Ryan Chartrand

Filmmaker Greg Schell previewed his latest film, “Chasing the Lotus,” Thursday night at Chumash Auditorium. The 7 p.m. crowd of surfers,, students and interested spectators was modest in size, but nonetheless enthusiastic.

The film centers on the lost reels of obscure legendary filmmakers Spyder Wills and Greg Weaver. The pair, both Southern California natives, were at the forefront of the surf movie culture, traveling in search of the perfect wave and the perfect shot.

The film begins with actor Jeff Bridges’ sage-like voice directing the viewer’s eyes to where it all began: Southern California in the early ’60s.

Laguna Beach is now known as the setting for MTV’s teen melodrama of the same name. Well, it wasn’t always exclusive beachfront property and BMWs. Once upon a time, it was Volkswagen vans and tents. In the mid to late ’60s Laguna Beach was caught up in the hippie culture. The film drops in with the super 8mm footage that gave Weaver and Wills their lasting signature. The footage is almost nostalgic, showing thousands of youths catching sheets of acid dropped from a plane by LSD guru Timothy Leary.

The psychedelic influence left its mark on the surf culture and in turn, Weaver and Wills.

Fast forward ten years. It was a new time, skateboarding had just jumped on the scene and Weaver was there to document the in famous Zephyr team from Venice.

Wills captures Stacey Peralta, Jay Adams and Tony Alva (all immortalized in 2005’s “The Lords of Dogtown”) and company ripping Southern California pools up.

The footage is authentic, raw and gives the feeling of watching a lost relic, which it is.

Peralta, a renowned filmmaker in his own right, explains the progression of surfing at the time. Describing the transition from the “free flowing” surfing of the 60s to the more aggressive style of the mid ’70s on.

The film also takes the viewer to remote locales, such as the island of Mauritius during the filming of “Santosha,” a surf cult classic.

“Chasing the Lotus” also chronicles the introduction of corporate sponsorship to surfing in the ’80s, going to J-Bay in South Africa. The footage of Billabong pro Mark Occhilupo in South Africa looks like it could be taken from a present day contest. The slowed down picturesque super 8mm footage is the only indication of when it was shot.

The film is a globetrotting historical verification of the surf travel culture, past and present. From the point surf in Southern California to the beaches of Maui and Oahu, it feels like you need a nap after all the locations are covered.

There is also breathtaking footage in Bali before it became the surf mecca it is now. That is part of the reason why Weaver and Wills chose not to disclose some of the footage until now; they didn’t want to overcrowd the world’s best surf spots. Thus, the footage remained locked away.

One of the most entertaining portions of the film features the story of Danny Mack. Mack purchased 1.5 mile wide section of beachfront property for $10,000 in the early ’80s and hacked an amazing surf spot out of the jungle. Mack was apprehensive to let anyone, much less a photographer and filmmaker (Weaver) out to his paradise.

Somehow, Weaver was granted access and what follows are some of the purest shots in surf history.

The viewer is introduced to surfer “Buttons,” who is so graceful and agile it has to be seen to be believed. There are also shots of local kids trying to imitate the pros with homemade boards.

One cannot stress the organic and homemade feel this film brings to the table.

Overall, Schell does an excellent job of splicing commentary from various legends and icons with the flawless super 8mm reels of Weaver and Wills.

The movie feels like an underground “Endless Summer,” the material they kept out of production.

Whether it was Schell’s intention or not, the film serves as a superb record of not only the exploits of Weaver and Wills, but the progression of the sport and culture as well.

From longboards to short boards, back to the resurrection of longboards. To the advent of skateboarding as a reprieve when the waves were low. From psychedelic to aggressive, it’s all there and worth watching. Even if you know nothing about surfing, you will enjoy this film.

On a budget of only $130,000, Schell delivers the lotus, the flower that grows out of mud.

Those interested in buying the film can purchase it at chasingthelotus.com for $29.95.

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