This Saturday, Feburary 9th, the Santa Barbara surf scene will have one of its most defining stories told.
“Spoons: A Santa Barbara Story,” premieres at the Santa Barbara International Surf Festival this weekend, and Stab caught up with the film’s director, Wyatt Daily, to hear about the filmmaking process cobbling together one of California surfing’s most nuanced timelines.
Alright, pretend I’ve never heard the last name Yater, Greenough, Curren, or Merrick in my life—give us the elevator pitch. Spoons is about…
This film is about the impact that Santa Barbara has had on surfing, looking at George Greenough, Al Merrick, Greenough, and of course Renny Yater.
But it’s also a story about craft, work-ethic, and exploration that goes beyond surfing to show how to live a life with purpose.
So, many will know Greenough’s name, or recognize him from the opening scene from Endless Summer riding his kneeboard in Santa Barbara, but for those uninitiated, lay out the Greenough story (radically attenuated, of course). Just how influential was he, and why are his designs and theories still relevant?
Greenough’s influence is in everything that we know about modern surfing today. From the roundhouse cutback, to the surf fin, to getting barreled, George Greenough pioneered it and showed people how it could be done.
He was doing things in the 60’s that people are still trying to fully understand, especially when it comes to edge-board designs, and the importance of flex in a surfboard.
But even beyond surfing, George innovated boat technology, underwater camera technology, and in a lot of ways he only revealed what could be right below the surface. People will continue to explore and evolve those ideas that George brought forward for generations. Greenough is one of the pillars on the Mt. Rushmore of surfing.
A couple beautiful Spoon specimens.
From the Charlie Coffee archive, courtesy the filmmakers.
Yater’s relationship with Greenough started how? The Yater Spoon came out around the same time Greenough was taking off for Oz to blow Nat and Bob’s minds at Noosa on that red kneeboard (what’s her name again?). What is the Yater Spoon’s importance to board design, and how did Greenough influence that design?
Renny and George are fishermen, and the way George explains it, Renny taught him how to fish for lobsters. Renny knew how to follow their migration patterns, and how to fish for them really close to shore, which is very dangerous and takes tremendous ocean knowledge. They’re watermen, and that’s why they made such a good team.
From those fishing trips, two schools of surfing evolved: George’s radical innovation that led to the shortboard revolution; and Yater’s refined, methodical approach that favors subtle advancements for measurable improvements over time.
There was a lot of cross-polination in the mid sixties between California, Australia, and Hawaii, and advancements to surfboard designs were happening rapidly. Both George and Renny made trips to Australia, and while George showed the Aussies what could be done on a wave with Velo (his famous red kneeboard), Yater was instrumental in the development of hot longboards in ’64, ’65, ’66.
Yater focused on creating a rail profile that would maximize trim speed, and brought in rocker that allowed his boards to make the more critical drops at Rincon (whereas, say, Malibu boards were generally flatter and more geared to noseriding). He also dug out foam from the deck of the nose of the board to save weight and increase the turnability, which was adopted throughout the board building industry as the “step-deck.”
Even though rocker and rail profiles and a step-deck aren’t as obviously radical as a 4-foot surfboard, or the Greenough template fin, they still represent major performance additions and an approach to modern surfboard building that is fundamental.
But Yater has never sought the limelight. He’s the epitome of understated, and he still shapes surfboards on a daily basis, well into his 80s. And while George could care less about the modern surf industry, but he’s still interested in developing and sharing his radical innovations (specifically with fin evolution) with anyone who will listen.
And that’s why I think Yater and Greenough represent the core of what surfers should aspire to be.
Lobster fishing boat in Santa Barbara, 1960s.
Image taken from the film.
How did you guys go about gathering the footage and filming the interviews? It’s such a long history, it had to be crazy parsing it to something digestable.
It’s been one closet at a time, a film can here, a shoebox there, and one conversation after another. This whole process has been a concentric circle of stoke that started with a small few supporters and continues to spiral into deeper and deeper reaches of surfing heroes.
We’ve done a ton of interviews, and some of them don’t even make it on screen. But it all connects because as one person got wind of what we were doing, another person added their two cents, and eventually it just kept on growing.
Some people, like Tom Curren, have taken more than a year to track down and get in front of the camera, but it’s all been worth it. I just knew from the beginning that I wanted it to be under an hour, give people a deeper appreciation for surfing, and leave ’em wanting more.
Al Merrick and Conner Coffin.
Image from the film.
What’s the plan for the film? Online release once it’s gotten funded? Tour? It’s premiering in Santa Barbara next month, right?
We’re premiering the film at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival (SBIFF), as the Closing Night film at the Arlington Theater, Saturday February 9th at 8pm.
It’s crazy though, because we still need funds to get the film licensed so we can take it on the road. That’s why we are doing the Kickstarter; to license the footage so we can release it online and bring it to a theater near you. We’ve been wingin’ it this whole time and so far it’s turned out pretty good, so we’ll see what happens!