Another 48 Hours: New York Surf Film Festival

Chas Smith and Taylor Paul.

Taylor Paul and I sped to John Wayne International Airport early in the week while Taylor Swift sang us a song. “Weeeeeeeee are never ever ever getting back together. No! WeeeeeEEEE are never ever ever getting back together…” But Taylor Swift is a liar. Taylor Paul and I were getting back together.

Last year we had driven the California coast from San Clemente to the Sonoma coast and surfed and tasted wine and luxuriated for 48 hours. It was an amazing journey. A true coming of age story. And, now, another 48 hours lay before us. Another 48 hours in New York City.

We caught the red eye and didn’t sleep as Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Missouri glided beneath. We watched American Psycho and felt crazed when touching down at John F. Kennedy International Airport. It was 5:30 am.

We were in town for the famed New York Surf Film Festival. We had the opening party that night, because Surfing Magazine was the media sponsor, and we had the film festival itself the next evening. Those were our only official duties. But the content of a life well lived is never summed up by official duties. The contents of a life will lived lurk within the margins.

And so we spilled out into New York’s streets at 5:30 am and went straight to Tribeca. We ate breakfast, napped, shopped, listened to music videos, walked, and drank cocktails at the Bowery Hotel. It was virtually empty save Sam Rockwell getting pitched a new buddy comedy. “So your character has anger management issues and the other character is partially retarded. Can we say retarded anymore?” A newsman came on the television and warned of inclement weather. He warned of crazy rains and possible tornadoes. Tornadoes powerful enough to slingshot hapless citizens around the moon.

We left the Bowery, moving toward the opening party, and the sky opened up. By the time we arrived in midtown, very late, we were drowned rats but it was fine. Our reputations preceded us and the surf hoi polloi whispered, “Surfing Magazine is here…” into each other’s ears. It was a great crowd. A good party. The beer flowed. Miniature hotdogs covered in macaroni and cheese were served. The representative from Barbados stood in an immaculate white suit and observed. Morgan Rae Berk, the dynamic director of the festival, gave a moving speech in which she thanked Barbados for their title sponsorship and the representative nodded benevolently.

I had a great conversation with Matt Warshaw about the state of surf writing and then Taylor Paul and I met a famous Indian-American event planner who was throwing a giant party for veterans the next night on a boat and Third Eye Blind was going to play. She was impressed by Taylor’s big wave ability and his title “Editor-in-Chief.” We all went out for more cocktails in Soho and didn’t sleep.

The next morning, bright and early, we heard a rumor that the surf was firing. Neither of us had brought boards, I had not even brought boardies, but we headed to Long Beach anyhow, texting madly, trying to source material.

Taylor got a hold of Balaram Stack and he was surfing up the coast, near Montauk, but told us where his house was and so we broke in and stole delicious Merrick potato chips and I stole a pair of Quiksilver New York Giants trunks and his car and his mom. She was amazing. Bala-mom Stack. She told us the origin of Balram’s name and also his full name. Balaram Augustus Stack. It might be the best name I have ever heard. And then left to go birdwatching.

The surf was totally firing. Head high, barrels, grooming sideshore winds, only a few souls out. Those souls all wore wetsuits and we feared cold but the water felt like California in the summer. We surfed and life could not have been better. There is something electric about good surf in New York. Each wave I caught I thought, “I’m surfing in New York! The waves are perfect!” I would shout my thoughts to Taylor back in the lineup.

Balaram Augustus met us on the boardwalk, post surf, and nodded, laconically, when I shouted my thoughts to him. “Yeah it gets pretty good from time to time…” he responded. He then drove us to the train station so we could make it to the festival. On the way we saw an old fat man with ankle weights working out on the street. He would take big, slow, high knee’d steps. Balaram, watching him, said, “Fee fi fo fum…” It was the funniest thing I have ever heard a surfer deliver. Balaram Augustus is a revelation.

Back to Tribeca then quickly over to Williamsburg Brooklyn, the home of the New York Surf Film Festival, we ate a semi-ironic southern dinner with a soon to be famous novelist and her talented boyfriend. Williamsburg was buzzing with surf hipster energy. They whizzed by on fixed gear bicycles, adjusting the cuffs on their tight but not skinny corduroy pants. They complimented each other’s moustaches and each other’s cute animal print t-shirts.

They jammed in the Nitehawk Cinema and could not wait for whatever the next surf film was. I have never seen so much energy around surf film. They would line up, buzzing, go watch film, come out buzzing, pushing through those lining up to see the next film. Pabst Blue Ribbon was given free to the important and Taylor and I drank many cans. The representative from Barbados nodded benevolently.

The night became blurry at some point and the only memories I have include an emergency exit, alarms sounding, and a massive debate in a dingy bar about the value of Leah Dunham’s character in HBO’s show Girls. I believe I argued that she was irredeemable, gross and completely worthless and I believe I am due a basket of flowers because my arguments were more convincing. Blurry.

We didn’t sleep.

And found ourselves on a flight back to John Wayne International Airport at 6:00 am. Another 48 hours. Another 48 hours and thirty minutes. Taylor Paul and I looked at each other and promptly dozed off. The contents of a life well lived lurk within the margins, but the official event, the New York Surf Film Festival was spectacular and I shall always remember it fondly.