Filmmaker Feature: Allan Weisbecker

The Korduroy Krew just landed in New York City for the New York Surf Film Festival. As an ode to NY, here’s an interview with one of New York’s most infamous surfers Allan Weisbecker:

What was it like growing up in New York and being a surfer
In the early 60s, right up probably until ’66 or so, Long Island was much more the center of East Coast surfing than Florida. And the center of Long Island surfing was Gilgo Beach. Although I caught my first wave at Montauk (in ’64 or ’65, can’t remember), Gilgo was where I experienced the early scene.

The mid-‘60s Gilgo scene was a parallel to the late 50s, early 60s Malibu. It ‘started’ later because the East Coast was behind the West Coast chronologically, of course.

And there were differences. Don’t forget we’re talking New York here. You can say what you want about the New York mentality, but one thing it’s capable of is producing some characters. Regarding the East Coast Scene, Florida would soon take over in terms of the quality of the surfers produced, but… the characters? Nahh..

The Gilgo crew – Eric Eastman, Roland Eisenberg, Jon Schneller, Russ Drumm, Bob Hawkins, the Bunger crew — most of them gravitated to Montauk, for the vibe of the place – a real sea-oriented community, surrounded by water, commercial fishing, and because the surf is exponentially better than anywhere else on the East Coast.

Montauk is the only stretch of East Coast south of New England that has rock bottom reef breaks – by far, the best surf on the East Coast is the stretch between town and the point. Points everywhere. Dozens of them, many un-named and/or of limited access. Joel Tudor comes out regularly and although he calls Montauk ‘Longboard heaven,’ I recall a hurricane swell a few years ago that got his shortboard attention (he had to borrow a gunny retro seven-oh to handle the double-overheaders at a secret spot near Peter Beard’s).

Because of the cold winters and relatively poor surf, New York surfers of those early years tended to explore, open up new areas. The Caribbean in the early to mid ‘60s was largely opened up by Long Islanders (all of whom were ‘Montaukers’ to one degree or another).

Puerto Rico, especially, was first explored largely by guys I knew from ‘UpIsland’ (western L.I.), who would soon move east and form the Montauk inner circle. I remember my first trip to P.R. in 1966; it was virtually all Long Islanders in the lineup.

So yeah, Montaukers (and Long Islanders in general), had itchy feet… I wasn’t the first to surf North Africa, but I probably surfed more waves in Morocco in 1970-71 than anyone. Not probably, definitely. Oh, and hey, the Ferrara brothers, Dave and Ben, were among the first to really explore Costa Rica back in the early and mid 70s. They ‘discovered’ Pavones at almost the same time Fowlie did; maybe a year or so later.

I could go on….

When did you start going into Baja and beyond and what was it that drew you down there?
I was late getting down to Mexico and points south, but when I went, I went. In 1996 I chucked my old life and headed south in a camper with my old pup, Shiner. I wrote about that in In Search of Captain Zero. Since then I’ve pretty much dedicated myself to the Down South life, first in Costa Rica (predominately Pavones) and now Mainland Mexico. (The bizarre story of my forced exit from C.R. is in my last memoir, Can’t You Get Along With Anyone? …a Tale of a Lost Surfer’s Paradise.)

Although at the moment I’m back at Montauk, I’ll be in Mexico before the leaves fall.

The movie rights to your book Cosmic Banditos were bought by John Cusack. Are you happy with how that’s going?
I’m mainly happy that the checks didn’t bounce, if you get my drift. The movie deals with my books (including the Sean Penn deal for In Search of Captain Zero) have mainly allowed me to do what I want. I wanted to fashion a piece of paradise in Costa Rica and was able to do that with the H-wood money.

I wanted to make my own film, and have pretty much been able to do that too, although I’m running low now, after three years of living and filming the events in Water Time; Surf Travel Diary of a MadMan.

My dealings with the Hollywood machine are described in Can’t You Get Along…? but suffice to say that I have no faith that any movies will ever get made from any of my books, and, frankly, I don’t care… To be more accurate: I do care but I don’t think about it.

How has the transition from writing to filmmaking been? What challenges have you had to overcome?
I could write a book based on those questions, and who knows, may even do so.

When I started this project, I felt I was well-equipped. I’ve written twenty, maybe thirty screen or tele-plays, some books, and am a self-taught still photographer, a pretty good one, considering how late I got into it. And I think I have an innate storytelling sense. So I figured I could do it. I’ve always felt that if I work hard enough and am truly driven, I’ll come up with something worthwhile.

Work hard. Be driven.

What I wasn’t quite ready for, strangely, was the postproduction. The edit. I figured that editing is simply an aspect of storytelling – stories are structure, no matter the medium, prose or moving pictures. What I wasn’t ready for was the technical stuff.

