Tubes, Curls, Cutbacks, Barrels, Boards--It's, Like, Gnarly, Dude! : Surfing Fan Takes Ride on Airwaves

Times Staff Writer

The totally awesome experience of ripping through the barrel of some of the gnarliest waves ever is completely the thing to do in the morning when you're a professional surfer.

But with the offshore breezes down early last week, there was only one tube worth catching, so Solo Scott and Randy Wright exchanged their surfboards for sound mikes and agreed to ride the airwaves instead.

They were there, boards in hand, wearing surfer shirts and smiles as Juri Koll and the production team went down the checklist to prepare the fifth segment of "L. A. Surf," the place where beach life and public-access TV meet every month or so.

The show is decidely free form--no script, no rehearsal and, Koll says, no need to worry. Like the sport it features, the program is given to radical direction changes. An interview with a professional surfer quickly cuts to a music video featuring bikini-clad Malibu beachgoers. Another quick cut back to the host. Fade out and cut to shots of surfers in Venice. Cut back to the studio. Somebody flubs a line. Wipeout.

'Super Geeks'

Scott and Wright, two professional surfers from Venice, stood with their boards in the studio, watching Koll work with the director on the format for the show when two guys walked in who caused them to do a double take.

They were a pair of self-described "super geeks." One wore a blue baseball cap, an open, lime-green shirt with a red polka-dot tie, olive-green pants and patent-leather red shoes. The other wore a brown paisley shirt, black leather pants and red leather shoes. Both sported thick horn-rimmed glasses. Meet Barry and Todd Platis, maximum nerds.

"Are you guys comedians or something?" Scott asked.

The two men turned to each other and pointed. "He thinks he is," they said in unison.

The lineup for the show was almost set. Koll said "L. A. Surf" follows a laissez-faire philosophy. Almost anything goes, and almost anyone can go on. That theory is proven with the arrival of his final guest, who entered the studio on roller skates.

His name is Harry Perry. He is to Venice Beach what Jack Nicholson is to Los Angeles Lakers games. Every time there is a shot of beach life in Venice, Perry is in it.

Today he is wearing a turban with a sun visor, knee pads, elbow pads and a white laboratory coat. He played an electric guitar, the sounds emanating from the amplifier strapped on his back.

Koll told the director that he'll open the show with the Platis brothers portraying two nerds from Salt Lake City, Clarence and Larry Webster.

"But they don't want anyone to know they're from Salt Lake City," Koll added.

Someone asks where they surf in Utah.

"You don't, man," Barry Platis said. "That's why we're out here now, catching breakers and stuff. We're really bitchen now."

Koll laughed, grabbed a sheet of paper and took them onto the studio set, which has three chairs, two surfboards and a pile of surfing magazines.

The show was ready to begin.

Koll said he dreamed up the idea for "L. A. Surf" earlier this year after he "got sick and tired" of watching TV and seeing few surfing shows and even fewer programs on ocean pollution, marine life and beach culture in general.

So he wrote a proposal to American Cable Systems in Hollywood to produce the surf show, filming six to 10 half-hour segments on a mostly monthly basis.

"I think surfing is something that everyone can be interested in at some level," Koll said. "Even for people who live in Ohio."

The show reaches only cable TV audiences on Fridays on Channel 37, but Koll, a 26-year-old Venice resident and acknowledged surfing fanatic, said he hopes to make a splash on a wider level. He is trying to attract commercial sponsors to the show but admits he's still working the bugs out of his program.

He said he even would consider changing the name of the show, which he added is really a misnomer. "L. A. Surf" is really a show about the ocean, he said, but now its main focus is surfing because that is what he knows best.

'It's About the Waves'

"When you think about it, it's about the waves themselves," he said. "The water is the what it's really about. Anything that relates to the quality of the ocean relates to surfing."

However, his attempt to transform the show into something between a surfing magazine and a National Geographic special has not gone beyond the theory stage. He has had local environmentalists on the program to discuss pollution in Santa Monica Bay, but so far the emphasis has been on tubes, curls, cutbacks, barrels and boards.

As a public-access TV show, "L. A. Surf" is not constrained by budget requirements--there is no budget at all. Koll has provided all the funds for the show, and most of the guests are his personal friends and surfing partners.

