Manufacturing Stoke: An Interview With P.M.K. From Misfit Pictures

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The Misfit Pictures crew... Photo: Tina Norton

“Bruce Brown will do one of those incredible surfing movies and he is out in the surf himself filming Phil Edwards coming down a 20-footer in Hawaii, and Phil has on a pair of nylon swimming trunks, which he has had made in Hawaii, because they dry out fast—and it is like a grapevine. Everybody’s got to have a pair of nylon swimming trunks, and then the manufacturers move in, and everybody’s making nylon swimming trunks, boxer trunk style, and pretty soon every kid in Utica, N.Y., is buying a pair of them, with the competition stripe and the whole thing, and they never heard of Phil Edwards.”—Tom Wolfe, The Pumphouse Gang, 1968

Manufacturing Stoke. It happened then. It happens now. We’ll see where it goes from here. Sometimes when I write, it helps if I first skim through some of the works of my favorite authors to nab a little inspiration. In this particular case, Tom Wolfe fit the bill with marquee lights blinking. And considering I’m covering a soon-to-be released documentary on the state of the surfing community… the surfing industry… the surfing future… how could he not? Wolfe spoke of the dichotomy and the eventual, inevitable shift from surfing as a counter-culture to surfing as a monetary super-highway for surf manufacturing companies. So here we are.

When I was asked to conduct an interview with misfit picture’s mastermind, PMK, I dug deep beneath the roots. Like the misfits of the Pumphouse Gang of the 60s, Pierce Michael Kavanagh is a La Jolla native. Not up on the hill butted up against Clairemont. Not on the edge of PB. Not on the corner of Del Mar. Not in a new development near UCSD. I’m talking La Jolla proper. But don’t ask him about the spot in front of his house where he grew up…Pierce prefers to keep his beloved body-womping shorepound to himself, his brother and the locals that have been getting pitted there since grom days. He grew up amidst legend and lore (sprinkled with some old school LJ freak-show fallout) just a single generation after The Pumphouse Gang—big shoes to fill, to say the least. But Pierce isn’t about filling shoes; far from it, really. To be honest, he doesn’t even want to wear them. A UCSB film school graduate, he’s more about becoming a “shoe maker” metaphorically speaking, in hopes that people fill them and then walk their own unique paths. His goal? To simply show them the way with a little help from his inspirational and educational works of art, starting with Manufacturing Stoke.

Pierce is distant (i.e., light years away) from the in-your-face, chest-pounding, modern-day filmmaker in the industry for fame and notoriety. “Humble” is an understatement. He’d prefer to not interview at all, but people have to hear about this film somehow, and understand its validity and place in the surfing community and beyond.

So what’s the hubbub all about? What’s the big deal? Another funky-looking, beatnik dude with a weird hat and crazy beard making a counter-culture documentary… so what else is new? Everything. It’s all fresh because someone has finally stepped up to the plate and given the surf industry a swift and powerful chin-check. A lot of film-makers that may have dared to jump into this type of project would have attacked the surf industry itself. Blame, shame, maim – the easy way out. And while the industry itself should in fact be responsible for what it kicks out into the public sector, it is actually the purchasing community that needs to be held accountable for the end result.

With consumer reports, the Internet, blogs, articles and word of mouth information there is more than enough buzz out there to provide what we need as patrons to make educated decisions. PMK has made it very clear that his intentions are not to demonize the industry, but more so to raise public awareness in the surfing community with regard to what is going into everything bought, sold, traded, shared, created, designed and manufactured in the surfing world… including stoke.

On May 21st, Manufacturing Stoke will premiere in Bird’s Surf Shed in San Diego. This was an intentional and obvious choice for misfit pictures. Bird has supported Manufacturing Stoke since its inception and his outlook on life and surfing parallel the film’s direction. It won’t be the ripshredslashburnair sensory overload surf movie extravaganza that is status quo these days. But that’s because there’s nobody behind the film trying to sell something. Rather, this documentary will fill your mind with various images and lexis that create and substantiate part of who we are as surfers and how we fit into the system. If you need a board, if you need a wetsuit, if you need a bar of wax… you are part of the matrix.

So without further adieu, I share with you a few questions to PMK… a humble guy avoiding the limelight who just wants to shed some light (and dark) on the tumultuous system of the surfing world.— Adam “Trout” Traubman

AT: Pierce, the year is 2011. The push for eco-friendly solutions isn’t exactly new. So why did it take so long for a film like this to surface?

PMK: Good question. As surfers, we are kind of in our own little world. Let me start by saying that this is not a surf movie. Manufacturing Stoke is a documentary on sustainability in the surf industry. Yes, there is amazing surf footage, but there is way more. Surf movies these days are generally brand-driven and have team riders ripping beautiful waves all over the world. I love those movies. I have watched a million airs and deep tube rides, and I can’t wait to watch a million more. But since we (misfit pictures) don’t work for the surf industry, we do things a little differently. I guess we had the right thought at the right time and place.

You connected with a lot of individuals and companies along the way. What was the biggest surprise to you in creating Manufacturing Stoke?

The biggest surprise is how much the little guys are doing to get the ball rolling, while the big guys stand around and check their bottom line. I find it amazing that guys in their workshops are creating new designs with very little resources. In my opinion, that is where surfing started and that is where it seems to be going again.

You gave these entities a free platform to stand on and let the world know who they are and what they represent. Many shot your offer down without blinking an eye and, of that group, many were companies who preach “eco.” How does that make you feel?

I can’t take any of that personally. I mean, who am I? I approached every major surf company out there and in some cases couldn’t even get past the receptionist. The major companies have very close control over their PR and most of them wanted nothing to do with us. Cheers to the bold ones who took a chance.

Okay…that said, what transpired (if anything) just as you had imagined?

When I first looked closely into the industry, I was really inspired by certain individuals who are striving to make the future of surfing more sustainable. Getting to meet people that are reconstructing what the surf industry means to them was really refreshing. Those are the real stories that I wanted to highlight in this documentary.

This next question is pretty “vanilla” but it’s important enough where I feel the need to ask it. As the creator of this documentary, what is your ultimate goal?

PMK: I just want the film to make people think. Surfing is a $7.2 billion dollar a year industry and every time you open your wallet you should think about that. Make sure the companies you buy from follow your same beliefs. Before I did my research, I didn’t really know what was going on. Now that I know, I spend very differently.

Finish this sentence: “I hope after watching Manufacturing Stoke, you, the viewer…”

…will hold the surf industry you support to a higher level. Research where your boards, wetsuits and clothing come from. Your dollars can and will make the change. Trust me.

What’s next for PMK?

We have several different film projects that misfit pictures is going to be working on this year, but for right now I just want to go womping with my friends…who’s in?

The Manufacturing Stoke world premiere is May 21st at Bird’s Surf Shed located at 1091 W. Morena Blvd. in San Diego and all tickets will be sold in advance online at: www.manufacturingstoke.com.

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