Monday, August 29, 2011


Pierce Michael Kavanagh

Pierce Michael Kavanagh is a tal­ented San Diego surfer/filmmaker. His recent film Man­u­fac­tur­ing Stoke raises ques­tions about the toxic chem­i­cals used in the surf­board indus­try and asks us all: How can we make a dif­fer­ence for the envi­ron­ment? Pierce speaks to us about his inspi­ra­tion for the film and his cur­rent obses­sion for bodysurfing.
What was your life like grow­ing up?
Amaz­ing on one hand and absolutely scar­ring on the other. I grew up in La Jolla, just up the beach from Win­dansea. Our house was really close to the beach so we got really good waves but my Mom could also come down and call us in for any­thing. She would come down to the bot­tom of the street and just belt it out… “Pierce, Den­nis… come in for sup­per…” Let the heck­ling begin. Sup­per? My folks were from the Bronx so they didn’t know any bet­ter. It was really fun though. La Jolla was a small beach town with a bunch of big fam­i­lies. Every­body kind of looked out for each other, both in and out of the water. The surf scene is well estab­lished, so one learns quickly how to behave.
Who did you look up to and admire when you were younger?
La Jolla has bred some of the most amaz­ing surfers (and a freak­ishly large amount of broth­ers who surf together). So here is a shout out to all the broth­ers who have shared, bat­tled, and grown up surf­ing together. My brother Den­nis (he rips, I do not), the Lit­tle­mores, Feighans, Fitchs, Huff­mans, Aguir­res, Ken­vins, Elliotts, Bak­ers, Gumi­nas, McCul­loughs, Kings, Far­sons… the list goes on. Oh, and Henry Hunte surfs so good he doesn’t need a brother – cheers, Henry.

What was the feel­ing you had when you first stood on a surf­board?
Life chang­ing. It may be one of the clear­est mem­o­ries of my life. Matt Feighan took my brother and I to Lit­tle Point on one of his rad old Skip Frye sin­gle fins with the inten­tion of get­ting us off our boo­gie boards once and for all. I was 11 and my brother Den­nis was 9. We shared 2-foot peel­ers all after­noon. I was amazed at look­ing down and watch­ing the eel­grass sway as I passed over the reef with each and every wave.The water was crys­tal clear and you could see all the way to the bot­tom while you were surf­ing. Noth­ing has been the same for me since.
Where did you inter­est in film­mak­ing come from?
I think it was going over the falls at Big Rock in the wipe­out sec­tion of Chris Bystrom’s “Son of the Last Surf Movie.” This com­bined with the fact that film is such a beau­ti­ful and evoca­tive art form. My fas­ci­na­tion started at a young age with pho­tog­ra­phy and the abil­ity to cap­ture a soli­tary moment in time. It evolved nat­u­rally through my love for surf­ing and skat­ing and all of the mags and movies from the 80s. We used to wear out VHS tapes at Bird’s surf shop when the surf was flat. Pretty sure I melted “Beyond Blaz­ing Boards” and “Mad Wax” a cou­ple times. Now that I think about it, film­mak­ing has come full cir­cle for me. I used to shoot VHS from the beach when I was around 13 and after a film degree and sev­eral decades later, I still shoot at the beach. Go figure.
What inspired you to cre­ate “Man­u­fac­tur­ing Stoke”?
Last fall, my wife Petra & I went to the Green Expo at Sea­side Reef in Cardiff to watch our friend Gary play music. While wait­ing for his set we walked around to all of the booths and saw a lot of cre­ative and amaz­ing ideas. The excite­ment and inspi­ra­tion that came from the ven­dors was really refresh­ing. The fes­ti­val had a “new guard” indus­try vibe to it and con­sisted of Indi­vid­u­als that were striv­ing for a more sus­tain­able surf indus­try from a grass­roots level. One booth that blew me away was *enjoy handplanes.

