How to Learn How to Surf: The LA Premiere

June 2, 2019 Category: L.A. Surf Life // Author: Omari Valentine

What happens when the New York art scene meets the LA surf scene? The LA premiere of How to Learn How to Surf.

On a cool Spring evening between Miracle Mile and Koreatown, the premiere of the short film landed in LA at the El Rey Theater.

The film features prominent New York artist Tom Sachs and the “Ten Bullets Surf Team”, a group of new surfers and their pro coaches who, thanks to Hurley, got an all-expenses-paid surf odyssey of a lifetime to Indonesia, for the purposes of teaching the surfers how to surf, and creating the film. The question is, if you took artists out of the urban jungle and gave them the Kelly Slater treatment, would they surf like The GOAT?

The event itself packed up nicely as Mr. Sachs, the producers and a cross-section of LA’s arts and surf communities convened to enjoy the 30-minute excursion along the coast of Indonesia. Even Bob Hurley himself was in attendance for the event. And the El Rey is always a delight, with the interior as retro-70’s as the exterior, equal parts playhouse and concert hall.

The film started late, to give the audience time to find their seats. Once the lights finally came down, it was off to Indonesia to uncover the pleasures of the surfing experience.

The film featured Tom and his wife Sarah, along with several other very new surfers, a team of instructors including Rizal, a former pro surfer, and his son, Silat, at 8-year-old already destined to follow in his father’s footsteps. The team was not short on help. They stayed in a mansion in Bali, got pro-level instructors, vehicles, boats to tow them to exclusive breaks, board caddies, equipment, food, and the best waves in the world to play on.

“And yet…we STINK!” says the narrator.

But that’s Okay, because this film is not about being great at surfing, or even learning how to surf. It’s about understanding how different it is from every other sport. Surfing, at its essence, is about facing your own inner demons and calming them, in an ever-shifting, sometimes terrifying environment. All of the doubt, frustration, envy, and apathy must wilt in the face of giant waves whose aim is to crush you under their heel. And when you face and conquer yourself, punch through the storm and reach the eye, the line-up you reach that nirvana-like state. All of your trials and tribulations are behind you, and it’s just open water, until you charge back into the fire. That’s when surfing begins.

Likewise, the surfers on this journey find 10 “bullets” or nuggets of wisdom for new surfers during their own personal quest for fun or stoke or cool photos to share on Instagram.

They are:

  1. Sacred Space

Waves are considered sacred space for all surfers and we are very territorial about them. Surfers don’t like other surfers interfering with that.

  1. Learn the Code

While surfing is a solitary activity we share the waves with others. There is a code to doing so respectfully. Respect it.

  1. He Understands (learn from a master)

Rizal teaches the team from the position of joy. You can tell that he also teaches his son the same way.

  1. Compare and Despair

The surfers learn to avoid comparing themselves to others.

  1. Get in the Boat

If you can get away from the crowds and find an isolated break, especially as a newbie trying to respect Bullet #1, it will accelerate your learning.

  1. Be Afraid. Be Sort of Afraid

The ocean can be deadly, even along the beaches. A healthy amount of fear is as much of a necessity to a surfer as the ability to swim. It’s normal to get spooked. But facing your fears is the only way to overcome them.

  1. B. P.

When Hurley is footing the bill, you’d better learn.

  1. Fail with Joy

Learn to enjoy the failures as well as the successes. There will be many.

  1. Get Hurt

“You gotta get hurt to get tough.”

  1. Persistence

Learning takes time and thousands of hours of practice.

I found a lot of truisms in this. I recall the struggles of going through “beginners’ hell”. As someone who learned to surf just over 10 years ago, most of these lessons were gleaned the hard way. I got my bumps and bruises and several bellies full of water in the frequently crowded waves of El Porto and Venice, so my experience with the film was one that included understanding, and often a bit of laughter at my own younger self reflected on the big screen.

Through their experience, in one of the most beautiful places in the world, each young surfer hoped to achieve some small goal: Look good in pictures. Surf on the longest wave. Learn to enjoy it. It was truly a pleasure to see them achieve what they set out to do, in some small way.

I enjoyed the film immensely, although at a short runtime of 30 minutes, I found myself wanting more. I wanted to know how the team got assembled. What were they doing before their journey? How did they know each other (other than Tom and Sarah, we really don’t know the others very well)? And were their relationships at all changed by the experience?

Most of all I found myself longing to surf such beautiful beasts that the cast had the pleasure to experience. At one point late in the film, Tom rode one wave for no less than 30 seconds.

Did they find their inner Kelly Slater? Not quite. But they had an experience most surfers could only dream of and they found the love of surfing. Mostly. I’m not sure Tom is quite there yet.

So Bob, if you’re reading this, the next time you sponsor a Bali surf team, I want in.

Check out the trailer:

HOW TO LEARN HOW TO SURF TRAILER from Tom Sachs on Vimeo.

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