Joe Surf: A cinematic ode to surfing's pioneers

There is no shortage of good films in the Action Sports series at the 2012 Newport Film Festival, which wraps up Thursday night, but there is one that is more than just a good film.

It's a history lesson.

The documentary "Boardroom," which will play at 5:45 p.m. Thursday at Triangle Square Cinemas in Costa Mesa, and its director, German native Markus Davids, wanted viewers to come away with a sense of appreciation for those who really kick-started the surfing industry as we know it today.

A press release for the film described it as thus:

"Before the growth of big corporations and surf culture, a handful of pioneers built wooden surfboards in their garages. Unknowingly, they would eventually come to develop a lifestyle popularized all over the world. This documentary is an exploration of the humble beginnings of surfboard manufacturing and how the passion of these creators has come to popularize the sport and lifestyle around the world."

Davids said it simply was about time that somebody paid homage to those original board shapers, and he features many of them in the film.

"The main reason I made the film was because I wanted to see a movie like that," Davids said. "I felt that there are so many surfing movies that are coming out and they're very, for a lack of a better term, soft porn.

"They're about the young kids, shredding their shortboards all over the world. And I felt very little was done to preserve the origins of the sport, especially in light of some of those shapers and pioneers passing away. I think it was way past due somebody made a movie like that."

So Davids did.

Davids left Germany in 1997 to go to film school at Cal State Long Beach. He was working at a local TV station in Long Beach, where he met Robert Bell and Robert Jax. Years went by and the three met up again at a trade show, when Davids mentioned he wanted to make a surfing film.

"I was telling them my idea of doing a surf movie and they both said, 'When?!'" Davids recalled. "Three years later, here we are."

The three formed a perfect trio for the project, as Bell is a longtime surfer who grew up and surfed in Palos Verdes and Hermosa Beach, and knew many of the board shapers featured in the movie. Jax is the post-production/editing guru, and Davids had the broader vision of the entire project.

Davids had his own ideas of where to take the film, but after meeting many of the board shapers themselves, he simply rode the wave and went where the shapers took him.

"In the course of shooting, the movie changed a little bit," he said. "I have a fascination for these guys who are passionate about what they're doing. They're spending and dedicating all their time. They're puzzling things together in the garage with materials that come available to them as they go and search for the best stuff.

"There are so many things about surfing that we take for granted today, if it's materials or flexibility, that guys didn't have then. It's easy to know now, 'Foam is the best thing to do. It has the best weight-to-strength ratio.' But having these pioneers with the vision to find the best things was tough. It's a very fascinating journey."

The film has plenty of vintage footage, including some of legendary shaper Hobie Alter making a balsa board. But Davids said most of his compelling footage is the vintage photographs never seen before.

"We dug up amazing photographs," Davids said. "We have the traditional surf photography, like you'll see in surfing magazines, but the better part of the material came from the shapers themselves. Every interview we went to we took a scanner and we scanned photos out of their personal photo albums."

Davids said he believes that the shapers had no idea that surfing would become a billion-dollar industry, partly because they weren't in it for the money.

"Sometimes you're so emerged into something, it's very difficult to see the big picture," Davids said. "It's like the guys who don't see the volcano coming until the lava runs into their front yard.

"I think they did it for the right reasons. I think later on some people said, 'Oh my God, there's a buck to be made.' But guys like [Hap] Jacobs, Greg Noll, Bing [Copeland], they just did it so they could surf."

Besides, Noll, Copeland and Jacobs, some of the other board shapers featured in the film include Renny Yater, Donald Takayama, Rich Harbour, Gordon Clark, Terry Martin, Harold Walker, Dick Brewer, Harold Iggy, Mike Eaton, Larry Gordon, Robert August, Mike Hynson, Dick Metz, Mickey Munoz, Bob Bolen, Carl Ekstrom, Bill Stewart, Bruce Jones and Dave Sweet.

Davids said the film has screened already in Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo, and will also screen in San Diego, as well as Africa and Germany. He said he is getting good feedback on the film, which is not bad for a director whose surfing background is limited.

"I was born in Germany," he said "I did not grow up surfing because we didn't have waves in Germany. I grew up windsurfing."

Since graduation from film school 10 years ago, he has specialized in underwater work, shooting documentaries in the ocean, shooting for ESPN and even working on the underwater work for the television series "Heroes."

"I have a special connection with the water," Davids said. "So I kind of just merged my passion for surfing and surfing history with my camera work in the water and we came up with this project."

JOE HAAKENSON is an Orange County-based sports writer and editor. He may be reached at

Copyright © 2019, Daily Pilot
EDITION: California | U.S. & World