London Surf Film Festival and Meeting Steph Gilmore

A post work rush on Thursday evening to get to London via feet, bike, bus, train and tube took me to the  opening night of the London Surf Film Festival and the UK premier of Stephanie in the Water.  Here is a little,  (voice of Del Boy Trotter) reportage of my evening.

I arrive at Genesis Cinema in Stepney Green just in time to join a long queue of something rather unusual, surfers in clothes, yes, surfers in clothes! Surfers in lots of clothes and coats, big dark coats and gloves and shoes and socks! It’s a cold, dark, wet night in London and we are a long way from the sea! I clutch my ticket in my fat, cold, little hand and queue with these heavily clothed people who are both strangers and so familiar.

 I head upstairs towards the theater and bar and I casually walk past Steph Gilmore, as you do.  People are just walking by, they haven’t even seen her so I decide to say hello as it’s only a matter of time before she’s going to be swamped. She offers me her hand and a massive, genuine, dazzling smile in greeting. She’s taller than I imagined and she’s got a very happy vibe about her, she seems to almost sparkle and she’s so, so pretty and natural in real life!  I babble some crap about almost being late. I’m surprised to find I’m a little star struck and tongue tied, stupidly I don’t even congratulate her on her performance on the tour so far. I babble some crap about being recovering from injury and I’m looking forward to the film as I’m in need of a kick up the arse and some inspiration to get back into training. She says she hopes it does the trick. We have a quick photo and it’s goodbye, the film is about to start. I’m a bit shaken in a good way, I can’t believe I just talked to the woman I have watched all year, in awe on the ASP tour, she’s a legend!  I can already feel a massive boost from meeting Steph and go into the theater and take my seat.

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Me and my mate Steph Gilmore

 There’s an Intro from the festival directors and a few laughs and then it’s show time. As the lights dim for the first short film by Luke Pilbeam I look around at the faces in the crowd lit up by the light from the screen and I feel like I’m part of something. I might be the only surfer ( is it ok to call myself that?)  in my everyday, local sphere but,  here everyone loves surfing.  I feel like part of a tribe, these are my people haha!

The short film Out of the Black and into the Blue is fantastic, beautiful photography, stirring music and insightful words that sum up a feeling most of us can’t articulate but, understand and constantly crave. It’s rousing and passionate and this is the first time I’ve seen any surf footage on the big screen, it was made for it. If you go to the LS/FF website all of the shorts are there.

 Next up is Stephanie in the Water but, I won’t go into too much detail and spoil it.   There’s some memorable moments and it’s inspiring, thought provoking , amusing and triumphant all in one.  It really shows Steph’s passion, determination and commitment and in some very funny moments her competitiveness provokes a lot of giggling from the audience! I think different people would get different things from this film but, as someone who is struggling to get back into fitness and feels a bit shitty it was the perfect tonic.  I took from it exactly what I needed and astonishingly I find that I can identify with Steph. I know, who’d have thought it? Me, identifying with 5 x ASP world champ but, I do simply as someone that loves surfing who is finding it difficult and is determined to work hard and get back into it. It does not matter that she’s a world champion and I’m still learning.

 The Q & A that follows proves again what a lovely, warm, witty, intelligent, down to earth girl Steph is.  This beautiful, strong, determined young woman should be the role model that young girls look to,  she’s now this old bird’s role model.  So,  it’s out with the croissants and in with a renewed focus on getting fit again. In my last post  I said I needed to get back to what motivated me in the first place and I’m almost there.  With the positivity and determination to get back on it that I took from the film and a 3 day surf trip to Newquay starting tomorrow,  things are getting back on track .  Stephanie in the Water is a reminder of how happy surfing makes me, those final scenes where Steph is free surfing, the smile on her face says it all,  it’s the very same  thing  that first motivated me. I think the kids call it stoke!

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Sharks need hugs too

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This week is Shark week on the Discovery Channel and while there are some good quality fact based programmes a lot of them are fictitious nonsense with titles such as , Megalodon: The Monster Shark Lives, Shark of Darkness: Wrath of Submarine, and Megaladon: The New Evidence. These programmes portray sharks as evil, calculated killing machines which we know just isn’t true. This coupled with the ingrained theme tune to Jaws that a generation of 70’s and 80’s kids like myself have on standby to scare themselves whilst in the sea does little for the sharks reputation. Peter Benchley’s 1974 novel Jaws and the iconic art work that accompanied the film has placed sharks firmly in our subconscious as premeditated man eaters that should be hunted down, killed and feared.

The truth is sharks are in real danger, from us . Sharks kill 5 people a year and we kill 8000 per hour! Yes there are shark attacks on people, there’s no denying that but, the overwhelming evidence is that these are exploratory bites and not an intentional attempt to kill and eat people. It’s so much easier to market a save the panda campaign than a save the shark and I was as guilty of the Jaws effect myself . I never hated sharks I just didn’t care for them and I did have a fear.  I wouldn’t even go into the sea past my waist in Hawaii so loud was that blasted theme tune in my head. On a whale watching Kayak trip that should have been tranquil my heart was beating like a drum imagining 15ft tiger sharks under our measly kayak.  In Thailand I went on a snorkelling trip and didn’t let go of the boat. I’d scream to Dave not to swim too far away from me. I called this my ‘shark thing’, it was a thing not a phobia as it never stopped me enjoying the sea. I know it came from an overactive imagination and having subconsciously absorbed all the ‘sharks will eat you’  bullshit over the years.

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Of course this silliness was all before I started surfing and until a friend suggested I watch a documentary about the finning industry called Sharkwater. He assured me that Sharkwater would wipe out that nervousness I had and would totally change the way I felt about sharks. He was right. This documentary is one of the best I have ever seen.  I never expected to cry buckets watching a documentary about sharks. But, cry I did, and cry and cry even after it had finished. I was heartbroken for sharks. Rob Stewart the film maker is so passionate and puts his all into what he believes in, literally. I won’t tell you every detail of the documentary here or how many awards it won . I just implore you to watch it and to share it and to spread the love for sharks. Here is the trailer and you can watch the whole film  online. It may be 7 years old now but, it’s even more relevent and even more urgent today than ever. If sharks become extinct our planet will die. We need them.

 Sharkwater Website http://www.sharkwater.com/

Rob Stewart Facebook https://www.facebook.com/#!/rob.sharkwater?fref=ts

Fin Free Facebook  https://www.facebook.com/#!/FinFree?fref=ts