Powerlines Productions: Filming the art of big-wave surfing at Mavericks, Half Moon Bay
by Heidi Trilling
Monster waves, extraordinary athletes. This is the wintertime cocktail of Mavericks, Half Moon Bay’s internationally-acclaimed surf break.
But before the media, the helicopters, and the live webcasts of the Mavericks Surf Contest, there were two guys with video cameras. And foresight.
Award-winning local filmmakers Eric W. Nelson and Curt Myers of Powerlines Productions have been chronicling Mavericks and other global surf spots for nearly two decades.
“We want to bring the sport of big-wave surfing to the masses,” Nelson says. “We do this by filming surf sessions and incorporating in-depth interviews with the elite surfers riding these gigantic waves. We’re trying to give people an understanding of why these amazing, courageous athletes do what they do.”
Committed to fresh documentary filmmaking, Powerlines mixes shots of celebrity surfers alongside surfing newcomers.
Myers says: “The main reason I started this company with Eric is: The surf industry is primarily focused on Southern California and Hawaii. So, how can we help local Coastside guys — up-and-comers like Skylar Banner and Michael Joshua — achieve their goals? By showing their talents to the world, through film. We want to be the beacon for these guys who want to live the dream.”
Big-wave pioneer Jeff Clark says: “In the early days, I’d be out there surfing Mavs, and Eric would be up on the cliff, filming. One surfer, one photographer. … Later, Eric and Curt together were the first to chronicle Mavericks regularly. This is important because it helps people learn about the sport, respect it, and respect the filmmaking, too.”
Nelson and Myers — both seasoned surfers — film in tandem: Nelson from the land, Myers from the water. They’ve produced nine documentaries together, including their new DVD Ride On.
Professional photographer Tony Canadas, whose stunning shots serve as the covers of Powerlines DVDs, says: “Curt has excellent surf judgment, that’s why he captures such spectacular footage, and Eric is getting killer cliff shots — all without communicating. No walkie-talkies, no Bluetooth, nothing. They work together on pure instinct.” Canadas adds, “They’re putting together a library — a 20-year surf history of Mavericks — and this is an invaluable resource.”
So, how did this resourceful film company start?
“My dad got me into surfing,” Nelson says. “After film school, I was the host, cameraman and editor for my own local MCTV show called Powerlines Surf-Spots. It was a glorified Wayne’s World! It was hilarious!”
Meanwhile, Myers was 12 when his dad handed him a video camera. “It took precedence over everything,” Myers says. “It became second nature to have a camera in my hands.”
After producing short films separately, Nelson and Myers combined their footage of Mavericks one day and screened it at a local café — to rave reviews. Nelson says: “We were better as a team than as competitors. Luckily, we realized that.”
Lucky for audiences, too. Powerlines’ films have been enthusiastically attended at the Red Vic Movie House in San Francisco, the Rio Theatre in Santa Cruz, the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego in La Jolla, and venues in Los Angeles. Their feature Whipped!!! garnered the EXPN Tube Action Sports Film Festival’s audience choice award. Ride On is currently being considered for the X-Dance Action Sports Film Festival 2010.
Powerlines has footage featured in Riding Giants and other films, and maintains an impressive client list, including ESPN, The Weather Channel, Good Morning America, National Geographic, Sony Pictures and the major television networks. There are dedicated Powerlines followers on Twitter, Facebook, MySpace and YouTube.
Catch screenings of Powerlines’ latest surf footage each month at Montara’s hot new restaurant, La Costanera.
Bruce Jenkins, San Francisco Chronicle sports columnist, attributes Powerlines’ achievements to “a combination of pure dedication, technical expertise, sharp editing and knowledge.” Jenkins adds: “Curt’s water footage rivals anyone’s in the world for steadiness — you never get the sense you’re on a boat, rocking up and down.” He also notes that both Nelson and Myers “are highly respected by the surfers, which leads to lengthy and revealing interviews.”
Like most creative outfits, Powerlines is surrounded by a clutch of gifted people pooling their talents. John duGan of Bay Aerial provides helicopter access for overhead filming. Casey Macker of Motion Graphics handles Powerlines’ DVD design and authoring.
Since 2000, Powerlines has partnered with independent filmmaker Chris Wilson, head visionary of Wilson Productions and finish editor for Emmy award-winning Current TV. “Chris is amazing,” Nelson says. “He’s our third producer: helps us so much with production, killer graphics, super-tight editing — everything.”
Wilson says: “Eric and Curt are the originals: totally dedicated, documenting every break, showcasing locals. … I’d love to see Powerlines as a functioning machine, with great funds and recognition in the community, able to sponsor young surfers around the world.”
Meteorologist Mark Sponsler, founder of Stormsurf, agrees. “I can’t say enough about Curt and Eric. They’re the master archivists of Mavericks, and they do it with style and grace. … From a purely meteorological perspective, to have these archives of swell after swell is key to studying the effects of wind on the ocean. They’re also creating sociological documents: their films are not just about surfing, they’re about the people who surf. … An invaluable catalogue of the sport.”
So, what’s next? Exploring sponsorships for expanded clothing and accessory lines, advanced surf instruction programs, and future film festivals. Stay tuned.
“Powerlines started on a local TV station,” Myers says. “We want to keep this local rootsiness, but also watch the company grow, make it successful. You never know who you might influence. Young surfers may watch our films and be inspired to go for it. And that’s the greatest thing: to chase your dream.”