John Lynch, a director of surf films, just released his latest short film, “Abroad,” which chronicles a recent journey to Indonesia with a Pentax camera, a surfboard, and not much else.
Lynch, who lives in Los Angeles, had not been to Indonesia since 1999. He said he was “curious to get back and not know exactly what I was going to get into.” He wanted to go beyond a surf film and dig into what it means to become a part of a place, not just an observer with a fanny pack and a craving for McDonalds. Beyond that – his mind was open to the possibilities. Officially, he was field-testing the cameras for Pentax – unofficially, he was making a film.
“The idea evolved, that idea of tourist versus traveler,” he explains. “But you can’t just force that kind of project. You have to see how it evolves.”
Lynch shot the entire film on his own, without a crew. He shot some surf footage, met some locals, and when it was time to go home he packed his bags and headed to the airport. But as he was waiting to board the plane, Lynch had a nagging feeling that he hadn’t gotten the footage he needed to tell his story. So he bolted, determined to go deeper. The plane took off without him.
“I just felt like I hadn’t captured what I set out to get," he said.
Almost immediately after Lynch left the airport, he met Alex and Eeva, the couple who ended up becoming central to his film. “The day the trip was supposed to end, it began,” Lynch says.
Lynch spent most of his time filming in the villages hurt by a deadly tsunami in 2010, helping Alex and Eeva find supplies for local school kids, and surfing.
Lynch shot most of the footage, including glimpses of pro surfers Lucas Vasquez, John John Florence, Pat Gudauskas, Antonio da Silva, and Jamie O'Brien. On occasion, Lynch would ask a curious bystander to take the camera to shoot him in a car, on a boat, in a ferry.
“People are always keen to grab a camera,” he says. “Having other people shoot sometimes gives you these little interpretations of things.”
Shooting in the ocean as giant waves crash around you and surfboards cut through the water is second nature to Lynch, who grew up in Florida. "[S]ome of our first shoots were in murky water and when the feeding frenzy starts with the spinner sharks and finger mullet," he says, "it can be intimidating.”
These days, he worries about “kook surfers” more than spinner sharks, he says, because “they can be lethal” – the kooks, not the sharks.
“Abroad” has been screening at film festivals -- next up is the Bali Film Festival and the New York Surf Film Festival -- and Lynch has a few more projects in development.
“it depends on the powers that be,” he said. “It’s an honor for me that people are giving 15 minutes of their life to something I made,” he adds. He plans to film two more episodes of “Abroad,” that is “if all the stars align.”