You might remember a SURFER Magazine article called “Boy’s Club” from back in October, 2013. It was about a female big wave surfers and it featured the story of Maui-based Paige Alms. Documentary filmmaker Devyn Bisson read the article and it moved her so much that she immediately got to work figuring out how to contact Paige Alms to get permission to follow her around and tell her story to the world. Eventually, Bisson got the permissions she needed, but now she needs the funds. She’s closing in on the end of a Kickstarter campaign to fund the production of the film about Paige Alms and her life as a female big wave surfer. To get more familiar with the topic and her project, we asked Bisson a few questions.
How rare is it to have a female big way surfer?
My favorite quote comes from the article in which we discovered Paige Alms: “You can count the number of legitimate female big wave surfers on your hands”- SURFER Magazine. It’s incredibly rare, not only because of the physical barriers women need to overcome to be at the performance level required to ride these waves, but also because the desire has to come from pure passion. There’s no money for women in big wave surfing, there’s no lucrative career that may follow a 50 ft. ride out at Jaws. After facing death, brutal injury, or a 3-wave hold down, all that’s waiting for them back at shore is their own stoke, passion, and fulfillment from conquering these giants.
Why make a movie about her? You say you’re not making “just another surf film,” so what is this?
I’ve always been drawn to films shinning a light on strong female characters, and it’s been a part of my mission to make films that empowered young women through strong storytelling. I knew when I found Paige, she was it. The perfect character to not only get to tell the story of a woman who goes out and faces giants in the water, but on land. I think the hardest feat in life is dedicating yourself to your heart’s true work, not just what makes sense or is the logical choice, but in the place you can really push your passions and impact others by doing so. That’s why we say this won’t be “just another surf film.” It’s not about how Paige leads her surf career or how she holds herself in the water, it’s how she leads her life with passion and heart, and is actively involved in her community, inspiring others, especially young girls, to do the same.
How did you come across Paige and her story?
Scrolling through Facebook one day, I ran across the SURFER magazine article titled “Boys’ Club” and read all about Paige and what it takes to be a woman in the big wave surf community. I had been on the hunt for a new story to document, and the second I read it, I knew I had hit the jackpot, if all I cold do was convince her to let us document her! I immediately dug through the internet to find a way to contact her, sent her some examples of my previous films, and the rest is history.
Is this your first film?
I’ve been blessed to have two short documentaries under my belt before getting the privilege to tell Paige’s story. I’m so grateful it’s turned out this way though, because this is really the film I’ve wanted to get to make my entire life and would never want it to be my first. Although I may have been eager to do something like this in the past, going into it with experience and knowledge on how to make a true documentary that honors storytelling first will make sure we tell Paige’s story right.
What will you do with the film once it’s funded?
Shoot it! We’re set to head to Maui in late January and spend 10 days with Paige and her family documenting everything from her day-to-day life to her charging in the water. We’ve already begun connecting with the community of Maui to collaborate on water cinematography and get help anywhere we can, so we’re ecstatic to see what unfolds when we get over there!
Are you yourself a surfer?
My two largest passions in my life are friendship and the ocean. These have both rooted from my immense experiences from surfing, and as most surfers do, I have a lot to say about how the sport’s impacted my life. I still remember being about 11 or 12 and waking up early on Saturday mornings to watch over and over again my favorite surf films before I would go out and ride my bike down to the beach to for dawn patrol. Those images from films always pushed my connection with the water, as I became a Huntington Beach Junior Guard, later a Lifeguard, and now a Junior Guard Instructor. As I’ve grown to become a documentarist, I’ve always hoped to make a film that would impact the kids I instruct the same way I was inspired as a young ocean lover.
Do you find specific challenges being a woman in the industry?
Even as the light on women’s surfing has grown because of surfers like Bethany Hamilton, Lisa Andersen and Layne Beachley (and the many that came before them), I think the industry has a ways to go. One of my dreams is to be a part of the shift that occurs in women’s surfing through film, finally making it something equal to the men’s surf world. People confuse the word equal with same. Women have something entirely different to bring to the surf world stage: heart, passion, style, and grace. Until we honor this and empower young female surfers the industry will stay stagnant.
What has been the hardest part about your Kickstarter campaign so far?
Documentaries are an interesting craft because when you start it, you have this image for what the project is going to be, what it’s going to look like, sound like, and feel like. Until you get over to your location and begin to shoot you really have no idea what story you’re going to be telling, even with all you prepare for. As a documentarist you really have to rely on your gut and follow your heart where you know there’s a story needing to be told, and no matter what other people’s judgements might be of your project, keep pushing forward. After my first two projects, I really began to feel confident in my “story compass”, but communicating this to others and convincing them to be as passionate as my team is, and to join with us to make our film a reality is definitely the hardest part about our Kickstarter. We’ve been pretty lucky to have people embrace our spirit and see that we not only believe in ourselves, but in our project’s ability to tell a really impactful story, and it’s brought us to about the half way point on our fundraising!