This is a story of a man who retired only to have the technology change for the better, which then brought him back into the field he thought he had just left. And all through it, he’s been able to stay close to the ocean.
When I get Greg Huglin on the phone he’s in Hawaii as part of a film crew that is busy following around big-wave surfers, both those who tow-in by jet-ski and those who prefer the old method of paddling out. Once passe, the method is making a comeback. It’s fitting for Mr. Huglin, who thought he’d retired, having given up working in film. But the new high-definition cameras like the Epic Red have been too good to pass up. And so Mr. Huglin is back doing what he loves to do.
Mr. Huglin has shot footage for such well regarded surf films as “Five Summer Stories,” “Fantasea,” “In Search of the Sun” and the harrowing, ohmygod-that’s impossible documentary “Shark Park” exploring surfers’ attempts to tame California’s deadliest wave. If you’ve watched any surf film worth its sea salt, you’ve seen Mr. Huglin’s work.
He was born an Air Force brat. After retiring in 1964, his father brought the family to Santa Barbara and a house on Miramar Beach. His mother bribed a lifeguard there to teach the 11-year-old Mr. Huglin to surf. His father was an amateur photographer and helped expose his son to world of film. By the time Mr. Huglin got out of high school, he was ready to go to film school. Brooks Institute wouldn’t have him, he says, because he had long hair — Ernie Brooks told him this to his face. The more easygoing San Francisco Art Institute, however, accepted him.
Mr. Huglin’s goal all along was to shoot ocean sports film. His dad bought him a Super 8 camera, and by 1971 he was on the north shore of Oahu documenting the scene. These were the days when these films would go out as a roadshow with a soundtrack that played simultaneously, screened to enthusiasts.
Mr. Huglin counts George Greenough’s “Innermost Limits of Pure Fun” surfing doc as his touchstone. He saw it in 1970. In 1973, he met Mr. Greenough, and from the late ’70s onward he worked as Mr. Greenough’s camera assistant. “Everything I learned about filmmaking I learned from George,” Mr. Huglin says. The two are still good friends.
He stepped up later to 16mm for his own “Fantasea” film, and then sidestepped into studio and commercial photography, moving to New York in the ’80s to work with fashion photographers.
“I wanted to learn catalog photography,” he says. “Because I knew that if I learned that I’d get multiple-day contracts. Basically, I wanted to go to beaches around the world and have someone else pay me to do it.”
To that end, he realized his goal. In between fashion shoots he was filming for his own ends, either surf footage or underwater nature docs, including diving with great white sharks. Most recently, he helped shoot parts of “The Cove,” the award-winning indictment of Japan’s bloody dolphin harvest. It was when he was started work on his 2010 film “Surfing Dolphins” — back in 1996 — that he met his wife. The two now have a 9-year-old and an 11-year-old and live on Miramar Beach. Everything has come full circle, though don’t get the impression Mr. Huglin is a homebody. The whole family spent 2011 traveling to 10 countries, and in June they’ll be off to Australia.
“Sitting in one place can get boring,” he says. “We want to raise our kids as global citizens.”