Wayne Lynch thinks you’re a pussy.
He has no choice. Next to Lynch, you are, I am, we all are. Except for those of you reading this on a public library computer somewhere, waiting for the tide to drop, while your van that’s also your house is parked outside. The rest of us, as hedonistic as we may be in pursuit of the trifling waves (in comparison to Lynch) we all surf, have made enormous compromises with the devil that is capitalism to live with one foot in the consumer, middle-class world, and one tiny toe in the rebel world of the truly hardcore. Lynch didn’t make those same compromises.
That’s essentially the theme of Uncharted Waters: The Personal History of Wayne Lynch, directed by Craig Griffin. Griffin traces Lynch’s surfing life from annointed teenaged surf messiah, to reluctant, world-beating competitor, to wise, hermetic sage. And the journey, I’m pleased to report, is an absolute joy.
The first time I saw footage of Lynch was in Litmus. He was ripping a weird, boil-ridden left somewhere that looked rocky and cold, when he wasn’t playing a didgeridoo and hiding in the hollowed out trunk of a giant tree. As it turns out, that was Lynch in a nutshell. And if you liked that bit of Litmus, you’ll love Uncharted Waters. There’s plenty of Lynch ripping consequential surf in Griffin’s film, and the best part is that you get to see his surfing evolve along with the equipment he’s riding.
At the beginning, there’s lots of a very young Lynch muscling around big, egg-shaped, proto-shortboards, and you can’t help but think, “God, I’d love to see him on a thruster.” Little by little as the film goes on, Lynch gets older and stronger while his boards get shorter and sprout more fins, and finally, you get your wish. By the end of Uncharted Waters, you’ve borne witness to the most important parts of the shortboard revolution.
Because lest you’ve forgotten: Lynch was, unequivocally, and completely out of nowhere, the first modern-era, vertical-line-drawing surfer. In the late 1960s, inspired by a source that only he seemed privy to access, Lynch grabbed surfing by the collar and dragged it into a world that was only being hinted at by the “involvement school” crowd of Nat Young, George Greenough, and Bob McTavish.
Which Sam George, exasperated as always, explains halfway through the film by reminding us that even the great Kelly Slater didn’t create anything new in surfing, but simply improved upon an existing surfing paradigm. Lynch, however, created his own. Nobody before had surfed the way Lynch did. Nobody in Lynch’s era did either.
George is just one of many talking heads in Uncharted Waters, lots of whom we don’t normally see in surf films, or don’t see enough of anyway. Rusty Preisendorfer, Maurice Cole, Duncan Campbell, Drew Kampion, Paul Witzig, Aaron Chang, and Jeff Hornbaker, for example, but there are a whole bunch more. They’re all well-spoken, thoughtful, and rather than merely bore us with anecdotes, they help move the story along.
And there’s so much story here. Rusty Miller theorizing that Lynch picked up some surf tips by watching monkeys swinging in trees above his cabin. Lynch and his buddies sabotaging the first paved road into Bells Beach. Lynch blowing minds in Evolution and Sea of Joy. Lynch dodging the Vietnam draft and living on the lam for two years. Lynch living in poverty. Lynch charging huge, wild surf along the craggy Victorian coast. Lynch running from his inner demons in escapist pursuits or simply drowning them with booze. And Lynch in his sixties, aging gracefully into a life of sailing and riding waves in the same places and with the same style he has for decades.
All of this while maintaining a wary relationship with the surf industry. Shy by nature, Lynch avoided the spotlight, but always lurked around the industry’s fringes, taking a little from the largesse he helped create, refusing to compromise his dignity, and slinking away when it all became too much. There’s a line in there somewhere about Lynch being like a coyote, and hanging around the farm to snatch a chicken now and then before retreating into the woods. It’s apt.
It’s a beautiful story, and it’s told well. I have gripes, however. The editing doesn’t always click. Sometimes a person is talking and it isn’t clear who the voice belongs to. I’d love to hear more about his family. There’s a tension between the rebel persona Wayne Lynch and the Rip Curl-sponsored Wayne Lynch that is teased at in the film, though I’d like to see more there.
But Griffin nailed it.
And now, Wayne Lynch, you’re my favorite surfer of all time. Sorry Tom.
Uncharted Waters will screen Thursday, June 27th at Village East Cinema in NYC. Wayne Lynch and director Craig Griffin will be on hand for a Q&A session after the show.