Local filmmaker's 'Dark Fall' premieres at the House of Blues at Showboat in Atlantic City on July 16, shining a light on the New Jersey surf scene
If you were to randomly check out any stretch of New Jersey’s 127-mile-long coastline on a typical day during the summer, chances are good you’ll see surfers attempting to make the most of whatever wave action exists. It’s a common sight in a seashore environment, and it’s a sport that appears to be growing in popularity and range of ages annually.
Hundreds of surfers may take to the water during the average summer day, but it is unlikely many are of the class whose passion runs so deep, and whose skill levels have been honed so completely, that they channel their energies into making surfing a career. Those are the rare breeds, and a new film by a person who shares that passion, Alex DePhillipo, takes an introspective look into the lives of several New Jersey surfers and the sacrifices they make to call the sport their career.
A Margate resident who studied filmmaking in Florida and formerly resided in Hawaii, DePhillipo will premier his film Dark Fall on Friday night, July 16, at Showboat’s House of Blues (doors open 7pm; tickets are $20 and includes live music before and after the film). Shot entirely in high-definition video, Dark Fall takes the viewer through a season-by-season narrative of what professional New Jersey surfers’ lives entail. Pro surfer and Ocean City resident Andrew Gesler narrates the film, which features some incredible action footage, and conveys well the stark contrast between the seashore landscape at its most desolate during the winter and — like a light being flicked — when the tourists descend on the shore towns around Memorial Day weekend. It dips into what surfers must do to supplement their incomes in order to travel during the winter months — to surfing meccas like Hawaii and Tahiti — where sponsorship subsidies and tournament prize money become the target.
DePhillipo was shooting some freelance footage in Hawaii when he opted to return to his native state and tell the story of the New Jersey professional surfer on the big screen. Part of that story involves overcoming a typecast that he and his colleagues often endure when they travel to events on the West Coast and beyond. A point of comparison made in the film — perhaps slightly overstated but nonetheless driving home the idea — is that the snowboarder from Florida would have to overachieve to gain the respect of his sport’s peers, just as the professional New Jersey surfer often gets rebuffed by those from better-known surfing destinations until they can prove their mettle.
“People often come up to me when I’m surfing in Hawaii or wherever, and when they find out you’re from Jersey you sort of get stereotyped,” says DePhillipo. “They ask ‘Are there waves there?’ After a while I thought, ‘You know what? I’m a filmmaker, no one’s done a film about where I’m from or told the stories of some of the amazing people from this state like Dean Randazzo and others,’ so I just started writing a film about that and it sort of progressed from there. I came back home a couple summers ago, tossed the idea around with [Gesler] and we said, ‘Let’s do it.’ We literally sat for two-and-a-half years together writing the film, traveling, and getting other surfers to participate.”
Along with Gesler, other pro New Jersey surfers spotlighted in the film include Zach Humphreys of Margate, Chris Kelly of Ocean City and Atlantic City’s most successful surfing son, Randazzo, whose personal battles to overcome cancer spawned the Dean Randazzo Cancer Foundation that has contributed over $100,000 to worthy causes since 2001. Most of the film’s footage was shot on several different beaches in northern and southern New Jersey, but it also features footage from trips to Hawaii (including some amazing imagery from inside the Banzai Pipeline — the world’s most dangerous reef-surfing site), Florida, California and Tahiti.
“We actually ran into [nine-time Association of Surfing Professionals World Championship Tour winner] Kelly Slater in Tahiti, so that was pretty cool,” says DePhillipo.
Much of the film’s musical score is performed by in-state bands like Jumpship, ASG, The Parlor Mob, the Bouncing Souls, Chris Arena and others. DePhillipo was given the green light via written authorization to incorporate music by Bruce Springsteen, which seques into the film near its end as part of a salutation to Randazzo — the first and only professional New Jersey surfer ever to qualify for the ASP World Championship Tour.
“As surfers, Dean Randazzo is who we all look up to,” says Gesler during the film narration. “He helped make it more mainstream and helped change the image of the surfing lifestyle as being misunderstood. Aside from overcoming the odds of competing on the World Tour and building a career around the sport, Dean has overcome four battles with cancer in his lifetime ... He is a survivor.”
The film drives home the idea of building lifelong friendships and lifetime experiences as the most important elements in the life of the professional New Jersey surfer. The race for riches and quest for glory is rarely even alluded to. Among the closing commentary in Gesler’s narration is that New Jersey “may not be the ideal place to grow up as a surfer, but we wouldn’t want to live anywhere else but here.”
“I didn’t make this film to showcase New Jersey, or to tell people that this is the place to come on the East Coast to surf,” says DePhillipo. “It’s not about that. It’s about the people. It’s our story.”
Surfing for a Cause
Praised for its generous charitable contributions — over $100,000 in its first six years of existence — and lauded as one of the most popular events of its kind on the East Coast, the seventh annual Chip Miller Surf Fest will again take place at the 7th Street surfing beach in Ocean City on Thursday, July 29. Sponsored by Fox Surf Clothing and Gear, and Ocean Minded beach footwear, the community-wide event features surfing contests for all ages (including the popular parent/child heat) and an after-party at Greate Bay Country Club in Somers Point starting at 5pm. The after-party includes an all-you-can-eat buffet, live entertainment, surfing movies, drink specials, raffle prizes, a silent auction and a spectacular Corvette display. Raffle prizes include such items as surfboards, wetsuits, iPads, iPods, Nintendo Wiis, golfing and local eatery gift certificates, wine baskets, NASCAR tickets, fishing gear and more. A $45 fee includes participation in the contest and the after-party, and all proceeds will be applied toward the Chip Miller Amyloidosis Charitable Foundation, whose mission is finding a cure for the rare but deadly disease Amyloidosis that took the life of the event’s namesake in 2004. Special guests are also slated to appear. In the past, the event has been attended by prominent surf celebrities such as Bethany Hamilton, Rob Machado, Brad Gerlach, Ben Bourgeois, Dean Randazzo and others. “Over the years, we’ve been very fortunate to have some very high-profile surfers take time out of their busy schedules to attend the Surf Fest,” says event director Nick Bricker. “The autograph signings are a crowd favorite, and it’s always amazing to see hundreds of groms [junior surfers] lined up and waiting for their signed poster. We’ve got a few surprises up our sleeves, and I’m sure all the kids will be leaving the beach happy.” — RS
Plus, GACGA hopes to lure golf travelers, Drew Toonz and the Album of the Week (Van Morrison)
Unlike most beach towns in the Northeast, Ocean City has a large year-round population and a high school right on the beach that boasts one of the most talented surf teams in the country.
Plus, the premiere of 'Bernie & Ges,' the Album of the Week and 76ers coming to Boardwalk Hall.
A Tall Order in Wildwood The folks at Morey’s Piers have certainly put a new “spin” on the morning meal, and taken breakfast “to new heights” in fostering an idea first conceived, but never put into play, by the organization’s late founder, Will Morey Sr. The second generations of Moreys — brothers Jack and Will Jr. — recently launched the “Breakfast in the Sky” concept as a tribute to their father, allowing guests to experience a gourmet breakfast while soaring 160 feet above the Wildwoods on Morey’s Piers Giant Wheel. For a $75 fee for two ($35 each additional person, up to four per car), guests can enjoy such delectable breakfast entrees as a shrimp-and-lobster omelet, smoked salmon scrambled eggs, a Jersey tomato BLT with fried egg, or a freshly made Belgian waffle, all expertly prepared by Morey’s executive chef Walter Jurusz. Breakfasts...
Fight Night at Boardwalk Hall
The Problem Is Back