As I climbed out of the bathtub-warm Indian Ocean and onto the deck of the motorboat, one man grabbed my surfboard, another handed me a bottle of chilled water, and a third doused me in a fresh-water shower then handed me a fluffy white towel. Before I’d finished drying off, a fourth man offered me a plate of sliced cold coconut. I felt a cross between a prizefighter in his corner and a Hollywood starlet between takes on a big-budget film.
Thirty minutes and half a bottle of Pinot Noir into their first date he stood up, walked over to her side of the table, placed his hands on her shoulders, and whispered into her ear: “So here’s how it works. You’re trying to get DNA from my body over to your body. Blood, cum, saliva, hair, finger and toenails, a hacked off pinky—all fair game.”
[I’m unsure whether this story takes off in a Last Tango In Paris direction or whether she splashes her drink in his face, but I do see a later flashback scene where our male protagonist meets a cute ponytailed girl in kindergarten who invites him to play Hide and Seek. The Hide and Seek games carry on through elementary school, getting bigger and more elaborate, covering their entire suburban neighborhood. They never really talk. We see them climb over walls into random backyards, bury themselves under blue tarps in alleyways. The flashback ends with male protagonist at the breakfast table with Dad. Dad reads the paper. He furrows his brow, reads aloud: “How awful. A fifth grade girl from your school was run over by a car yesterday.”]
Identity is a slippery game. We conduct ourselves one way with one person, another way with another person, and yet a third way with yet a third person. We contain multitudes. We are kaleidoscopic. And yet we are forever stuck with ourselves. Which can be exhausting. And suffocating. And imprisoning.
Which leads us to Halloween. How delicious to put on a mask and be someone or something else! How totally invigorating to be, say, an honest investment banker by day, but Pablo Escobar, or a zip tie-bound Kim Kardashian, or a castrated Donald Trump on October 31st!
My longtime friend Marcus Dash talks a whole lot, often nonsensically, occasionally brilliantly. 37 years old, married, two young kids, Marcus remembers Halloween as one of the highlights of his childhood. And he never stopped dressing up—even through high school, college, and in his early years as a restaurateur in New York he played with his persona, blurring, obfuscating, slithering. He has a lot to say on the subject, as I found out over a recent drink at a noisy and brightly lit gastropub in Brooklyn.
“Escape has become a big theme in adulthood. There’s less wiggle room, what with the wife, kids, and mortgage. I see friends try to escape in dangerous ways—drugs, alcohol, double lives and all that that implies. It’s like we’re just looking for people to see us in a fresh way; it’s like we’re chained to our past. And though we might wake up in the morning with the intention to start anew, or to reinvent, or to kill off the sides of ourselves that we’re tired of, or that don’t serve us, the people close to us, our wives, our kids, our families, they want consistency. They might be coming from pure love, but still they’re wanting us to stay who we are. They might even be holding us back. ‘Cause let’s be honest, it’s scary to see your spouse or partner make a radical change!
I’m a big fan of that movie ‘The Passenger.’ Jack Nicholson’s a married man, a documentary filmmaker, on assignment in Africa. Not a bad life, but when the opportunity to fake his own death and assume the identity of a stranger falls into his lap he takes it. It’s like Eeny, meeny, miny, moe, I’ll take any life other than my own! Jack speaks for a lot us—in most of his roles, but especially in ‘The Passenger.’
In college I used to fantasize about my funeral. I’d see my ex-girlfriends there, weeping, sniffling, bringing Kleenex to their nose—and there were hot ones! I did well at college. And then I’d see my dad and my brother, and my dad nudging his elbow into my brother—‘Kid did well, didn’t he? Probably better than his old man even.’ And then my brother going, ‘Shush!’
Anyway, that’s a real long rant, probably more than you bargained for, but long and short of it is this: Hell yeah, I love Halloween. I dress up for Halloween. I even wear strange outfits when it’s not Halloween, stuff I’d normally never wear, stuff that presents me as someone I’m not, false advertising if you know what I mean. Masks, costumes, uniforms—they’re not really about who you’re playing, they’re about who you’re escaping. It’s like a drug-free, airplane-free, mistress-free vacation from the monotony of your own life. It’s like a refresh button—and you don’t take down the whole family in the process…”
Marcus went on like this for a long while, mixing wisdom with hyperbole. He drank ginger ale—he’s been sober for nearly five years—otherwise I would’ve thought he was a bit tipsy. He told me he looks forward to taking his kids trick-or-treating on Halloween. He said there’s a neighborhood not far from his Williamsburg home where they give out premium candy.