I’ve always been sort of a Luddite. I mean I don’t buy a pen if you have to click it.

But Final Cut! Holy shit!

On the other hand, once I did figure it out, I found myself fascinated at the possibilities. Futzing with time and space! Aside from music, ‘film’ is the only medium in which you can futz with time. My spatial (visual) sense has always had a surreal edge. Adding time to the mix has been fun.

When is your film, Water Time, due and what can we expect to see?
Some folks are not going to like what I’ve done. I can see that coming. I think it’s going to be like my last book, CYGAWA. You go to Amazon.com and look at the Reader Reviews. There are currently over 140 of them, for a book that sold maybe 12,000 copies. A bestseller that sold 12 million copies might not get that many reviews.

Point being that I tend to elicit strong reactions.

But the people that didn’t like it really didn’t like it. The book averages just under 5 stars so most people gave it the highest rating, but if they didn’t love it, they hated it. One star. Nasty, even hateful comments (I know for a fact that some anonymous reviews were via people I wrote about in the book).

I think I’ll get the same shit with this film. But that’s okay. If you’re not annoying someone, you’re probably doing something wrong.

I refer to Water Time as a ‘filmed memoir,’ which is accurate. It’s not a documentary in the strict sense of that genre. It’s very subjective. I get accused of being self-involved, egotistical. Hah! If they only knew. Truth is, I can be absolutely honest if I write (or make a film) that is up front from my point of view. It’s a given and that frees me up.

Surfing is almost always an important aspect of my storytelling, but not because I want to write about surfing. For me, writing about surfing is a bore. Surfing is in my stories because surfing shaped who I am, my view of the world.

See? But to understand this you have to go back to my formative years, which were 1968 and ’69. I was like 20 years old. For some people, most people, their formative years will be at a younger age. I had to wait until I was 20 before I had an idea who I was.

These two formative years were on the North Shore of Oahu. The winter months. (Summers of ’68 and ’69 I was… I dunno… hibernating. ) I worked a bit of the North Shore late ‘60s zeitgeist into Water Time…

Let me sum up what I’m trying to say here by referring to another film, a surf film I saw recently. A documentary. They interviewed a bunch of hot up-and-comers, although I hadn’t heard of any of them (but I’m an old guy). Anyway, all the interviews take place in the back of a limousine.

In the back of a limousine?

One kid’s slouched back there with his hat sideways and so forth, and he says this, words to this effect, about the current North Shore scene: ‘You know, it’s not right, a lot of guys are out there (at Pipeline, Waimea, etc) putting their lives on the line and they’re not making a cent.’

They’re not making a cent?

They also depicted a lot of hostility and a fair amount of ignorant behavior – ignorant at least from my point of view – and I think three out-and-out fistfights between surfers. Right in the water or on the beach.

My film is not like that.

I’m not picking on this particular film or the surf film genre. Far from it. There are some great surfer/filmmakers out there. (Currently, Malloy’s 180 South comes to mind, and I can’t wait to see Talyor Steele’s Castles in the Sky.) But insofar as you can label surfing a lifestyle, the ‘pop’ aspect of it (by which I mean the commercialized version) has gone through changes that I want nothing to do with.

There are still true travelers and adventurers out there — viajeros is the Spanish word. (See the two films I refer to above.) One thing they have in common is that they somehow in their travels try to leave the planet a better place, even if it’s just that the folks in their wakes will have fond memories of their visits.

Ideally, surfers – and surf films – should care about this, leaving the planet a better place

in their wakes, if only for the sake of their progeny. Now I’m getting up there in years, right? Had I had offspring, he or she would be, say, around 30 years old now. His/her best years should be upcoming, the next 20 or so years.

I fear for my theoretical son/daughter. I fear that our species is on the brink of apocalypse, and there is plenty of evidence that this is the case. And I’m not talking about ‘global warming’ or ‘climate change’ or whatever the bastards are calling it now. In fact, that hoax – that carbon dioxide drives climate – is a perfect example of the problem.

We are being lied to about everything.

I hope my little film about a guy and his dog wandering around down south looking for waves will get at least some folks to see that. I believe we can save ourselves simply by knowing the truth. Or at least knowing we are being lied to.

Apart from some editing tutelage in the beginning, I’ve done this film by myself. It’s ragged that way. So be it.

I’m three years into it, put tens of thousands of ks on my truck, clocked a lot of nose time, met hundreds of people, good and bad; I got sick and almost died, lost and gained back 50 pounds (which is hell for continuity); I am now running out of money, and in some ways I’m an utter mess. But I believe I’m doing the right thing, which is all a person can do.

Water Time; Surf Travel Diary of a MadMan should be ready for release in the early spring of 2011. To see excerpts from it, visit BanditoBooks.com.

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