“Compassing” with Cyrus Sutton
The easygoing filmmaker talks about his new travelogue through Mexico
Cyrus Sutton, he of Stoked and Broke and Korduroy.tv fame, has just finished the edits of his new, light-hearted travelogue/surf film, Compassing. Sutton spent two months living in a converted van, trekking through Baja and Mainland Mexico, getting tubed, eating peanut butter, and hanging with fellow vagabonds Kepa Acero and Rob Machado. Compassing will be streaming live on SURFERMag.com on Sept. 2, and will be available for download on Sept. 3. Live screenings are taking place across the country now. Cyrus and I spoke on the phone last week about what went into making the film, and what van life was like.
The trailer looks fun. What can we expect from Compassing? What was the philosophy behind it?
It was basically an excuse for me to take the surf trip I’ve always wanted to take. Reef hit me up about making a film for them, for their “Just Passing Through,” 3-part web film series. The first one was with Anything Sing, this is part two of three. And they just stepped up and funded this amazing trip. It all kinda came together to go down to Mexico for a long time. Two months. To make it, I moved into my camper van—I was just tired of paying rent while traveling most of this past year. I also wanted to get real comfortable in bigger waves again. I spent a winter in Hawaii when I was 19, but I’ve spent a lot of time in front of a computer since then, and I’m 30 now. I wanted to just take some time, sit on the beach, watch the tides and the swell come up and down, surf a bunch of good waves along the way. That’s basically what this film is about. It’s about that trip. We wanted to put some other riders in it, so I tried to figure out a creative way to integrate Rob Machado and Kepa Acero.
Did you know Kepa before the trip? Is he as excited in person as he is in web videos?
No, I just knew Kepa virtually. Just online. He’s so rad. Online he’s always high energy and super pumped, and I wasn’t sure if on the trip he was going to be kinda over-the-top high energy, wanting to surf every minute. I was kind of scared. But he’s so mellow, just a genuine kind guy. He likes to surf, but second to that, he truly likes meeting people and he really connects with people. That’s not always an easy thing to do.
Were you guys all in that van for two months?
No, I just met with Kepa for like a week and a half. Same with Rob, he was there for four or five days. But I spent over two months in the van. Though I live in my van, so I’m used to it.
Where did guys get the best waves?
We got great waves in Baja, at a few left pointbreaks on the Mainland, (super hush hush, he wouldn’t say where) and at a few of the heavy beachbreaks in Mexico. That was kind of the goal for the end of the trip. To surf some big beachbreaks on the mainland and to get pounded, but hopefully also to make it out of a couple.
How far down did you end up driving?
We got all the way down to the bottom of Michoacan. We also went to Oaxaca, and Puerto.
Did you get skunked anywhere?
Not really. We had that incredible run of south swells. Really, it was more about just trying to get to the next spot in time for the next swell. We did ended up leaving a week or two early because of some south winds. But it sure wasn’t for lack of swell.
Any breakdowns with the van?
Yeah. The van runs really great but we did have a wheel bearing bust, and it was so hot that it seized up and basically melted onto the axle. There was pretty much nothing we could do, but, you know, in Mexico they have these Green Angel guys that help out (ed note: State-funded roadside assistance crews). The guy that helped us was just a legend. For a $35 tip he took out a hacksaw and sawed off the melted wheel bearing, installed a new one, and got us back on our way. Seriously, if you ever have a basic mechanical issue with your car and you live in San Diego I would drive south of the border, if you can get down there, and have those guys fix it.
Did you do the van conversion yourself? You seemed pretty handy in Stoked and Broke.
No, I didn’t really know how to do anything like that. But I am an avid fan of doing things yourself and learning. A guy named Bred Begent taught me how to do a bunch of the welding. The inside of the van was done by (Baja van camping legend) Glen Horn.
Any stories about van life worth mentioning?
We (Cyrus and filmer Cliff Endsley) were gone for a total of 66 days. By the end of the trip we had consumed 27 jars of peanut butter. Eight bottles of tequila. I probably logged about 70 hours of hammock time. I had been warned by almost everybody I’d talked to that they’d gotten super sick from long trips in the mainland, so I was super careful about fresh food. I liked to do peanut butter, avocado, hot sauce, and cracked pepper. That’s the jam.
What do you hope people get out of the film?
The feeling is a lot like Stoked and Broke. It’s not trying too hard. We’re not going to Indonesia, or somewhere where the waves are perfect all the time. Our trip was easy, and it’s something that anybody can do. Huge budgets can get in the way of making something really good. I think with art, anything good I’ve ever made has come from the limitations in that given situation. Those limitations give you the freedom to explore as many of the little things right around you as you want.
Download Compassing now at Reef.com.