Who is he going to be this year?
“Well there are some great options, aren’t there?” he said, chugging the last of what must have been his seventh ginger ale. “I was toying with something anthropomorphic, like a polar icecap that’s both melting and weeping, like it just hates that we human monsters have ensured its demise. But then I’m also thinking Edward Snowden. I’m real afraid of this whole transparency thing. You know me, I love the veils.”
On November 19, 2016, Florida Surf Film Festival will host a journalism workshop at Atlantic Center for the Arts by Jamie Brisick, writer, photographer, and director. He surfed on the ASP world tour from 1986 to 1991, and has since documented surf culture extensively. His books include We Approach Our Martinis With Such High Expectations and Have Board, Will Travel: The Definitive History of Surf, Skate, and Snow. His writings and photographs have appeared in The Surfer’s Journal, The New York Times, and The Guardian. He was the editor of Surfing magazine from 1998-2000. In 1981 he surrendered his virginity to a brown-skinned eighteen-year-old in a dinghy hotel room in Cayucos, California. Blue Oyster Cult’s “Burnin’ For You” played on the staticky clock radio. The smell of Marlboro Reds wafted from the stained bedspread. It did not last long. In 2008 he was awarded a Fulbright Fellowship to Japan. He lives in New York City, travels frequently, and loves his 6’1” Channel Islands Warp.
For nearly 25 years I’ve been writing about surfing and documenting surf culture at large. It continues to fascinate me, and I continue to find new ways into it. My approach to the workshop is less ‘Journalism 101’ and more about personal expression and growth. We’ll have only one day, but by the end of it I hope I can help you to go deeper as a writer, photographer, and/or filmmaker.
Agenda for November 19th:
9:00AM – Intros
9:30AM – Media and Journalism in the Industry – Then and Now.
10:00AM – Structure, POV, Interviewing, Recording, Note-taking, Outlining, Drafting, Workshopping, etc.
12:30PM – Lunch
1:15PM – Writing exercise
1:30PM – Voluntary readings and workshop
2:30PM – Photography and its relationship with surf journalism
3:30PM – Publication tips and contacts – Relationships, taking anything you can get, paying dues.
4:30PM – Documentary filmmaking for dummies – Or whatever…
5:00PM – Wrap
6:00PM – 2nd Night of the Florida Surf Film Festival Begins
Please submit the information requested, and one of our staff will contact you about workshop openings, required non-refundable deposit, travel advice, and be available for all other questions.
The cost of the workshop is $95. This does NOT include a pass for the Florida Surf Film Festival. If you would like to include a discounted, two-night patron pass for the Florida Surf Film Festival, the added cost is $100. This includes a 2016 FSFF t-shirt, FSFF Tervis Tumbler, Clancy’s Cantina dinner both nights, and a Monster Energy Gift Bag. Check the appropriate box in the application to take advantage of the discounted patron pass.
If you’d like to stay at Atlantic Center for the Arts during the festival, we have small efficiency-style motel rooms for $69.50/night, including all taxes. If you’d like to stay three nights, November 17-20th, you are eligible for a 20% discount for a total of $167.40, including taxes. Please contact Stephanie Stallard at [email protected] for reservations.
APPLY HERE – Deadline is November 4, 2016
He wore white pants, blue shirt, red scarf, and a white helmet with a red M on the front. His face was round, boyish. He seemed tangible to my kindergarten mind, a fellow thumbsucker and tee-ball-whacker, but in fact he was eighteen, a driver on the international racing circuit. His car was white, weapon-looking, with a three-pronged front end. Its name: the Mach 5.
My first celebrity crush was maybe the perfect kind of celebrity crush. He was beyond flesh and blood—he was a cartoon character. I found him every Saturday morning on Channel 13. The opening theme song made me salivate with joy.
Here he comes, here comes Speed Racer, he’s a demon on wheels…
Speed Racer presented a world far more interesting than the one I inhabited. There were high-speed battles against Mammoth Cars and X3s. There was Speed’s hot girlfriend Trixie and his cool little brother Spritle and their pet monkey Chim-Chim, who brought new life to the stuffed monkey I slept with at night. There was Mom and Pops, who showered Speed in love, provided a cozy respite from the dangers that lurked outside. There was that incredible way in which Speed got in and out of his car, a kind of dance/leap/swagger.
