On the rain-soaked evening of September 11, 2009 New Jersey’s surf scene anxiously descended upon the stomping grounds of Bruce Springsteen’s Asbury Park to fill the historic Paramount Theater to the brim. The occasion was the world premiere of A Pleasant Surprise: a 16mm film delving into the pleasantries of New Jersey surfing.
The film is the product and labor of two longtime friends who have the eyes, ears, and touch of creativity: Kyle Pahlow and Nick Zegel. “Kyle and I grew up on the beach together, and in the water together,” the film’s creative director Zegel says. “I had a family camera and we used to shoot a lot of video in high school. The first time we wanted to shoot water footage I put my Sony TRV320 in a plastic bag and we kind of duct taped it super tight to the lens. We shot a couple hours of intense, super nerve wracking footage with my camera in the water.”
The two made the most of what was offered them, which wasn’t much. “I didn’t have a budget to travel, and as a first time filmmaker no one was going to give me that budget,” Kyle explains. “I wasn’t really in with the surfing industry, but I had a relationship with a few top pros from Long Beach Island [Ben McBrien, Randy Townsend, and Brendan Willem]. So I figured that was an okay place to start.”
As for assembling the rest of the Garden State’s top surf talent [Sam Hammer, Matt Keenan, the brothers Kelly, Andrew Gesler, Zach Humphries, et. al], Kyle took the only road he could: cold calling. As Kyle tells, “I knew Sam Hammer’s mom and dad own the Crab’s Claw Inn, so I cold called one day and got Sam’s mom on the phone. She answered and I was like, ‘Ahhh, hey, my name’s Kyle and I’m an independent film maker and I was wondering if I could get your son’s cellphone number?’ And she gave it to me.”
The rest just seemed to fall in place for the young duo. But that doesn’t mean it was easy: they edited film for over eight months, as editing film isn’t quite as easy as editing digital video. So with the syndrome of the most precise and crisp video footage one can obtain that is plaguing all surf videos the world over, why the 16mm? “It’s a decision you make format wise based on your story,” Kyle says. “We feel like our story fits film. We wanted to take a different approach all the way down to backgrounds being out of focus.”
The story is one that every surfer, New Jersey surfers more so, can relate to. We’ve all surfed clean waist-to-chest-high surf, and sometimes that surf can be the most fun. But don’t be fooled either, there are your classic Jersey bombs on those freezing winter days as well. Pair that with an incredible soundtrack that seems to make the tale flow even more, and it’s evident that Pahlow’s and Zegel’s hard work has paid off.
A Pleasant Surprise is not just about one surfer either—hell most of the time unless you’re that familiar with the style of all surfers involved, it’s tough to pick out their sections and even their voices. But it serves the greater purpose of telling the story of any true surfer: take what you are offered and make the most of it. And most times what the ocean offers can pleasantly surprise you.—Ryan Brower
The next showing of A Pleasant Surprise takes place at the New York Surf Film Festival on September 25th. Make sure to pick up your tickets. Head to APleasantSurpriseFilm.com for more about the film and to pick up a copy. And make sure to check out the music of Sean Bones, the band that opened up for the film.