A Hootfest for the Torpedo People at the La Paloma Theatre

Originally posted on Patagonia’s blog The Cleanest Line

ComeHellPremiere-8 After the world premier in New York, Keith Malloy and crew brought their new body surfing film Come Hell or High Water out to the west coast for a screening at the historic La Paloma Theatre in Encinitas, California. We received two reports from the show. First up is Patagonia Cardiff store manager, Devon Howard.

Keith’s film premiere last night of Come Hell or High Water at La Paloma in Encinitas was epic. Nixon did a great job of promoting and putting on the event and after party. We also celebrated Jeff Johnson’s birthday. All the Malloys and their family were there, as were the entire Cardiff staff, and surf ambassador Trevor Gordon. Some other great surfers were on hand like Marc Cunningham, Danny Hess, Rob Machado, Taylor Knox, and Kelly Slater. The hoot meter was off the scale. So much fun.

There is going to be a big buzz about this film. Keith and the crew made a unique waveriding movie that will be celebrated for many, many years, joining the ranks of hit films that guys like Chris Malloy and Thomas Campbell have done over the years. Congrats Keith. Well done!

–Devon Howard

Next we have writer and traveler Mark Ayling, who offeres his perspective on the evening in combination with a bunch of photos from Drew McGill and Devon Howard. [Above: Director Keith Malloy fields questions on-stage at the La Paloma Theatre. Photo: Drew McGill]

A hushed whisper sweeps across the hundred surfers assembled before the La Paloma theater in Encinitas, California. We all peek to catch a glimpse of Mark Cunningham, the silver headed star of tonight’s movie, Come Hell or High Water. Our reverence for this legendary waterman would be nothing unusual, except that Mark rarely touches a surfboard – he’s a bodysurfer.


[Going out to see a surf movie is a longstanding tradition in California, stretching back to Bud Browne and his first shows in the early ’50s. Photo: Drew McGill]


[Mark Cunningham and Keith Malloy. Photo: Drew McGill]


[Mark expresses his gratitude on stage. Photo: Drew McGill]

Come Hell or High Water, The Plight of the Torpedo People is the first “surf” film entirely dedicated to surfing waves with no board. It’s the brainchild of ex-pro tour rider Keith Malloy and features all of the legends of what has been hitherto considered largely a post-surf past-time. Malloy has brought together the world’s best body surfers with the help of two sponsors, Nixon and Patagonia, the latter having an immense underground following for their cult-documentary 180º South. [Editor’s note: We were one of the sponsors of 180º South but that film was Chris Malloy’s vision.]

So what’s the fanfare about? Like surfing, the art of swimming in the waves originated thousands of years ago with the Polynesians. It was similarly adopted by Americans in 1950s Hawaii, but it never garnered the widespread following that surfing did. Today, hundreds of surfing magazines exist – not one publication is dedicated to bodysurfing.

Malloy presents bodysurfing not as an offshoot, but as a pursuit of its own. The film’s star quartet provide a glimpse of the possible as they glide through the water as effortlessly as dolphins, pulling back to back barrel rolls, getting tubed, and making 15-20 foot bare-belly drops down the infamous Wedge of Newport Beach, which one veteran bodysurfer describes as “putting yourself in the path of a bull that rips your clothes but doesn’t kill you.”

In Come Hell or High Water we find a sport devoid of competition, where people still play purely for fun. We meet those atop bodysurfing’s underground hierarchy and follow them to their favorite spots, from Hawaii’s less-filmed South Shore to San Diego, Santa Cruz, and as far as Tahiti and the rivers of Montana. Malloy tastefully ties together the variegated locales with a mellow acoustic soundtrack and the bare lens of a 16mm camera.

The crowd stepped out of the theatre an hour later visibly refreshed from a film so heartfelt, soulful, and raw. Many in the audience enjoy surfing as a way to commune with nature, but that night we saw bodysurfing take it one step further. The ten-time world champion of surfing, Kelly Slater, was impressed, as was San Diegan surfing legend, Rob Machado. “I haven’t heard so many hoots during a surf movie for a long time,” he said with a beaming smile.

[Rob Machado, Dan Malloy, Chris Malloy (with son) and Keith Malloy. Legends all… Photo: Devon Howard]


[…as is this gentleman. 10-time world champ, Kelly Slater. Photo: Drew McGill]


[Whoot! Photo: Drew McGill]


[Wish you were here. Photo: Devon Howard]

The hoots were warranted. In an age when much of surfing has become dominated by big airs, jet-ski assisted tow-ins to monster waves, and corporate surf labels, a return to the purity of wave riding was widely appreciated. Mark Cunningham said it best, “It’s not about getting the biggest wave or the hugest barrel; it’s just about getting in the ocean and having fun.”

In the question and answer session afterwards, I thought quietly about the conspicuous absence of brands in a sport for which you can’t sell any equipment beyond fins. Perhaps that’s why it’s stayed so underground – much of the popularity of surfing is sustained by surf movies sponsored by board and clothing manufacturers. I wondered if the sport could become similarly popular given the inherent lack of commercial potential in such a direct experience with nature.

One of the last questions addressed the inevitable query in our consumer society. A would-be bodysurfer raised his hand and asked the legend Mark Cunningham, “I want to get started, what brand of fins should I buy?”

Cunningham looked at the others and smiled. “Just wear whatever feels comfortable.”

–Mark Alying

[Working the raffle. Photo: Drew McGill]


[Love the t-shirt design. Photo: Drew McGill]


[Filmgoers Jess, Adam, Brett and Brittany discuss the merits of wearing a Speedo while bodysurfing. Photo: Drew McGill]


[Impromptu birthday celebration for Jeff Johnson. Photo: Devon Howard]


[Talking story in front of Patagonia Cardiff before the show. Photo: Devon Howard]

Thanks to Mark, Drew and Devon for sharing their thoughts and images from the night. Come Hell or High Water will be shown at theaters along the west for for the next month. Check the Woodshed Films events page for a complete listing of the tour dates. All of us here in Ventura are looking forward to hosting the film outside under the stars on October 7 – the event is free and all are welcome.

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