All over California people move encased in metal and chrome, going from house to office in their cars. It’s a contradiction of California living that, despite the beautiful weather and spacious streets, no one is outside.

There are people however, who immerse themselves in the elements no matter what the weather, who spend hours in strenuous physical discomfort and possible danger. And the majority of them don’t do this for a living, for fitness, or for athletic glory — they do it because they like it. They’re called surfers, and they can be seen up and down the Californian coastline, riding waves like descendants of some mighty marine god.

“One California Day” is a tribute to California surfers and the particular surfing culture of the Golden State, shot and put together by Mark Jeremias and Jason Baffa (themselves highly-respected surfers). Surfing movies have become a lucrative genre, with groovy and evocative documentaries such as “Riding Giants,” and an excellent Hollywood treatment of girl surfers, “Blue Crush,” showing the incredible exhilaration that comes of sticking a board underfoot and riding waves that can tower higher than a four-storied building. Don King, who is considered a deity in surfing and ocean photography, is credited in many of these movies, getting right inside the cavernous holes of rolled-up waves (called “tubes”) and capturing the uniquely magical texture of smooth, blue walls consisting entirely of ocean water.

One California Day
Director Mark Jeremias, Jason Baffa
Run Time 96 minutes
Language English
Opens Now showing (June 27, 2008)

“One California Day,” however, goes a different route; its low-budget, hand-crafted, local-neighborhood tone recalls news footage of 1960s flower children in San Francisco, minus the cops and politics. Speaking of which, it’s no wonder many California hippies turn into surfers and vice versa; they both renounce wealth and possessions, both value freedom of movement and mind. “One California Day” highlights all that — as one surfer says in a voice-over: “In California it doesn’t matter much whether you’re a professional or a successful surfer. Being friendly to people and having a true, great love for the ocean is much more important and earns you more respect.”

Watching the film, you realize that surfing isn’t really a sport, but a way of life, a state of mind. “The joy of life is here,” says another surfer, and it’s true; once you’re paddling out to the ocean on a trusted board, you shed layers of land-locked concerns — including competitiveness, anxiety, ambition — with every stroke. Sure, the surfing world has its share and more of all three, but the film stresses those perfect moments when nothing seems to matter except getting on the crest of a roaring tunnel of water.

Though surfing does require great concentration and skill, it’s just as much about luck: getting to the right point, catching the right wave, having the right weather conditions. You could be stuck for hours waiting for that one great wave, or miss an opportunity because someone caught it before you. A Malibu surfer talks lovingly of his surfer wife and says, laughing, that when they’re together he tries “to hold off riding the good waves and let her go first,” but he can’t always be so magnanimous.

Waves are about the only thing surfers get greedy about, and in the film everyone agrees that “it’s important to share” with endearing seriousness. (“With surfing it’s all about sharing, loving each other, having a good time. It’s like being in church!”) But surfing can also leave a surfer stranded. “It’s hard for me to think about getting a regular job,” says another surfer. “I know I’m going to end up like one of those old guys in a beachfront parking lot, eating doughnuts and bitching about what a great surfer I used to be.”

Californian surfers have two things going against them: real-estate development along the coastline that spoil the waves, and the skyrocketing land prices that drive them further away from the ocean. “The water’s dirty, rents are out of control,” says a voice-over narrative, and every year it gets harder to live the hippie/surfer life without a big income. But living-legend surfers like the Malloy Brothers stress that “there are places other people usually pass over,” where the California dream of living off land and sea and soaking up the sun, still hold.

For the Malloys, one of these places is a point only a few miles from Los Angeles where “there are no police, no protection and no amenities. You’re uncomfortable most of the time, it’s kind of wild and you don’t know where your next meal is coming from. But at the end of the day, the experience is a lot more fun than getting into a cruise ship and going to a five-star hotel in Indonesia.”

No arguments there.

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