My new friends Ed and Kipp, are recy­cling hand­planes from dam­aged surf­boards and wet­suits oth­er­wise head­ing for the land­fill. Bingo. I went home and started research­ing the indus­try and was shocked about how toxic it still was since Clark Foam closed down. I wanted to do four short films high­light­ing indi­vid­u­als chang­ing per­cep­tions about wax, board con­struc­tion, wet­suits and cloth­ing. As soon as we started film­ing we real­ized we had some­thing way big­ger than we orig­i­nally thought and shifted gears toward a fea­ture length doc­u­men­tary. And after seven months of hard work, mis­fit pic­tures is proud to present… Man­u­fac­tur­ing Stoke.
What has been the reac­tion to the film?
For the most part, reac­tions have been over­whelm­ingly pos­i­tive. I am extremely proud of the film but I am blown away when some­body watches the film and then comes up with tears in their eyes hug­ging and thank­ing me. I was not ready for that. It is both trippy and so pow­er­ful. We all have friends in the indus­try so it is extremely impor­tant that they are safe.
After every screen­ing, I always hear the same ques­tions, though. Where was so-and-so? How come some “green” com­pa­nies are not in the film? Does Jasper have any­thing more to say about surfing’s over­seas industry?
When you get down to it, Man­u­fac­tur­ing Stoke is the film surf indus­try lead­ers do NOT want you to see. So yes, some peo­ple are going to be pissed, but they can be pissed from their man­sion on the hill. mis­fit pic­tures gave all the major com­pa­nies in the indus­try a chance to be involved and most wanted noth­ing to do with us. Would you rock the boat if you knew your Guc­cis could get wet?
Of all the places you have trav­eled to, what place in par­tic­u­lar stands out? And why?
I have trav­eled far and wide and recently went to Oahu and fell in love with the place. We were invited to the Hon­olulu Surf Film Fes­ti­val and my wife and I jumped at the oppor­tu­nity to go. We spent 10 days on Oahu and had an incred­i­ble visit. We scored back-to-back south swells in addi­tion to show­ing our film in par­adise. The beauty, surf, womp, soft sand, great weather, road­side grinds… what more could one ask for? If I could get tan, I would def­i­nitely move there. Mahalo to Gina Caruso and the Kelleys.
Who/what inspires you?
My beau­ti­ful wife, Petra.
What is the great­est thing you have learned in your life?
This is a gnarly inter­view! I believe we never stop edu­cat­ing our­selves. When I was younger, a part of me wanted me to burn it all down to the ground because I didn’t believe all the bull­shit I was fed. Now that I have mel­lowed with age, I believe small con­trolled fires are the way to go. Man­u­fac­tur­ing Stoke is a small con­trolled fire. So my approach to things has changed a bit, as I have got­ten older. With that in mind, I am curi­ous to see what my thoughts will be 20 years from now. If this makes absolutely no sense, I apologize.
What are you most proud of?
The col­lab­o­ra­tion involved with the mak­ing of this film. We had no bud­get, no mar­ket­ing depart­ment, and no indus­try clout. In fact, nobody even knows who we are. Every­body who got behind this project con­tributed to this film sim­ply because they believed in the project. This film owes every­thing to the crew, artist and musicians,.
What mean­ing does surf­ing hold for you and how has it changed your life?
Surf­ing started for me in front of my folks’ house and has led me around the world. What started as boy­hood intrigue devel­oped into a life­long obses­sion. Sur­pris­ingly, this project got me reac­quainted with the often-overlooked nuances of just being in the water. Because there is a lot of water footage in the film (I wanted to put the viewer right in the line-up) I spent a long time exam­in­ing the clips dur­ing the edit­ing process. The ocean is so beau­ti­ful and this film cel­e­brates that. There is no way surf­ing can­not pro­foundly impact your life. Surf­ing has def­i­nitely made me a bet­ter per­son. In fact, I am tak­ing a break to go womp­ing… I will be back.
What brings you the most hap­pi­ness in the world?
Right now. I am the hap­pi­est I have ever been. I am thank­ful for everything.

