Film festival screening 'Five Summer Stories' for Surf Nite

1970s band Honk, which wrote music for film's soundtrack, will also perform

ppemberton@thetribunenews.comMarch 5, 2014 

Surfer Gerry Lopez.

JEFF DIVINE

When Gerry Lopez queues up music by the band Honk, most of his students don’t make the connection.

“The old guys do,” Lopez said. “But in yoga class, they’re mostly young girls.”

Occasionally one will ask, “What was that song?” Then Lopez will tell them about “Five Summer Stories,” the groundbreaking surf film that paired clips of Lopez’s tube riding with Honk’s hippie rock.

“I play a bunch of their music on my yoga playlist when I teach class,” Lopez said. “I love it.”

While the annual Surf Nite event at the San Luis Obispo International Film Festival won’t feature the film’s star or director (Lopez has a yoga camp in Hawaii; Greg MacGillivray is working in Africa), Honk, which has had a cultlike following since the film debuted, should be a big draw.

Legendary surfboard designer Herbie Fletcher will be on hand for the event, as will Heather Hudson, who will show her short film “Hope,” about the late surfer and K-PIG personality Robin Janiszeufski Hesson. Honk will perform after a screening of “Five Summer Stories” in a concert accompanied by clips from the film.

First released in 1972, “Five Summer Stories” wound up being the biggest nonfiction surf movie since “The Endless Summer.” Filmmakers MacGillivray and Jim Freeman, who had made surf movies before, wanted this one to leave a mark.

“This was their last surf movie because they had started to develop contacts in Hollywood and were starting to do some real film work,” Lopez said.

As surfing shifted its focus from longboards to shortboards, the filmmakers wanted to chronicle the new approach in super slow motion. They also wanted a soundtrack that fit the times. So they sought out Honk.

“We were sort of the hot local act at the time,” said Steve Wood, who played keyboards for the Orange County band.

While many surf movies of the past featured jazz or Dick Dale-style surf music, Honk’s music didn’t fit the traditional surf film soundtrack.

“Greg really just liked the music of the band,” said Beth Fitchet Wood, who plays guitar and sings. “It wasn’t that he wanted to mimic surf music, per se, or have the band play what he thought of as surf music.”

Meanwhile, the filmmakers reached out some of the hottest surfers at the time, including David Nuuhiwa, Shaun Tomson and Lopez. For the first time, the surfers were actually paid to be in a surf movie, though they didn’t have to do anything special.

“We were kind of out there surfing anyway,” Lopez said. “And Greg and Jim would be on the beach filming.”

At the time, Lopez was the most filmed surfer around, according to surf historian Matt Warshaw. Known for his Lightning Bolt surfboards — which were also ridden by several other top surfers at the time — his ability to ride inside the tube at Hawaii’s famous Pipeline surf break earned him the nickname “Mr. Pipeline.”

“That was the most challenging thing to accomplish at the time,” said Lopez, who won the Pipeline Masters contest twice in the early ’70s. “It hadn’t been possible with the longboards. To get a tube ride (previously), especially at a wave like the Pipeline, was mostly luck.”

After gathering surfing clips, MacGillivray would tell the band what he needed for the soundtrack.

“Basically, Greg gave us a legal pad that said, ‘I need six minutes of music for the North Shore,’ ” Wood said.

Wood, who would surf in the mornings before recording in L.A., said Honk had some existing material that worked. For other scenes, they created new music.

The film also used music by the Beach Boys, who reportedly let the filmmakers use their music for free.

Neither Lopez nor members of Honk expected the movie to do much.

“I don’t think it occurred to us that it would get to the level that it did,” Fitchet Wood said. “We were just trying to make a living down there, and that was one of the gigs we got.”

But Lopez noticed that there was actually promotion for the film, which seemed to pay off once it opened.

“’Five Summer Stories’ actually showed in one of the bigger theaters in Honolulu that had never featured a surf film before,” he said. “It was kind of a big deal because usually the surf movies would show in a high school auditorium.”

When the film was being made, Lopez didn’t know he would become the star of the film.

“I was shocked probably more than anyone,” he said. “My sequence was this really long sequence with this great soundtrack that Honk had done.”

Helped by the aquatic film skills of Bud Browne, who lived in San Luis Obispo at the end of his life, “Five Summer Stories” became a surprise hit. While Lopez had made his mark as a surfer not long before the film, the movie’s success would help Honk considerably.

“We got a lot of work,” said Wood, noting that the soundtrack shot up to No. 1 in Hawaii. “And labels were going, ‘What — there’s a record that’s No. 1 by a band we’ve ne ver heard of? ”

Record deals and tours with the Beach Boys, Loggins & Messina and Chicago would follow.

“Within a year, we were on our way,” Wood said. “It came easy — until the band blew up a couple of years later.”

MacGillivray and Freeman went on to work on Hollywood movies before transitioning to IMAX films. (Freeman died in a 1976 helicopter accident.) Meanwhile, the Honk musicians all had success on their own, Wood making music for the IMAX movies and performing with Kenny Loggins for many years.

Today he and Fitchet Wood, who occasionally helps on IMAX movies in addition to making her own music, credit “Five Summer Stories” for a career that has taken them around the world.

“We think about that every day,” said Fitchet Wood. “We thank our lucky stars.”

While Honk broke up in 1975, since the ’80s, they have performed a handful of times each year. Meanwhile, Lopez, who was so instrumental in the evolution of surfboards in the early ’70s, helped design the equipment needed for tow-in surfing, which has allowed surfers to ride waves over 70 feet tall. He also had a few acting roles in films such as “Big Wednesday” and “Conan the Barbarian.”

Today, Lopez lives in Oregon, where he snowboards, travels for surf and teaches yoga.

While “Five Summer Stories” captured a slice of America during the Vietnam War and the Watergate scandal, surfing then — as now — provided an outlet to get way from society’s ills, he said.

“All the surfers cared about was the next wave,” Lopez said. “I don’t think there was a more apolitical group than the hardcore surfers.”

IF YOU GO

"Five Summer Stories"
7 p.m. Friday
Fremont Theatre, 888 Marsh St., San Luis Obispo
In advance, $35 general and $25 for students and SLOIFF Film Society members; $45 and $35 at the door
546-3456 or www.slofilmfest.org

Reach Patrick S. Pemberton at 781-7903.

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