“Back in the day” never gets boring. Almost every surf film screening includes a panel discussion with a few legends that laud and repeat themselves with tales of days gone by. Such an event is easy to make fun of, but I would not want to miss one. These reminiscences are always warm, funny, fascinating and genuine. Naturally, the Honolulu Surf Film Festival ended with a screening of Bud Browne’s Locked In! and a panel discussion with Browne’s old buds. One of them, bodysurfing legend Mark Cunningham, laughingly defined the crew as “Old Farts.”
The glue of the panel was Bud Browne and big wave surfing. Browne was the first to capture Mãkaha on film and these cats were the first to ride her. Panel moderator Anna Trent Moore is the daughter of über-surfing legend Buzzy Trent who tamed the winter waves. Kimo Hollinger, Mark Cunningham, Jock Sutherland and Peter Cole graced the stage.
The siren call of Hawai’i was loud in Peter Cole’s ears. He was a Santa Monica, California, surfer who moved to the islands. Mãkaha was Shangri-La. Moderator Moore asked if any of the panelists were bodysurfers. The legends roared with laughter, slapping their knees and stomping their feet. As Peter Cole explained, “Everybody was a bodysurfer. Back then, we all had to bodysurf back to get our boards. No leash!” Today, surfers are attached to their short, lightweight boards by a rubber ankle leash. Back then, the ancients were wise to remain untethered to a heavy, large, sharp object that is flying and diving, propelled by the caprice of a mountain of rushing water. The past is always golden. Most vociferous for the old days, Jock Sutherland does not like the modern cutthroat competition and big buck positioning. “The early contests were all about friendships and testing the limits of the sport,” he said.
Kimo Hollinger had the audience in stitches with his deadpan humor. On the vaudeville circuit, he would be known as the “straight man.” When asked where he surfed, he replied, “I had too many big Mãkaha wipeouts. I went to California.” All of the panelists were lauding their friend, big wave surfer and oceanographer Ricky Grigg, who had recently passed. Hollinger shook his head slowly and said, “Ricky never gave me one wave.”
During the Q and A, a kid, a gremmie in the audience, asked, “How many boards you snapped?” The panelists all lit up. Cole said that he was unable to count all of the sticks that became slivers. Hollinger and Cunningham threw up their arms at the unanswerable question. Sutherland spoke lovingly of two boards that are now only a fond memory. I think a tear came to his eye. All of the panelists were gaga over vivacious ginger Abbie Algar, the clever curator of the Honolulu Surf Film Festival. The dynamic three week event is produced by the Doris Duke Theater of the Honolulu Museum of Art. With an emphasis on the contemporary and experimental, the program is blessedly grounded in the history of the surf film medium. Such an August panel is to be cherished, for time is fleeting. The ancient legends will soon give way to the Baby Boomer legends and they to the X, Y and Z Generation legends. I shudder to think of the panel of the future Millennial. “Back in the day, I refused to get wet until my sponsor upgraded my hotel reservation.” “So what if the surf was crankin’?! The prize money was skank.” “I’d never wear a wetsuit without product placement.” “No GoPro, no surf.”
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