturday with a look at contemporary surf films, which will include “Riding Giants”, a documentary about the more dangerous big-wave surfing, and “Chasing Dora”, another documentary that follows three surfers’ journey to South Africa to live out the dream surfing legend Miki Dora once described in an article for “The Surfer’s Journal.” 

Payson Plaza will also host a variety of vehicle displays throughout the event ranging from vintage woodie wagons to classic Volkswagen Bugs and Busses. Live music from the surf band The Sound Waves and a chance for attendees to see how long they can last on a surf simulator will take place Friday. 

The idea for the film festival was conceived by Dean of Libraries Mark Roosa to benefit the special Malibu collection that the library is starting, according to Sarah Gilman, a public access librarian at Payson Library.

“[The library is] interested in acquiring books, oral history, photographs and films on Malibu, and what makes Malibu so important to the people who come here, whether it’s for surfing or whatever else,” Gilman said.

The money for the special collection will be raised through the raffles and auctions during the festival. Raffle prizes include three roundtrip tickets from JetBlue Airways and two gift certificates to dinner at Giovanni’s in Malibu, among other prizes.  Among the auction items are a brand new Dewey Weber longboard valued at $1,200 and a handmade 1940s classic collectible redwood and balsa board.

“I really commend [Dean Roosa’s] vision to have Pepperdine be a foothold or toehold, if you will, of Malibu history, and to develop a Malibu collection that could include surf films, posters, and memorabilia from Malibu’s earliest days—not just surfing, but moviemaking and just living,” said Jerry Dersholon, director of Public Relations and News, who helped with the creation of the film festival.

Derloshon, along with Gilman and Lance Keene, associate vice chancellor for advancement at both the Graziadio School of Business and Management and the School of Law, made up the three-person team whose effort over the past three months has turned the idea for the surf film festival into a reality, according to Roosa. 

“I watched in amazement,” Roosa said of the team’s abilities in recruiting members from different parts of the surf world to speak at the event.

Guest speakers range from President of the Dewey Weber Surfboards company Shea Weber to the real Gidget, Kathy Zuckerman, to legendary surfer Mickey Muñoz and even Pepperdine alumni.  Dave Ogle, a Pepperdine alumnus who makes surf films, will be at the film festival, according to Derloshon.  Ogle’s film “Reflection” will be shown in Raitt Recital Hall at the festival Friday night. 

Jefferson “Zuma Jay” Wagner, owner of  Zuma Jay’s, the oldest surf shop in Malibu was also invited as a guest speaker. “It wouldn’t be the same without him,” Keene said of the Malibu “figurehead.” 

Zuma Jay, who has owned his shop just south of Pepperdine on the Pacific Coast Highway since 1975, will be speaking about surfing during the 70s and 80s era. Zuma Jay once ran the surf team at Pepperdine in the 80s. “Any awareness to the history of [surf] culture is valuable,” Wagner said of the film festival.

“It’s reached deeper into the community than we though it ever would,” Keene said.  Keene also said the festival also provides a great way to increase connection to the community, alumni, and students. “It’s a great win-win-win situation.”

Roosa said he chose surfing as the focus for the film festival because it is something with which people in Malibu most identify. 

“It cuts across all age groups and income levels.  It’s a very interesting culture,” Roosa said. 

He also sees the film festival as a great way to “stretch out” to Malibu. 

“It’s a great opportunity to engage with the community. It’s a great opportunity for us to expose Pepperdine, and hopefully for those with like-minded interests to get together and share with one another their passion,” Roosa said.

Senior Lexi Vonderlieth, who grew up on the beaches of Malibu and started surfing when she was in middle school, said the film festival idea is great. 

“All these people are very talented and all share a common love for the ocean,” Vonderlieth said. “Every one of the films will have a unique take on surfing, and the way they each perceive the beauty of the ocean.”  

Fellow senior Scott Smith agrees that the festival is a great way to honor such a unique aspect of the Malibu community. 

“The surfing community is something very unique to our area, and it is nice to recognize that which makes us unique,” he said.  Smith said he plans to attend at least one of the shows during the weekend.

Tickets to the film festival are free but must be reserved online at Pepperdine University Libraries website.