Movies about surf gangs made by surf gangs have an understandably difficult time placing themselves in proper context. It’s a process akin to writing your own eulogy: you choose what you’ll be remembered for, but often times the retelling of those memories grossly distorts your actual legacy. Consequently, Josh Pomer’s much-anticipated documentary, The Westsiders, which details Santa Cruz’s violent, drug-addled surf culture through the eyes of Jason “Ratboy” Collins, Shawn “Barney” Barron, and Darryl “Flea” Virostko, quite understandably warranted skepticism. The Bra Boys movie wasn’t helping its cause, so when the film opened with words borrowed from Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities (“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…”) and then flashed to Vince “The Godfather” Collier recounting an instance where he smashed a Louisville Slugger over a surfer’s head, I sunk back into my seat, concerned about the trajectory of the ninety minutes to come. But for all my skepticism, I was pleasantly surprised.
Not that the experience of watching the film was pleasant. To hint at the emotional weight of this documentary, in 93 minutes we relive the death of Ratboy’s father (which he witnessed), the death of two of Flea’s best friends, the shooting of one of Barney’s friends, the death of Mark Foo, the realization of Barney’s mental illness, the rehabilitation of Flea, and the dark descent of Vince Collier into a life of narcotics and paramilitary intimidation. In one particularly disturbing interview, Collier comes to terms with tying a victim to a redwood tree and branding him: a grotesque byproduct of his deep involvement in the regional drug trafficking scene.