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This story first appeared in the Nov. 14 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
Yeah, Hollywood surfs — and not just in the movies. Participation in the sport nationwide was up 22 percent between 2006 and 2013, a trend that’s visibly playing out in the explosion of surf camps on the Malibu coastline, embracing beginners while vexing notoriously protective old-guard surfers.
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Plenty of big names are committed to the wetsuit-and-wax lifestyle, balancing stressful Hollywood careers with Zen moments catching waves. “Just committing to getting in the ocean makes the rest of your day feel more complete,” says cinematographer Danny Moder, who prefers to catch waves around Big Dume and Zuma because of the clean water and less crowded conditions. “It is a kind of reset that allows you to think straight.”
Ray Donovan actor Brian Geraghty expresses similar reverence. “You’re essentially riding a wavelength of water. The feeling you have getting on a wave — there’s nothing like it,” he says. “But it’s close to certain euphoric things, like sex, maybe. It’s a release.” Geraghty, also known for his work in The Hurt Locker, grew up battling hurricane swells on the Jersey Shore, but he says he’s gotten better at the sport in California. “I surfed 40 days from May to July,” he says, thanks to being in Los Angeles for his stint on the Showtime series, hitting spots from County Line in Malibu to Manhattan Beach.
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Some say Sean Penn is one of the more skilled surfers among Hollywood folk. (Others recall how, when he was growing up, the PointDume local was aggressively protective of his surf spot.) Helen Hunt, Cameron Diaz, Minnie Driver and Perrey Reeves are among the ladies who’ve wetsuited up, while producer Brian Grazer, Simon Baker, Liev Schreiber, director Tom Shadyac, John Stockwell, WME talent agent Brian DePersia, film editor Kirk Baxter, UTA partner Steve Rabineau, John Slattery and Matthew McConaughey get out there, too.
Like Geraghty, the most experienced shredders began surfing at a young age. Actors Scott Caan and Australian Liam Hemsworth are surfing lifers, as are Pearl Jam frontman Eddie Vedder, talent manager Peter Adam Golden, The X-Files creator Chris Carter and such agents as Paradigm’s Jeff Kolodny and UTA’s Jason Burns.
Burns grew up in Malibu, competed in high school and surfed while at UC San Diego. These days, he gets out on weekends — “El Porto [in Manhattan Beach] is closest,” or he drives to Oxnard or Huntington — and, in late August, escapes to the Mentawai Islands in Indonesia (“That’s 52 hours door-to-door,” he says). Despite having surfed with clients (including director Ruben Fleischer), Burns says it’s “a solitary sport” and tricky to coordinate a group for a beach run. “It’s not like playing basketball in 30 minutes. It takes time.”
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Kolodny, who was an editor at Surfing Magazine before he began working in Hollywood, agrees. “I only have a few friends who will surf with me because I only go early in the mornings — 5 a.m. in the summer,” he says. “I surf mainly in Manhattan Beach and Malibu, depending on the conditions.”
Many surfers are reluctant to get specific about their favorite, sacred surfing spots. “All I’ll say is that I live a minute away from the place I surf,” says Carter, who, like Kolodny, once was an editor at Surfing Magazine. After a busy decade working on The X-Files, Carter got back into the sport and traveled to Indonesia, Fiji, Bali, Chile and other surf hotspots. He’s out on the water “whenever possible,” he says. “Being a committed surfer and a professional person is a difficult dance.”
Carter and other devoted surfers are quick to outline the depth of commitment the sport can demand. But on the bright side, the locals-only attitude and low tolerance for newbies (or “kooks,” to be slang-specific) have dissipated in recent years. “Surfing Bay Street [in Santa Monica] or Venice is a lot different from when I was a kid,” says Caan, who also catches waves on location in Oahu when shooting Hawaii Five-0. Back then, “if you wanted to surf, either you had to know somebody or you had to bring a joint and a sandwich. If you made a mistake in the water, you got slapped.” Now, he says, such aggression can get you sued. “You can’t punch people anymore. As nice as that is, it is also a shame,” he smiles. “It taught you that respect.”
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Golden also appreciates such traditions. “I was raised at the beach, so I’m pretty rough on people still at this old age. It’s just embedded deep in my soul,” says Golden, who heads north to surf Hollister Ranch in Santa Barbara County, the famously massive Mavericks break (near Half Moon Bay) and beyond. “If there is a swell running in Hawaii, Tahiti, Australia, Mexico or Costa Rica, I many times find a way to get there and get quickly back. Surfing could easily affect my business if I wasn’t honest with all of my clients.”
Reeves, who surfs breaks around Malibu when she’s in L.A., built a yoga/surf retreat in Costa Rica (Sanctuary at Two Rivers) during her off months from shooting Entourage. “I’m identifiable in the water,” she says. “I’m wearing a big sun-protection hat. There is white stuff all over my face. Maybe that’s why people are nice to me, because at a distance, I look like someone’s child.” Reeves says she is encouraged to see a lot more women surfing over the past 10 years and is finding that surfers seem to be getting “more accepting of people who are not amazing at it.” She adds, “To me, it’s the most incredible gift to be outdoors and calibrate yourself.”
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