Who are some of the peo­ple you feel are shap­ing the path for surf­ing today?
Lucas Dirkse and Ryan Burch. Both of the­ses guys rip any­thing and every­thing. From long­boards to body­surf­ing – they have it cov­ered. I am stoked for them and all the kids com­ing up right now. They have access to more board designs than ever before. There is no right or wrong in surf­ing, just what­ever works.
Carl Ekstrom looks at board design like nobody else. He is not just con­tin­u­ing the shap­ing tra­di­tion; he is on a com­pletely dif­fer­ent plane. It is good to see that Sacred Craft is hon­or­ing Carl with their “Trib­ute to the Mas­ters Shape-Off” this Octo­ber. It is well deserved. There are many oth­ers like Danny Hess, Grain Surf­boards, Eco Board­works and Matt Bio­los who are uti­liz­ing alter­na­tive mate­ri­als in their board con­struc­tion. Minds are open­ing in surf­ing every day.
What is your favorite board? Your favorite surfspot?
My favorite surf­board is a mid-1970s 6’9” Terry Fitzger­ald Hot But­tered sin­gle fin. It is prob­a­bly about 3” thick a foot from the nose and surfs like noth­ing I have ever rid­den. Right now it is down at Scor­pion Bay and I miss it. If any­one is going down, let me know… I need it brought back.
But my favorite board right now is an *enjoy hand­plane. I have been rid­ing them for months now and have never got­ten so bar­reled body­surf­ing. Besides com­ing out of bar­rels you can actu­ally cut­back with these things. No lie. I dig the resur­gence of body­surf­ing. Body­surf­ing is the new black. I can’t wait to see Malloy’s “Come Hell or High Water.”
As far as favorite surfspot?
Low­ers… tell everyone.
What’s your favorite meal?
Bacon. A close sec­ond would be more bacon.

What are you cur­rently lis­ten­ing to on your iPod?
I don’t really lis­ten to my iPod that much. Between the Sony Walk­man, punk rock shows and the shore­pound, I prob­a­bly have about 60% of my hear­ing left. Lately, I have been lis­ten­ing to the Mon­tal­ban Quin­tet. Sup­port local music.
What causes/ projects/ orga­ni­za­tions do you sup­port?
I sup­port the under­ground. If I had more money, I would sup­port a lot more things.
What are you most grate­ful for?
Friends, fam­ily and per­fect shorebreak.
What’s next for PMK?
Oh, man… we have been really busy. We have been tour­ing around the west with the Man­u­fac­tur­ing Stoke Anti-stadium Sum­mer Tour and Expres­sion Ses­sions and have a few more Cal­i­for­nia shows before we go back east for a stretch. We will have shows in Encini­tas, Ven­tura, Santa Cruz and San Fran­cisco later this month. Our East Coast leg starts at Grain Surf­boards Surf Re-Evolution on Sep­tem­ber 10th and we have about 8–9 more shows lined up. Stops include Boston, Prov­i­dence, NYC, Brook­lyn and Atlanta. Aside from that, we have been in film fes­ti­vals in France, Ger­many, Aus­tralia and Japan.
I am very grate­ful for the expo­sure and great recep­tion that Man­u­fac­tur­ing Stoke has been receiv­ing. This film was a labor of love and it is good to see that peo­ple are stoked on it. To fol­low along on the progress, check out
Future projects include help­ing my wife with a short film she is work­ing on. I also have 2 more doc­u­men­taries that I am work­ing on as well as pro­duc­ing a cou­ple of other projects. My pas­sion will always lie with doc­u­men­tary film­mak­ing, but I look for­ward to any­thing that comes my way. Who knows? Maybe Man­u­fac­tur­ing Stoke II!
Learn more about Pierce Michael Kavanagh and his film here. Top pho­to­graph by Kevin Roche. All other pho­tos cour­tesy Pierce Michael Kavanagh.

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