By Ted Mills, NEWS-PRESS CORRESPONDENT
January 25, 2008 8:38 AM
“The way people used to surf, the way we used to surf, was this: we were waiters, we were bus boys. And we’d save up money and go surfing.” The voice belongs to surfing legend Shaun Tomson, executive producer of “Bustin’ Down the Door,” a historical documentary on the moment when surfing turned into a professional sport . . . and a huge money-making machine.
The last five years have not only been good for surf films, but also for serious studies of the sport and its history. “Bustin’ Down the Door” unveils a transformative time and aims to appeal outside the usual cult audience, much like 2006’s “Chasing the Lotus.” The world premiere of the documentary Sunday at the Arlington aims to educate and to bring back together the original crew of men who changed the surfing world.
Surfing legends, from left, Wayne “Rabbit” Bartholomew, Mark Richards and Santa Barbara-based Shaun Tomson spent their younger years together, championing the surfing culture. The trio comes together again in Tomson’s new film, “Bustin’ Down the Door,” showing Sunday in its world premiere debut at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival.
Along with Tomson, Wayne “Rabbit” Bartholomew and Mark Richards formed the core group of Australians and South Africans who had a simple dream: “All we wanted to do was prolong the surfing lifestyle,” Tomson says. “We wanted to get paid to surf. It was a novel idea.”
At the time — 1975 — Tomson and the others were between 19 and 21 years old. Tomson and his cousin were still attending university, pursuing degrees in business. They were also poised to become world class surfers, and with a little skill and nerve, they managed to infiltrate the Hawaiian surf culture, win contests, and set a standard that defined professional surfing.
Below, Tomson was photographed for a 1975 cover of Surfing Magazine.
In interview, Tomson remains cagey about the exact details of how this all came to pass within two years. He insists viewers attend the film to see how it all came about.
He is also fond of hinting at a darker history promised in the film. “We put our lives on the line in the water and we risked our lives on land,” he says. “Success brought us big problems and took us down an unexpected road.” That road, presumably, is in the film.
“We weren’t disrespectful of Hawaii (and Hawaiian culture), but others had that sense about us,” Tomson says. “We had zero respect within the mainstream industry, but once we brought professionalism and commerce into it, we gave (the higher class of surfer) the time to just focus on surfing. And therefore they improved.”
Ironically, the industry Tomson and company helped create now churn out surf films that, he says, “exist to sell shorts and T-shirts. They’re advertising campaigns, not films.” “Bustin’ Down the Door,” directed by first-time filmmaker Jeremy Gosch and narrated by Edward Norton, funded itself independently, without corporate sponsorship.
Tomson went on to become a surf legend, winning South Africa’s Gunston 500 six times in a row. His entrepreneurial spirit led him to start up Instinct Apparel and Solitude Clothing. Having settled in Santa Barbara 12 years ago, he has since become involved with the Surfrider Foundation and acts as chair of its advisory board.
Montecito resident Shaun Tomson, right, discusses soon-to-be-premiered “Bustin’ Down the Door.”
The other five members also had their successes. Wayne “Rabbit” Bartholomew heads the Association of Surfing Professionals. Mark Richards is considered one of the best board shapers. All have earned numerous titles.
And if luck will have it, all of them will be attending the premiere, a rare chance for this group to be in the same room.
“When I look at the movie, it’s like looking at someone else’s life . . . We all look so fragile,” Tomson says. “I’m amazed that it all happened the way it did.”
‘BUSTIN’ DOWN THE DOOR’
When: 7 p.m. Sunday
Where: Arlington Theatre,
1317 State Street
Information: 963-4408, www.bustindownthedoor.com
©2008 Santa Barbara News-Press
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