THE FILMER



SPEAKING OF PRO SURFER’S PERSONAL FILMERS, IT’S LIKE AN S&M RELATIONSHIP. It’s a life of purgatory and submissivness for the filmer. I mean, here we are in the Mentawai, on the boat for lunch in the A/C, and this poor filmer guy is on the beach just getting irradiated by the sun. Like a roasting 8-hour X-ray. These Filmer guys are just tortured all day long. Guys like Jacob, Griffin’s filmer, they get dropped off on the beach and it's hotter than hell. I mean, we’re one degree below the equator and they have to sit there, on the edge of a bug-infested jungle and take it like a nanny on the playground, trying to keep an eye on the kid, for absolutely every second. Literally every second of the day, these filmers have to watch their little men. Frame by frame. Capturing every move their little man makes. Imagine having to do a ten-hour selfie. Now imagine doing it for someone else? A thankless job. Dawn to dusk, waiting and watching for your little man to have the time of his life, over and over, while you just stand there, in techno-hell, having to capture his every joy.

For example, this torrential downpour blows in and the poor Jacob the filmer is filming from the beach. So now he’s building an emergency shelter out of palm fronds, but not for him, for the billion dollars worth of camera equipment he lugs around the world. So he’s on the radio… Mayday! Mayday! Mayday! Come get me!… while Griffin is on the boat, finishing up his eggs benedict and croissants. So we look out toward the beach and you can barely see Jacob, and he’s just lost all hope. He’s like a castaway. He’s standing at the water's edge with his hands up like that scene in Platoon. He’s just surrendered to the elements. And then, when Griffin gets on the radio to him, it’s like a counseling session. Hey man, suck it up, this is the life you chose… and poor Jacob is like, What the hell? But Griff is just real calm, talking Jacob through the storm. At one point, no one was laughing. I mean Griff was convincing, man. He was smooth. He had us half considering our own choices, anyway, you know, so poor Jacob gets off the radio to take matters into his own hands and he packs up all the gear, tons of it and he’s carrying it on his back like a Galapagos tortoise and he humps it 200 yards down to the pickup spot at the end of the reef. And just then, the rain stops and the sun comes out and in 30 seconds it’s just a beautiful day. But now, on the beach, it’s like when the sun rises on Mars, you know, soaring from 90 to 200 degrees in two seconds. And poor Jacob looks around at this beautiful day and knows he has to hump all his equipment back to his emergency shelter and keep looking through that viewfinder to capture the greatest moments of somebody else’s life. The filmer guy is actually a the hero of any surf clip. The unsung hero of the internet. And I swear, we all had a moment of silence for Jacob as he plopped down in the sand with his face in his hands. So it can be like real home movie nightmare crap for the filmers.

’Nother example, the HT’s session was 7am to 7pm. And Griffin is amphibious. He barely gets out of the water. Dawn to dusk, you know, for the filmer that’s two separate mosquito hours right next to a steaming jungle. These filmer guys are risking their lives on the beach, just capturing footage, hours and hours of it. All the technical crap you gotta pay attention to and your life is dependent on batteries and you can’t miss one wave. Not one. It’s a helluva price to pay for the romance of it. I mean it sounds good – Travel the world with the elite! Go to the best waves on earth and make movies! Bullshit, man, this is more like chopping wood in hell. Then, as soon as Jacob gets to the boat at the end of the day, Griff is just on his ass… let's see the clips!… This filmer kid is just fried, literally, but his work is long from over. It’s not human. I used to have this job, for Andy Irons of all people. Never again. You couldn’t pay me enough. I don’t know what the motivation is…I mean, I used to film Andy. It does not get more brutal. So with Jacob, I took mercy. I would go to the beach with a cool wet towel and put it over his head, bring him ice water and nutrients and just try to bring the guy back to life. He’d be all bloodshot and bug bit and worn out and dehydrated…man…he needed an IV. Squinting into some eyepiece, trying to keep the horizon straight while your head is just swimming and hermit crabs are attacking the cuts on your feet and the mosquito’s are drilling you and any one of them could mean malaria.

So Jacob’s little man is out there and maybe it’s a lull, but he cannot take his eyes off the lineup for a second. Just staring into the blazing glare, you just have to wait and wait for your little man to do something clever and then capture it for the whole world to see and applaud. These filmer guys, with these billion-dollar cameras, are not supposed to even listen to music. You're supposed to stay focused, man. Pardon the pun. And meanwhile, your little man out in the surf paddles back to the boat and drinks five cold Gatorades and a tenderly cooked shrimp and veggie kebab and finishes with some cool fresh fruit and then scrabbles back out into the lineup. But poor Jacob is on the beach, he’s got a stale, melted, Indonesian candybar and a bottle full of water that’s the same temperature as his urine. It’s like he’s lost at sea. I couldn’t help it, I’d been there. I’d try to keep things right, you know? I mean, I’d go to the beach with that cold water and maybe a sandwich left over from the crew and Jacob would practically wanna marry me, he’s so thankful. I found him at one point where I’m sure he was seeing stars. Then again, back at sunset, we’d be on the boat and Jacob is being forced to set it all up for viewing. Meanwhile, he’s moving like some lobster-skinned zombie. I swear he was glowing by the time his day was done. So he’s plugged in ‒ and this isn’t America, we’re drawing power off an old greasy generator down in the hold that could blow the brains out of a jumbotron ‒ and this billion-dollar camera starts smoking and overheating. I’m yelling at Jacob, Shut it down! Shut it down! And Griff is saying Wait, Wait…my good one’s coming up! And poor Jacob is dealing with a seventy thousand dollar fire hazard at this point. I swear it’s just torture…But that’s modern pro surfing, man, no one surfs unless the cameras are rolling. Oh yeah, and with these gnarly reef breaks in the Mentawai, did I mention these filmer guys have to bodysurf their Pelican cases through the shore break, over gnarly live coral and pray the thing holds as they go over the falls onto a craggy beach? The price of being an artist, I guess.

A Surf Story by Pete Matthews

(An excerpt from the book The Last Crusade, Lost Publications, 2022)

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