Every surfboard has a story. I bought my first surfboard for $10 from a teenager on my block who my friends and I thought was the second coming of Kelly Slater, but more than likely he was a punk kid who dealt shit weed to middle schoolers. Anyway, the board was twelve inches thick, every neon color the 80s SoCal trend could conjure and sank even before it got into the water, but I cherished the thing. I rode it every weekend. Around thirteen or fourteen years old, I pestered my mom into buying me a new 5’8” …Lost and I never looked back.
After watching Singlefin Yellow by Jason Baffa I began to wonder who owned that $10 board before my gnarly neighbor. Secondly, what became of it after it was so quickly discarded? Is it in pieces scattered amongst garbage in a landfill or is it propped up in the “used” section of Dockside Surf Shop (my favorite surf shop growing up) awaiting another novice? Though I will never be able to answer these questions about my old friend, watching Baffa’s 2005 film allows me some closure by seeing the life of a Tyler made 9’6” yellow single fin as it passes beneath the feet of six surfers and then into the wild.
Shot in 16mm film, Singlefin Yellow is sincere in its goal to follow the life and journey of a surfboard that was shaped in El Segundo, CA. The film shows a 1960s style yellow single fin longboard as it jet sets across the world and acquires stoke. Each surfer personally, and with warmth, narrates his or her portion of the film giving the entire movie an intimate feel. Singlefin Yellow gives insight to the connection between surfers but more importantly illustrates how surfboards are necessary conduits between riders.
Accepting the chain letter of dings and wax, each surfer in Singlefin Yellow slightly alters the board by surfing a certain break, trimming a certain way, or, like Bonga Perkins, thrashing the poor thing at the North Shore. Passed on, the longboard gives the next rider a sense of authenticity and soul that acts as a tie to the previous riders, the previous countries and the previous waves. None of us can deny that surfing is a sport of emotional connections and that these emotional connections change the feel of our tool – the surfboard. Changing hands over time the aura, for lack of a better word, of these boards shifts in small, minute ways. Singlefin Yellow is a 110-minute snapshot of this process.
Lastly, I want to stress how much these simple planks of foam and fiberglass are similar to tools with which we create and Singlefin Yellow makes this apparent. Many will liken surfboards to art, but beneath the pretty, glassy exterior they are utensils and objects – tools with which we work. Even the surfing vernacular reflects our subconscious utilitarian perspective of the surfboard: we carve a wave and we trim a wave. Therefore, working with these tools in our salty mitts makes us the craftsman, the artisan working in conjunction with the surfboard. These tools are in our presence the very moment we are in the act of an extremely human process – creation. Later, as workers do, we exchange these tools; pass them amongst ourselves possibly because we need a new tool that will suit our current project. But, undoubtedly, impressions of ourselves remain with our past chisels and then are passed along to a new surfsmith – and this process, my friends, is the art and the beauty.
Pick up your own copy of Singlefin: Yellow