The great Nathan Leal once said that 87 percent of life is just showing up. Somebody else said that it’s not what you know, but who you know. Well I know Scott Dickerson, point-man for all things surf in Alaska, and when an actual professional surfer couldn’t make it to shoot a Mountain Dew commercial, he gave me a call. And I showed up.
The ridiculousness of the situation was not lost on me. Or anyone. When I mentioned to my sister-in-law that I was doing this she said, “Mountain Dew? I didn’t even know they were still around.” But Mountain Dew is super still around. They love action sports but have focused mostly on skate and snowboarding (see: The Dew Tour, We Are Blood). But when ace director Nate Balli pitched them on a Alaskan surfing edit, they couldn’t resist. With a shot list that included things like, “Surfers enjoy an ice cold Dew at the end of the day,” how could they?
Our trip went a little bit like this:
The eight-person crew (three surfers, three cameramen, a captain and a cook) rendezvoused in Homer, Alaska in late March. Image wise, spring is great time to surf in Alaska because there’s plenty of snow on the mountains but the days are getting long enough to get in at least two sessions.
The plan was to take helicopters and a bush plane to meet the M/V Milo (a converted fishing vessel) near the Aliak Glacier, just across the Kenai Peninsula. But Alaska doesn’t care about plans. While most of the crew made it to the Milo in the choppers, cinematographer Alejandro Berger and I, who were filming in the bush plane, couldn’t make it because the weather turned bad. We returned to Homer and took a chopper the next day. After two days of incredible turbulence in the tiny aircrafts, I was grateful to land on the beach and make it to the safety of the boat.
Within an hour of getting on the boat we were in the water, paddling around the glacier “looking for surf.” We found mostly icebergs. But besides a few instances of “Can you jump off the boat again?” and “Can you stand on the bow while the chopper flies over?” and “Can you enjoy this ice cold Dew at the end of the day?” Nate Balli was amazing in that he just let us surf. He’d even thank us when we returned to the Milo.
From what I’ve seen firsthand, and knowing the amount of coastline that exists, I’m very comfortable saying that Alaska has perfect waves. Often. But can you find them? And if you can, will the wind be right? Will there be enough daylight? Will the 20-foot tide swings align with the short-lived swell? On my first trip on the Milo (October 2014), all the elements aligned and we scored a rivermouth with Indo-esque barrels and icebergs floating through the lineup. On this trip we went by that same spot and the wave was gone, the rivermouth sealed indefinitely. Still, there’s no shortage of setups in the crooked Gulf coastline, and we surfed rippable points, reefs and rivermouths for four days straight.
It’s cold, not as cold as you think. Alaska had another warm winter this year and water temps hovered in the mid-40s while we were up there. Cooler at rivermouths where glacier runoff cut through the 6/5/4 suits with ease.
A couple of weeks after the shoot, Nate sent 25 minutes of usable footage for the crew to check out. It was slow-paced and surreal and beautiful. I had no clue how he was going to shrink it to under three minutes. But he did, and now it’s fast-paced and surreal and beautiful. He even edited out most of my rail bogs. Great guy.
Know people. Show up. And when in doubt, enjoy an ice cold Dew at the end of a long day. —Taylor Paul