Trying to find where you belong in this world is something we all spend our teenage years doing. Media is one of the biggest influences on us. Everything, from the songs we remember to the movies we identify with, is directly related to the medium that we interact with.
For surfers, our pickings have been slim. Even though our influence over mainstream culture has been immense, our representation in the media has been limited to mainly cheesy movies that only hardcore fans can appreciate.
North Shore is one such movie. Its influence has been unbelievable. In the movie, nobody may have listened to Turtle, but in real life, people around the world have been spitting out his advice. Another is Point Break. One man has played roles in both movies: John Philbin.
After he got started surfing at the age of 12, Philbin started doing plays and drama festivals. He surfed as much as he could and, in 1978, he enrolled at UCSB, got on the surf team as well as main stage productions and took advanced acting classes.
In 1979, he moved to L.A. to try out Hollywood and professional acting, which forced him to put surfing on the back burner until his acting career slowed down. Since then, he’s made a living teaching surfing to actors and anyone that wants to learn to surf.
To find out who the man is that has helped bring us some of the most classic surf films of all time, I got a hold of John Philbin and asked him a few questions.
Noah Dundas: You have acted in three of the most seminal, cult classic movies of Generation X: Children of the Corn, North Shore, and Point Break. Which of these characters are you most proud of? Which one do you feel you were most involved in and did the best job at creating?
John Philbin: By far my role as Turtle in North Shore was my most informed work. I was fortunate in having the real person who inspired the role to work with on the set. His name is Brian King, and he still lives on the North Shore and works creating surfboards.
Both North Shore and Point Break have the typical cheesy Hollywood moments, but both also have really great parts that are real and true to the heart of surfing. However, most of the people involved in those movies are not surfers. Did you have anything to do with these moments; did you help write lines or give feedback?
My contribution to both films was just surfing and training and hanging out with the real people as much as possible so that my character came from a real place, inside of a structured Hollywood screenplay.
You have also made a career out of teaching surfing, most famously to some of the cast of Blue Crush. How did you get started in that and who do you teach?
While filming Point Break, I noticed a lack of constructive surf training for actors. When my acting jobs got few and far between, I needed a job, and not knowing any other skill, I started teaching surfing–first at a camp and then privately to actors for movies and TV. I found great joy in this work, and now I travel and teach anyone who wants to learn anywhere on earth.
One of the great things about North Shore was the lessons it taught to visiting surfers about respect and Hawaiian culture. Do any of the lessons from that movie still apply to the area or surfing in general?
I think a lot of the lessons taught in North Shore have remained true today. “Da Hui” still exist, in a more evolved stage, but respect will always be enforced on the North Shore both in and out of the water, one way or another. The ocean has a way of teaching all surfers humility. That is our most common bond, and even though the surf business has gone corporate, success in competitive performance surfing was even appreciated by Chandler and Turtle. It’s when success lacks humility and gratitude and promotes a disrespectful and arrogant attitude in visitors that islanders do their part to help the guilty parties learn their lessons the hard way.
For surfers, one of the hardest things about growing up is finding the balance between working and surfing. After a trip to Bali, you said you thought following both surfing and acting was impossible. Since you aren’t robbing banks like Point Break, how do you maintain that balance?
Balance is very important to me at this stage of my life. I was spoiled when I was younger and now I seek a simpler, healthier, less stressful life. I appreciate sharing fun surf sessions with my girlfriend as much as charging G-land. Teaching surfing lets me enjoy the thrill kids and adults get when they get a great ride, and I’ve started acting again, part time, without the pressure to make a living from it. That’s been fun. I find it easier to handle the anxiety usually attached to that lifestyle. I have just rotated into a cleaner, healthier stage of life and I’ve never been happier.
You said in a recent interview something about a sequel to North Shore. Is this still a possibility?
The writer/producer and director of North Shore are trying to get Universal to allow them to make the sequel. I have done some work on that story, and I tried to get Universal to let go of the rights a long time ago so that a sequel could be made. It has recently become such a cult film with new generations enjoying it that we believe a sequel would be profitable for the studio.
You’ve maintained a career in acting throughout the years, coming close to major stardom but remaining in supporting roles of cult classic movies. Do you think if you had taken it more seriously, your career might’ve been different?
As I said, I was spoiled when I was younger. I was an immature, selfish, and entitled angry man filled with the delusional arrogance of youth. In other words, I had a great time! But I could not sustain my career on confidence and wishful thinking with my limited talent. The only thing I didn’t do that I wish I had done is be nice and respectful and consistent in my work ethic. Don’t take anyone or anything for granted and realize EVERYONE is working so hard on movie sets. Actors are the luckiest people in the world, and they need to make the work more important than the lifestyle.