The greatest surf movies you've probably never heard about (Interview with Brian Tissot)

       While digging around the interwebs looking for movie treasures (and believe me there is still an insane amount of fantastic footage to be discovered), I found a remarkable relic. Filmed during the seventies with a Super 8 camera, this collection of ten short movies captures an era when surfing began to take a defining role on american youth culture.

As an authentic and beautifully raw material the footage is testimony to a whole generation of californian surfers, mostly teenagers who cruised through places like La Jolla, Shell Beach or Santa Cruz looking for the perfect wave.

Its author, Brian Tissot, a marine biologist based in the United States and an enthusiastic teenage filmmaker when these movies were shot, kindly agreed to answer some questions about the footage and share some of the experiences he had as a surfer.

 Brian also writes about surfing, here is a fine example and a recommended reading for everyone interested in a part of America´s surfing history.

(The complete collection of surfing videos by Brian Tissot can be found here)

Interview with Brian Tissot 

Great Surf Movies: Could you introduce yourself to our readers?

Brian Tissot:  I began my surfing career in Pacific Beach, California in 1970. I usually rode my bike to the beach although my mom also drove me to the beach and she would wait in the car while I surfed. Because I had a newspaper route in the morning I would usually arrive at the beach very early in the morning with my Friend Neal Unger, often while it was still dark and wait until we could see enough to paddle out. Those early days were by far the best of my life and the San Diego area was perfect for surfing: not too cold, you could progress from easy spots in Pacific Beach to the more challenging spots in La Jolla, Sunset Cliffs, north county and eventually Mexico, all within a relative short drive. 

My father was in the Navy so as we moved every two years my surfing career switched to Alameda, California (San Francisco bay area) where I surfed northern California and Santa Cruz; then to Alexandria Virginia  where I surfed Maryland, Delaware, Cape Hatteras and Florida; and on to College at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, California where I surfed the central California coast, Mexico, then on to Hawaii and eventually Indonesia. In those days I was also an avid skateboarder which kept me in shape between swells. 

In the 1980s my interests shifted from surfing to include SCUBA diving which ultimately led to my career as a marine biologist. I am currently a college professor at Washington State University near Portland, Oregon and part of my research involves using submersible to explore and ultimately conserve marine life and protect the ocean. Although I am very concerned about the health and future of our oceans, it is very exciting to work underwater and teach others about the importance of our waves and beaches. Yes, I still occasionally surf!

Great Surf Movies: How did you start to surf and how was surfing back in those days before mass popularity made an influence?

Brian Tissot: I started surfing with a longboard in the summer of 1970. I just went out and rode the foam in every day until I was good enough to move out into the line-up and catch swells a month or so later. The best part of those days was that you never knew what the surf would be like until you got there and me and my friends would often be the first people out, alone for awhile on perfect days. 

GSM: Tell us  something about the footage and the filming process. Did you have it all planed out ? What to you wanted to achieve with the movies?

BT: For most of my films I had a general idea of what I wanted to do but in reality I just filmed events as they unfolded. As such, my films are documentaries of our experiences. Because 8mm did not have sound most of films were edited to specific period music to capture the mood. My goal was to capture the waves and bring it back to share it with others. I grew up around a culture of going to great surf films like Endless Summer, Five Summer Stories and Pacific Vibrations where the room was packed with hooting surfers. I guess I was trying to recreate that experience. 

GSM: Whats the best story you remember from those filming days? What was the most risky thing you did just in order to catch a wave?

BT: The scene was to capture hot waves and great surf trips on film then show the film at parties. When I was on college at Cal Poly we had many a lot of fun doing that and often had big crowds showing up at our house in Shell Beach to watch the newest movie. It was an awesome time.

Probably the riskiest thing I ever did was to surf Fort Point (in San Francisco under the Golden Gate Bridge). At that time (in 1973) it was owned by the US Army and it was illegal to surf. My friends (mainly Jeff Chamberlain and Sam George) and I would wait until the MPs (Military Police) completed their patrol then paddled out for some quick waves before school. The first few times we surfed there were absolutely incredible. Eventually I got caught one too many times and was arrested for "trespassing on military property for purposes unlawful" and had to go to court. In the end the Army dropped the charges and Fort Point was turned over to the Park Service. We filmed the arrests and it is near the end of my Fort Point movie on YouTube. 

GSM: From all the places you surfed around the world, which one have you never forgot?

BT: I dream of surfing often and it always of my earliest days in Pacific Beach. Paddling out on a crisp morning with a light offshore breeze, 3-6 foot waves and getting tubed in front of my friends. I've surfed incredible waves at Uluwatu, Nusa Dua, Honolua, and the north shore of Oahu but those are my most treasured days.  

GSM: How do you see surfing nowadays? Do you relate in any form with the surfing culture of today?

BT: I think surfing is still pretty much what it always was it terms of making in intimate connection with the ocean and sharing it with friends. I will always relate to that. In my day surfing was a carefree style and carving smooth lines and getting tubed. The models were Gerry Lopez and Barry Kanaiaupuni.  Although I love watching surfers ripping waves apart and I have great respect for those that surf extreme waves such as Peahi, Mavericks, and Teahupoo that is a very different culture that what I respected when I was young.

This interview was made by email

1 comment:

  1. My name is Neal Unger and I remember surfing for the first time with Brian Tissot in PB San Diego. I remember it took both of us to carry our long-boards, one at the front and one at the back because our arms could not quite fit around the middle. The first stand up wave riding experiences on my nine foot long-board are unforgettable. Thanks Brian for not making me drag my board to the surf.


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