Speed bridged me from the Hot Wheels I played with in the living room to the Big Wheel I vroom-vroomed around the neighborhood. My two brothers and I took turns reenacting scenes from the show. We fought over who got to play Speed—pinching, biting, hair-pulling, the occasional mag-wheel run over an unsuspecting foot. We negotiated deals. If there was only enough Cap’n Crunch for two bowls, for instance, then whoever got to play Speed had to make due with Dad’s Cheerios. Halloween presented a fairly colossal problem that was settled through rock-paper-scissors.
Looking back, it was less about Speed than the forging of a certain kind of relationship. Speed was a hero, a role model, a spur. He taught me how to mimic, how to sublimate. My Big Wheel was not the rain- and sun-faded hand-me-down from Kevin and Steven; it was the powerful Mach 5. The sidewalk was not a mere strip of pavement at the top of Escalon Drive; it was a racetrack. I was too young to know melancholy and existential dread, but Speed was stirring in me the tools I would later use to combat these things.
And he prepared me for Evel Knievel.
I was six. The training wheels had recently come off my red Huffy bicycle. On “Wide World of Sports” we watched Evel jump nineteen cars. That night, in our bunk beds, my brothers and I replayed every last detail: his star-spangled leathers, his Harley Davidson XR750, the blue cape that he discarded before doing the big jump, the way he got us biting our nails and clenching our fists with heebie-jeebies. “How did he get the name Evel?” we debated at length. I figured it was the name his parents gave him. Steven thought it was a nickname. Kevin came up with something vaguely Faustian: “He’s broken every bone in his body and he still jumps his motorcycle over nineteen cars? That’s beyond human!”
On the following Saturday morning I did not watch “Speed Racer” on Channel 13. Instead, I went out to the garage, grabbed a couple scraps of plywood, a few bricks, and every Tonka truck in the bucket. On the sidewalk in front of our house I set up a kind of Evel Knievel miniature: launch and landing ramps with five trucks in between. I remembered that Evel wore protective headgear and ran back into the house to get Dad’s aviator sunglasses and Kevin’s Notre Dame football helmet.
“C’mon,” I called to my brothers, who were playing soccer in the backyard. “You guys gotta see this.” They followed me outside. “That’s your seat right there,” I told Kevin, pointing to the left side of the Tonka trucks, “And that’s yours,” I told Steven, pointing to the right.
They sat. I rode a ways up the sidewalk, turned around, and gunned it. But as I got close I hit my brakes, stopping with my front wheel on the ramp. Evel had done this in his nineteen-car jump—a fake out.
I scratched my crotch, adjusted my glasses, and brought my index finger to my tongue and pointed skyward (I wasn’t sure what this last part meant, but I assumed it had something to do with Evel’s religious beliefs). I surveyed the three-foot gap and Tonka trucks waiting ominously below. Then I rolled backward, rode two driveways up the block, spun around, and began my approach.
I peddled hard, my bike rocking back and forth between my legs, my mouth making the waaaah, waaaah, waaaah sound of an XR750. I felt winged. But the instant I hit the ramp it buckled under my weight. Instead of launching skyward like a bird, a plane, a six-year-old Evel Knievel, I crashed head-on into the flotsam of bricks, Tonka trucks, and plywood. My handlebars crossed up and I spilled forward, smacking the pavement with my chin. The sunglasses flew one way; the football helmet—which I’d failed to strap on—the other. Blood splattered my Mickey Mouse T-shirt. I tried my hardest not to cry.
“Where does it hurt?” asked Kevin, borrowing Mom’s line.
I pointed to my chin. He escorted me into the house. In the bathroom, Mom smeared away the blood with Betadine. It bubbled and stung.
“Do you think I broke the bone?” I asked hopefully.
“Not quite,” she said.
Big Wheels, bicycles, then skateboards. For my 11th birthday my parents got me a Bahne deck with Chicago trucks and Cadillac wheels. It had a fabulous glide, but it only really came to life when I discovered Skateboarder magazine. The year was 1977. On the west side of Los Angeles a band of teenage skaters known as the Dogtowners tore apart streets, sidewalks, drainage ditches, empty swimming pools, anything smooth and banked. Their pictures in Skateboarder captivated me. I wanted to skate like them; I wanted to look like them. Most of the Dogtowners were poor kids from broken homes. They dressed like Jeff Spicoli.
Vans deck shoes —navy blue
Tube socks all frayed and strectched out
OP corduroy shorts with boxers hanging out the bottoms
Levis corduroy pants, two sizes too big
Surf T-shirts (Blue Cheer, Natural Progression, Zephyr, Mr. Zog’s Sex Wax)
This was what my back-to-school clothes list looked like. What my loving mother did not know was that I took my spankin’ new gear out to the street and scraped it on the pavement to get it looking more “Dogtownerish.” Tony Alva wore a pimpin’ porkpie hat, Shogo Kubo wore a rising sun headband. I wore both.
