Filmmaker Feature: Pierce Kavanagh

Growing up on the beaches of La Jolla, Pierce Kavanagh grew up amidst a surf culture ingrained in tradition. Legends we all know about. Some we admire, others we learn from. For Pierce, he soaked up what he discovered from those before him and has witness change in the surf industry unfold in front of him. By becoming a filmmaker, he developed a skill in which he can use to share his knowledge and inspire others. His new documentary, Manufacturing Stoke, is “an introspective look into the surfing culture’s struggle to be beneficial unto itself, a tapestry of both influential and eclectic members of the surfing community that are constantly striving for positive change.” By making a documentary on a hot topic like this, Pierce hopes to raise awareness about how the surf community operates and how we can help it move forward in a positive way.

What’s your film background? What drew you to filmmaking in the first place?

I realized the power of film really early on because my father, with his unique child-rearing sensibilities, used to take us kids to see films like The Towering Inferno and The Poseidon Adventure. These films scarred me for life so I guess the natural progression was to pick up a video camera myself. My younger brother Dennis and I grew up on Chris Bystrom movies and used to film with a VHS camera around the La Jolla Reefs when we 13 or 14. I wish I still had those tapes because there was some really good surfing going on back then. So my education with filmmaking started as a curious grom on the beach but ended formally with a film degree from UCSB.

Were your expectations going into the film different from what you ended up finding while making Manufacturing Stoke?

Definitely. I told my crew that we were going to spend a weekend or two on a short doc and I had an $800 budget and minimal equipment. Six months later, rent checks bouncing, an attempted mutiny, 90 hours of footage from California, Hawaii, Mexico and Puerto Rico, we are ready to present a pretty amazing 80-minute documentary examining sustainability in the surf industry.

How has making this film changed your perception on the surf industry?

I have always had a love/hate relationship with the surf industry in general. Let’s just leave it at that.

Who surprised you the most in filming the interviews for the film?

We interviewed over 30 people directly involved with our surf industry and got to discuss and experience some incredible insight into these individuals’ lives. We received complete honesty even from those not necessarily doing the right thing but who are striving to do better. All the interviews are amazing…okay; one of them sucked…just kidding.

But the most surprising comment comes from Jasper during a discussion on surfboards being manufactured overseas. It blew us all away.

In time where technology and innovation is at it highest, surfing seems to be heading back to it’s roots where surfers are making their own boards and redefining what we can ride. Why do you think we are coming back full circle?

Surfing used to be outlaw…and it is good to see that there are outlaws still out there. I just saw a board that Ryan Burch shaped at Lucas Dirkse’s house. The thing looks like a space ship and I bet it rides like one too. Those two guys are a prime example of the paradigm shift that surfing is experiencing right now. They both rip and can shape and surf anything. Lucas was a big part of this film and I think he and Ryan will both reshape the way the world sees surfing.

What do you expect to see from the surf industry in the future?

Surfing is a billion dollar a year industry. According to some, it’s not broke…so why fix it. We all know that’s bullshit. We are surfers, we are surfing, we are the industry, and we make the machine run. If we want surfing back…we can take it back.

For more information on the film, check out

World Premiere of Manufacturing Stoke:

May 21st at Bird’s Surf Shed.
1091 W. Morena, San Diego, CA
Doors open at 6pm, film at 7pm
Adults $10; Groms $5

New show added:

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