Filmmaker and San Diego native Pierce Kavanagh was sitting in the middle of Midtown Manhattan at a film festival devoted to surfing to support his 2011 documentary Manufacturing Stoke with a question running through his mind: Why would a concrete jungle like Manhattan have a surf film festival while the beach-centric San Diego did not? When he arrived back on the west coast, Kavanagh immediately sprang into action planning a San Diego-based film festival devoted to the sport, the inaugural of which was last year. “My documentary played at about 35 surf film festivals, so I’ve attended quite a few and saw what works and does not work,” says Kavanagh.
As a result, when Kavanagh was planning the San Diego Surf Festival, he made a conscious decision to focus on smaller filmmakers as much as the big names. “A lot of the big brands are responsible for putting out most of the films,” he explained. “We wanted to expose the indie filmmakers making these projects as their passion, and put them on the same level as the brand-backed guys.” The festival’s open submission process brought in films from all over the world—including far-flung locations as Japan, Fiji, and Norway—and Kavanagh has been blown away by the response. Last year, 55 films (both short and feature-length) were submitted; a number that was then whittled down to the 35 featured at the festival. This year brought in over 80 submissions; 43 of which will be screened at the festival. “We had so many great entries that we added a full day,” says Kavanagh. “There were so many submissions we just couldn’t say no to.” Kavanagh employs six “very well respected members of the surf community” to watch all of the entries and make a final list.
This year’s schedule features a wide range of surf films by filmmakers of various backgrounds, including New England Blood (a look at the lives of New Hampshire surfers in the fall), The Present Moment (about a surfer with muscular dystrophy), and North (about surfing in Iceland). Kavanagh notes he can’t pick a single film he’s most looking forward to at the festival. “There isn’t a hole in this year’s schedule,” says Kavanagh. “The highlight for me is when these filmmakers attend and field questions about their work, which is always great.”
In the final weeks leading up to the festival, which starts May 8th, Kavanagh has been hard at work smoothing out the final kinks. “There’s a lot involved behind the scenes and it takes a lot of my time because I want everything to be perfect,” he notes. “We’ve gotten our gig pretty tightened up this time around, and we want everybody to have a great time. I’ve been excited for this year’s festival since the minute last year’s ended.”