Watching the Dogtowners in the surf movie Go For It was a real treat, but skating with them at Kenter Elementary School in Brentwood truly lit up my world. They possessed an insouciance, a flow, an inner music. I studied every last detail: the way they hopped the fence like panthers, held their boards as if they were rifles, pushed three times then charged down the blacktop bank in a low tuck, knock-kneed, hands like Merlin the Spellcaster. They carved up and down, up and down, drawing graceful, poetic lines, crossing-stepping to the nose here, ducking into an imaginary tube there. It was exactly the kind of projecting I was familiar with. They were riding the concrete bank as if it were a wave. In their heads they were surfing.
Skateboarding led me to surfing, surfing led me to three West Coast titles and a sponsorship from Quiksilver. I turned pro in 1986, did five years on the world tour. My pictures were in the surf mags. I signed autographs on the beaches of Rio, Biarritz, Bondi, Capetown. And even when I was at the top of my game I was still a mimicker and a hero worshipper. Before paddling out against the very pros I was trying to beat—and sometimes did—I studied their acts the way I studied Speed Racer on television at age five (Gary Elkerton scraped toes on the sand like a bull about to be let loose in a ring; Tom Curren shuffled hips, cracked knuckles).
And don’t let’s get started on this writing business. I’m a forty-eight-year-old man-child bouncing to the characters in fiction, emulating the writers and comedians I admire, still mimicking consciously and unconsciously. Not that I haven’t tapped my own inner voice, but more like that voice enjoys dancing around in other people’s shoes. I find that the monotony of yet another sunny day in Los Angeles can take on a happier hue if I imagine myself as The Dude from The Big Lebowski. Stuff that torments me, scares me, ties my stomach in knots—I think what Louis CK would do with it and it somehow lightens.
Not long ago I was giving a reading at a literary festival in Cornwall, England. It was a difficult passage about a close friend of mine who drowned while surfing in giant waves. I started improvising, telling the story as I remembered it, when suddenly I was seized by a combination of raw emotion and stage fright. I completely lost my train of thought. A hot flash washed over my face, my palms sweat, I froze up. And then George Carlin stepped in. In “Fart Jokes” he doesn’t so much crescendo as he simply runs out of material. “I have no ending for this,” he says/I said, “So I take a small bow.”
This lineage of inspirational figures, these lives that have given spirit and sparkle to my own, all trace back to Speed.
I first encountered Oscar Niemeyer’s work in a book. I was staying in Rio, Barra da Tijuca, a “nouveau” neighborhood notorious for its horrible architecture. Niemeyer’s architecture had curves, abstract forms, sexiness. I learned of a home called Casa das Canoas in São Conrado, not far from Barra da Tijuca, and I went straight there, on the bus. Casa das Canoas is located up a long winding hill, which I walked up, backpack over shoulder, sweating in the heat. I passed a favela, a pair of shirtless men carrying a 1970s television set down the sidewalk, a colonial home of vibrant blues and pinks.
My entrance to Casa das Canoas did not go well. The home was fenced off. I pressed a button, got no reply. Pressed it again, got no reply. Suddenly a gate to the far left of the house opened and a car exited. Coming from a youth in which we hopped fences to skate empty pools, I saw this as my in, and shimmied past the gate before it closed. As I approached the home an irate proprietor came storming out the front door, shouting at me in Portuguese. I dug deep into my reserves of sincerity to talk him down. After slapping heart with hand several times, the global sign for ‘I’m an honest man,’ he finally calmed down. And gave me a tour of the house.
Built for Neimeyer himself in 1953, Casa das Canoas brings the exterior into the interior, which is to say there’s a lot of floor-to-ceiling glass, with striking views of the tropical jungle and the shimmering ocean way down below. The house is curvaceous in the way that the human body is curvaceous. There’s a big granite boulder that has been integrated into the space. There’s a pool that sits just outside the living room. It feels something like a tree house, but instead of the homespun, dark-wood vibe, it’s sculptural white, modernist. It feels aspirational, a place to make epic work, or, in Niemeyer’s case, design epic buildings.
