Carmel Valley resident invites other filmmakers to share their passion at San Diego Surf Film Festival

Carmel Valley filmmaker Pierce Kavanaugh founded the San Diego Surf Film Festival. Photo: Kevin Roche
Carmel Valley filmmaker Pierce Kavanaugh founded the San Diego Surf Film Festival. Photo: Kevin Roche

By Karen Billing

Carmel Valley filmmaker Pierce Kavanaugh received his first camera when he was 13 years old, a gift to his father that was re-purposed as his own.

“My brother and I just grabbed it and took it to the beach in the sand,” Kavanaugh said.

He lugged around the VHS equipment and made goofy little movies of his friends using whatever was playing on the radio as his soundtrack as he shot from the beach.

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Bird’s Surf Shed will serve as the venue for the San Diego Surf Film Festival. Photo: Shawna Suffriti

His equipment and expertise has grown since those first sandy days, but his love for the art of filmmaking remains about the same. He hopes to give young filmmakers an audience and the opportunity to share their passion with the first San Diego Surf Film Festival, to be held May 11-13.

Kavanaugh has found some international success with his surf film “Manufacturing Stoke,” released last year with his production company Misfit Pictures, comprised of his wife Petra and partner Geoffrey Smart

The film’s theme is one of sustainability — as the film’s website states, no other sport is as intrinsically linked to nature as surfing is and yet a majority of the materials used are environmentally toxic. Filmed up and down the California coast, it features interviews with “grassroots up and comers” who are “redefining what a surfer is supposed to ride,” looking at the progress of things such as wooden surfboards, recycled materials and organic clothing.

The movie has been around the world, to France, Germany and Australia, where it is up for Surf Film of the Year at the Byron Bay International Film Festival next month.

Kavanaugh and crew will head to Australia for three weeks for the 11-day festival, March 2-11. More than 900 films were submitted and theirs stood out.

“It’s not about awards though, it’s about getting the message out,” Kavanaugh said. “And it’s a unique message about sustainability in the surf industry. We just want people to see it.”

“Although it would be nice to win,” Petra admitted.

Kavanaugh grew up in La Jolla, spending much of his time on the beach as a water enthusiast and surfer. He got serious about filmmaking in college, getting a degree in film at UC Santa Barbara.

“Ever since then I’ve been trying to make it a full time career, but it’s tough,” Kavanaugh said.

Part of the struggle as a beginner is no one knows who you are. Lucky for Kavanaugh, he had a strong network of support in San Diego. He started his own production company, Misfit Pictures with Petra and Smart — “I’m the dreamer, she’s the connections and he (Geoffrey) is the nuts and bolts.”

Smart is not a surfer but finds it hard not to appreciate making a good surf film — you can’t beat the beautiful imagery, he said. They work with a skeleton crew, doing all the work themselves without any “glitz or red carpet” experiences while filming.

“It’s more intimate that way and it’s less intrusive for the talent,” Smart said.

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