Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Off The Wall II

This is the first real surf movie I ever saw.

Lunch time, fall 1987, Outside Wave Club, Palo Alto High School.

I remember walking into the darkened classroom a few minutes late, letting my eyes adjust from the sunlight, and pulling focus on the grainiest, grungiest looking movie I'd ever seen...or heard. It didn't help that the tape sucked or that the VCR had tracking problems. It was dark and the ocean looked scary. 180 degrees from the Sunkist commercial I was expecting.

This was a CALIFORNIA surf movie. There was Tom Curren - but just a wetsuit-clad silhouette really - doing a big backside re-entry. It was gouge-like and aggressive. There was grit and grain and the music sounded like it was recorded in a garage.

Even the name: Off The Wall II. I thought, "Is there an Off The Wall ONE?"

I envisioned the first movie to be even grungier...even more hardcore. Like SO hardcore the video tapes just disintegrated after a single viewing. Maybe it wasn't even on video...just old reel-to-reels that REAL surfers watched in secret basements filled with old boards and chicks in bikinis sprinkled with shaping dust.

Somehow I even took the corny claymation as something kind of mysterious and dark-artsy. Who knew real surfers worked with clay? What other talents did they have?

Were we even supposed to be watching it? Was this really for the eyes of 14 year-old valley boys with crappy boards and middle-class intellectual parents sick of driving us over the hill to the beach?

I mean, shit, did the FBI warning at the beginning say anything about kooks?

Our 40 minute lunch period flew by and the tape was stopped. Jeff Parry, the senior who had started the club, promised he'd bring it back the following week. But he forgot or we couldn't get the VCR working again or it simply disintegrated into beach sand and kelp bits. We never did see the second half.

So I was pretty excited to find it on DVD 20 years later. I picked it up at Huntington Surf & Sport, raced home, cleared my wife and kids out of the living room, cracked a beer, and, fresh from a late afternoon session at the pier in HB, prepared to watch it with the eyes of a peer, a surfer with 20+ years credentials.

I was a little disappointed. While not exactly 1080p HD, it was hardly the dark, blurry hardcore document I remembered. The garage band soundtrack had been replaced in most segments with Devo and Men At Work. The claymation bits looked more like after-school art projects and less like the dark handiwork of the Lost Boys in their Santa Carla cliffside batcave.

About halfway through I actually got bored watching Ward Coffey flap his way through another lurching off-the-lip and wandered off.

Then something funny happened. A week later I tried to play it again and it didn't work. The disc, which I'd only touched once, was hopelessly corrupted.


So I bought another one, this time at a surf shop in San Clemente...a legit hardcore shop off of Pico in the warehouse district. No sign. No t-shirts. Just blanks, boards, resin, and a shelf of videos.

Guess what? Didn't work. Corrupted. Scratched. Who knows?

Which is when the paranoia started to creep in. Maybe 20 years isn't enough. Maybe I'm still not THIS TALL in order to ride this roller coaster. Maybe I should still be heeding that FBI anti-kook warning.

And somehow, the movie knows.

The Colonel says, "Fuck it, we're hanging out anyway."