So began my fascination with Oscar Niemeyer. I visited Edifício Copan in São Paulo, a 38-story residential building with a sinuous façade that suggests levity, a curtain billowing in the wind. I went to Niterói Contemporary Art Museum in Rio, a UFO-looking building set on the edge of a cliff, with sweeping views over the water. And I read Niemeyer’s memoir, The Curves of Time, while staying at Barra da Tijuca in 2011. At the time I’d become obsessed with bodysurfing. The Rio coastline is textured with those iconic granite rocks, the kind found in the living room of Casa das Canoas. They create wedgy waves with almost no shoulder. On a board you’re rocketed into the flats, but bodysurfing you match the speed, you stay in the pocket, the ocean pulsing through your belly. I somehow likened this to Niemeyer. That reading of and flow with the environment, that oneness with nature.
Passages from The Curves of Time that have stuck with me:
“I am not attracted to straight angles or to the straight line, hard and inflexible, created by man. I am attracted to free-flowing, sensual curves. The curves that I find in the mountains of my country, in the sinuousness of its rivers, in the waves of the ocean, and on the body of the beloved woman. Curves make up the entire Universe, the curved Universe of Einstein. “
“In my lectures I have always emphasized that I do not consider architecture terribly important, and there is no contempt in my words. I compare architecture to other things that are more connected to life and Man; meaning the political struggle, the personal contribution that each of us owes to society, particularly to our less fortunate brothers. What can compare to the struggle for a better and classless world where all individuals are equal? In spite of this opinion, architecture has kept me very busy, leading me, as I do now, to defend my works and my point of view as an architect, and to debate architectural issues with a passion that life, so fragile and insignificant, seemingly does not justify.”
“On several occasions I have mentioned genetic information and how, in my opinion, it accounts for our qualities and defects, thus influencing our reactions. I shouldn’t complain about this hidden being within us that genetic information creates and which so often dominates us. I have already mentioned how this “double” controls me when I begin a new design, taking me by the arm and leading me in trance along the pathways of fantasy to the new, unexpected shapes that are responsible for this architectural spectacle.”
“I once imagined that the followers of contemporary architecture, grown tired of so much repetition, would someday become disappointed with the dogmas they once fiercely advocated and choose something different, finally assured that invention must prevail. This is occurring now, but once again they are making a mistake by tacitly following the adventure of postmodernism, reproducing the same building designs but adding anachronistic and outdated architectural details. This is the same “gratuitousness” they once criticized and have now admitted in its most simplistic form.”
“I have always confronted life as an unwavering rebel. After reading Sartre, I viewed life as an unfair and unrelenting tragedy. When I was a young man of only fifteen, I was anguished to think of man’s destiny, doomed as we are to total abandonment, and defenseless against it. I was frightened by the idea of someday disappearing forever. Like everyone else, I have tried to erase such thoughts and instead take advantage of the pleasures of this brief and joyful passage on earth that fate grants us without consultation. I have felt the ecstasy of the fantastic natural world around us, and, arm-in-arm with my friends, I cast aside the disturbing thoughts that so afflicted me when I was alone. I wore a mask of youthful optimism and contagious good humor. I was known as a high-spirited and spontaneous personality, a lover of the bohemian lifestyle, while deep inside I nursed a tremendous sorrow when I thought about humanity and life.”
In the summer of 2015 I traveled to the Maldives to write a travel piece. I learned that the Maldives is the flattest country in the world, i.e., they have the lowest high point (lowest high point. I love this!), i.e., first to go underwater with the effects of climate change. I wanted to make a short film of some kind, wasn't sure what, I brought a GoPro camera, I am fascinated by our selfie culture. I wondered if there might be some kind of theme of self-obsession in there. The first day I arrived I mounted my camera to the nose in classic narcissistic fashion (pointed backwards, mirror-like), I paddled out to Sultans, a wave loomed, I pressed PLAY, stroked, hopped to feet, pumped, flung myself at the lip to do a floater, and like a cartoon the lip dislodged my camera (I didn't insert it properly) and it sunk to the bottom (I didn't put on the foamy float thing). I tried to find it but I couldn't. So I rode a few waves. Then I thought, 'Gotta find the thing, I traveled all this way, and I want to make some kind of film'. So I paddled to the boat, grabbed mask/snorkel/fins and went searching. After about ten minutes I found it. It had been rolling the whole time. There was like 45 mins of this wave/dislodge/raked over bottom of the sea/find footage. I passed it along to the brilliant director/editor Isabel Freeman, from NY, resides in London, editor of "Stephanie in the Water." She teased out a frame—elation, loss, back on the horse—as well as the excellent Terry Riley/Don Cherry tune. I wrote a VO script based on love and loss (my wife died suddenly three years ago). And there you have it.