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A Life Outside
updated: Feb 07, 2014, 3:02 PM
By Rosie Sullivan
Documentary, directed by Catherine Brabec, 83 mins run time
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I love documentaries and am a sucker for shots of the ocean so I went into this film expecting to
thoroughly enjoy it. And while A Life Outside has plenty of great shots of surfers and the ocean, it is
centered around six leathery-skinned, sun-beaten men reminiscing about a time long past.
This documentary is the tale of six individuals who established surfing in the 1950s and ‘60s. Hailing from
Seaside Heights, New Jersey, these men (there were very few female surfers at the time) pioneered surfing
on the east coast. Chris and Greg Mesanko, Richard Luthringer, Kevin Casey, Bucky Walters, and Jim Purpuri
were part of a subculture of ‘bums' and ‘dangers to society' that came out of Seaside, a resort town
developed in the 1900s. There was no seriousness, no wetsuits, and no small lightweight boards. These
surfers only worked so they could surf and continue to chase the perfect wave. It is an obsession only
fellow surfers can truly understand.
Comprised of interviews intertwined with archival footage from the fifties and sixties and super eight surf
footage, the film documents the passion of surfers. Surfing is described as an immediate addiction; after
the moment you catch your first wave and it lifts you up and you are going, there is no turning back. We
hear from many surf legends and world champions (Mike Doyle, Corky Carroll, Paul Naude, Mickey Muñoz,
and others) as well as the six that the film centers around. They all seem to be answering the same
questions: "Why do you do it?" and "What's it like?" Great questions but it began to feel repetitive. There
were also many montages of still photographs of old Seaside and from the lives of the men. Mostly pictures
but I wondered why some of them were included; it ended up looking like a weird slideshow of images that
did not necessary mix with the film. And the accompanying music! - some odd choices that were quite off-
putting. There was constant music playing behind all the interviews and with every shot. Instead of adding
to the overall effect, it often detracted. Shifting from guitar strums, to mu-mu elevator music, to Pink
Floyd's "Comfortably Numb," and then to drumming, the soundtrack was at times distracting more than
anything else. It did not meld with the dialogue and visuals.
The film really is just a bunch of men who got together to talk about something they love. They discuss the
‘first moment,' the clique-y nature of some, and the culture of surfing. And that is fine - except that I wish
there had been the development of a narrative of surfing and how it has changed over the years. The film
gives the gist of how surfing became so popular and touches on how it evolved into such a huge industry
but is more concerned with conveying the overwhelming passion that grips surfers and portraying their
love for the ocean and all nature. This film endeavor was a nostalgic longing for a subculture that is no
longer around and was, at times, a not-so-well put together collection of memories. These men long for
the feeling of catching waves and the state of mind they have when surfing. This feeling sounds fantastic
and is well conveyed in the film but still, I think it is something only people who have been on a surfboard
and caught a wave will truly understand.
The famous Casino Pier, built in 1932 in Seaside Heights, was sadly destroyed by Hurricane Sandy in
October, 2012. The men in this documentary were greatly affected by the collapse of the pier. To them, it
represented their childhood and was a magical spot where 50 years of surfing had happened. This film is a
way to keep the memories of the pier - and of the way surfing used to be - alive. The take away from A Life
Outside is to live life fully, doing whatever it is you are passionate about, and to do it close to the beauty of
nature. The film opens with the quote "If there's magic in the planet, it's contained in the water" and
surfers clearly believe in this. Cowabunga!
(Note: This film would not have been made without the support of Kickstarter fans so thanks to all the
donations that made this documentary possible - I'm sure the film crew really appreciated the opportunity
to get to document a few old-time surfers!)
The cast of the film A Life Outside on the red carpet. Catherine Brabec (Director), Greg Mesanko,
(surfer/cast), Chris Mesanko (surfer/cast), Kevin Casey (surfer/cast), and Jim Purpuri (surfer/cast).
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