He has shot some of the videotape used on the program and some has been provided by local surf scene aficionados. One of the videos features music by the Charms, a group of San Diego-based rockers whose members include Koll's brother.

"Everything that we've done so far has been made on a shoestring," Koll said. "I've used whatever money I have to put into the show, but mostly it's just a labor of love. And I love surfing."

Koll begins the introduction to the show, only to be cut off in mid-sentence by Todd Platis--one-half of the nerd team--who yells that the host forgot to tell the audience their names.

"We're really hot," Todd says. "You've got to mention our names first."

Koll says he'll get back to his guests later. Then, it is a quick cut to some locals gliding through some tubes at Venice Beach. As the video plays, Koll leads the nerds out of the studio, catches some of the surfing footage and then takes Scott and Wright onto the set for the next segment.

After brief introductions by the surfers, the talk curls from "equipment failures" to commercial sponsors to the difficulties in making the jump from amateur to professional status.

They discuss how waves tend to be smaller during surf contests, especially in Los Angeles. And then they drift to a little-discussed subject: gang warfare on the waves.

'Got to Earn Your Respect'

"There's a lot of gang members that surf in Venice, so you have to be careful where you go out there," Scott says. "It's like a turf thing out there. You've got to protect your waves. You've got to earn your respect when you're surfing."

"So what you're saying is that Venice is not the place to go if your a beginner or you're not a really good surfer?" Koll asks. "Or something like that?"

"That's right," Scott says. "Exactly."

The screen fades to a music video, allowing Koll to retrieve the nerds. He decides to send them back on alone and then watches the monitors with the rest of the crew when the film starts rolling.

The Platis brothers engage in an improvisational dialogue spoofing surfers. They mention how they're gonna go "hit the breakers" about six times in three minutes, then switch to their new "hot" L. A. life styles.

"Once we got here, we've been, like, checking out the club scene," Barry Platis says. "You know, picking up the babes and stuff."

The director cues them for a cut to another segment.

"Don't touch that dial," Todds yells. "We're gonna go hit the breakers."

Koll, who has been a surfer since he was 14, said that while having a good time on the show is important, he wants "L. A. Surf" to be as professional as possible. Accordingly, he said he tries not to fall into surfing jargon or to perpetuate stereotypes of surfers.

Still, he admitted that is difficult. Especially when he's around a bunch of his surfing buddies.

"I really try to keep down the numbers of gnarlies or totalies or awesomes , but I make sure a couple get in," he said. "I don't want to spend the whole show trying to prove that surfers are intelligent, because I know they are. But I want it to be fun. The whole thing about surfing or being a surfer is that it's fun.

"For instance, one of the reasons I had the Platis brothers on is that they raise the issue of how non-surfers react to us. By virtue of being the geeks that they are, they give you the impression that you can be anything you want and not have to worry about it. That's why they're such a hoot."

Out of Mainstream

As much as he'd like to make the show mainstream, Koll said the odds of selling the show to a network or commercial cable station are about as good as getting up on a surfboard on your first try.

"Realistically, its going to be very, very difficult because there are just not that many people who surf," he said. "And I don't think sponsors would support a show that's just about surfing. And under any circumstances, it's not easy getting people to give you money.

He plans to take the best segments from each show and put them together on a tape to shop around. However, whatever happens, he said he is happy with the evolution of the show.

"It's like a sketch pad," he said. "I can tear out the ones I don't like and use the ones I do. It's a personal thing for me. I want to be able to say that this is what I did for awhile and move on. I don't intend to always work on shows about surfing."

Koll decides to close the show with a solo number by Perry. Two technicians help him onto the set, and he slides his roller skates back and forth a few times to get his balance. They do a sound check on his back-pack amplifier and tell him to watch for his cue. The cameras roll.

"We're invaders from other planets," Perry begins to sing, "invaders coming down to take control. . . . "

The technicians are trying to tell Perry which camera to look at, but his eyes are closed, he's twirling around on his roller skates, wildly fingering the neck of his guitar, wailing his lungs out.

"Invaders . . . invaders . . . invaders coming down," he sings.

Koll and his other guests are laughing hysterically in the studio. He tells the director to run the credits to the show while Perry sings. In two minutes, the taping is finished.

"Cool," Koll says. "This is the best show yet. By far."

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