New York surfer, filmer and director John Beattie documents the culture and lifestyle of Long Island surfers. Creative filming pairs with inspiring actions shots to create the award winning film, A Hundred Miles to the End. Featured in the SMASH Film Festival this past summer, Beattie’s film has reached out to both surfers and non-surfers alike, shocking many with the slightly taboo idea of surfing in New York. The Surf Channel took some time to find out more about the new film and what inspirations contributed to the completion of A Hundred Miles to the End.
THE SURF CHANNEL: How were you introduced to filmmaking?
JOHN BEATTIE: I’ve always had an interest in filming surfing but being in the water was more important, so I rarely took the time to stand on the beach and film. As my wife and I raised our kids, I started filming all of the family events. I was always the kind of person who got the latest technology. 8mm film, then super 8, then super 8 with sound etc. As soon as video cameras became available to consumers, I got one. Eventually I started to film surfing and would make little “movies” of the many family vacations we took all of which had to include the possibility of surfing. I’d save my money and up grade to have the best camera I could afford.
What do you hope people will learn from your film, “A Hundred Miles to the End”?
JB: I hope people will see what a great surf culture we have here in New York and how it has grown from a small group of high school and college aged guys, to a popular lifestyle that spans generations of people and includes people from every walk of life. I hope people will start to see that Long Island isn’t just a small back water of New York City, but it is a very diversified and beautiful place, with a great variety of surf breaks and some really talented and devoted surfers.
When did you start surfing?
JB: During the early 60’s, there were several movies featuring surfing that were very popular. Movies like Giget, Beach Blanket Bingo and The Beach Boys became very big at the same time. So as a result, surfing became something “cool”. In 1963, I was in 8th grade and a few of my classmates were into surfing. That first year or so, I really didn’t get to go surfing much because I didn’t have a board or a way to get to the beach. Then one day, my parents arranged for me to go surfing with their friends’ son who was a surfer.
He was in high school and he had a boat and two surfboards. We went to Hemlocks. I remember that day quite well. It was a warm sunny summer day. The surf was shoulder to head high and the wind was off shore so the conditions were perfect. Somehow I paddled right out without any problem even though I had no idea what I was doing. I remember paddling for waves and being pretty scared as I looked down the face of the wave so I chickened out and didn’t catch any of them. Yet, I realized that surfing was definitely for me.
The next summer I got my first board as a birthday gift. It was a 10’6″ Bunger and I got a “shorty” wetsuit too, so I was really ready to go.
I remember my first wave. It was on my new board. I remember paddling for the wave then the feeling of the board moving on it’s own as the wave picked up the tail of the board. I remember watching (like it was slow motion) as the nose of the board started to dive under the water just like you would see a submarine diving in the movies. I pearled, but I learned my first lesson. Soon afterwards, I actually rode a wave and had that feeling of total freedom like I was flying. No sounds other than the board making a slight slapping sound as I rode the wave.It was the best thing I had ever done in my life.
Where is your home break?
JB: I’ve lived in Central Long Island for the past 32 years. Raising four kids and working long hours, so it was necessary for me to go to the closest beach to maximize my water time. Smith Point Beach has been my home break. It’s a typical Long Island beach break with shifting sand bars that cause the waves to break differently all the time. Most of our swells are short period local swells so it’s usually shifty peaks. It’s kind of annoying because the line up shifts enough that you have to constantly paddle for position.
On the other hand, it has some positive effects. You develop a lot of stamina and can paddle for hours and because of the shifting line up you get really good at reading the waves and figuring where the next set is going to peak. That is a big advantage when traveling around the world to new spots. I can sit and watch on the beach for a little while and know exactly where I should position myself, even though I never surfed there before.
The central part of Long Island is a large area and surfers are spread out over many towns, most of which don’t really have much of a surf culture. I refer to Central LI as lone wolf territory, because basically, many of us just see each other in the line up and don’t necessarily hang out except at the beach. The Babylon (Gilgo Beach) area being an exception. One of the things you see in the film is how different and varied the beaches and surf is on Long Island from Long Beach which is just outside of NYC, to Montauk all the way at the tip of LI or “The End” as we call it.
What inspired you to make A Hundred Miles to The End?
JB: I wanted to make a surf film for years, but just never got around to it. As I mentioned before, I wanted to surf not stand on the beach when the waves were good. So fate changed everything for me one day in March of 2007.
I woke up about 4:30 in the morning. My right arm and leg were numb. Being a medical professional, I knew right away I was having a stroke. I had my wife call my oldest son to take me to the hospital. Within four hours, my arm and leg were paralyzed and I couldn’t speak more than one word at a time. It took me about a year and a half to improve enough so that I could drive again.
As soon as my doctor gave me the go ahead to drive I knew that I had to get back to the beach. If I couldn’t surf anymore, I would film others surfing. I started posting clips on YouTube. Then one day, a friend called me and said he and some friends were going to Block Island for the Hurricane Bill swell. They wanted to know if I would come along and film the trip. Up until then, I hadn’t done anything other than go to Smith Point to film the locals, so I asked my wife what she thought. She said; “John I think you should go for it”. So my friends and I went to Block Island for three days and I filmed the whole trip. When we got home, I edited it down to a 45-min movie and we got together to watch it. One of my friends said they would have paid to buy it if it was sold in a surf shop. They said I should make a surf film….
And that’s how it all started.
What makes New York surf culture unique?
JB: Well, New Yorkers have many traits that make us somewhat unique to begin with. New York City is an amazing place and it influences how we all live and think. The diversity of people from around the world and their contribution to our collective culture gives us a deep and well balanced outlook on things in general. The fact that we have surfers from all over the world who live in NY because of the opportunities in NY, also gives us that diversity in our surfing community that enriches it.
One of the unique things in New York surf culture is that it varies greatly from one part of Long Island to the next. Basically, we have three areas. Also, I think what make us unique is the devotion and love of surfing even to the point of looking forward to surfing in the winter when it’s bitter cold just to have uncrowded perfect waves.Western LI, which is very close to NYC and more urban in nature. There is more of a sense of community and organization than most of Long Island. The access to NYC and all of it’s assets influences Western LI, especially the Long Beach area. Central LI being spread out and less organized, you can easily find miles and miles of undeveloped and uncrowded beaches to explore. Lone Wolf country.
Eastern LI where you have the Hamptons with all of it’s crusty “upper class” wealthy people with amazingly big and beautiful homes and “private” beaches. It becomes a challenge to get access to these beaches, but there are ways to do it and it can pay off with uncrowded surf. Then there’s the Eastern most part of LI where there is a more tight knit surfing community of surfers who in many cases moved out there when they were “young” to have the more laid back lifestyle and then raised their kids there and of coarse the variety of surf breaks which exist there that don’t exist in most of the East Coast.
How has participating in the SMASH FEST helped the film’s success?
JB: Winning the “Viewers Choice Award” blew me away. To know that my fellow New York surfers appreciated and understood what I was trying to do was all I could ever hope for. I was really happy to hear from surfers from other places in the world who happened to see the film at SMASH FEST contact me just to say how much they loved the film, too.
I made this film with NY surfers in mind, but it looks like both surfers and non surfers from all over the world enjoyed it.I’m hoping more of surfing’s “establishment” will take note and see that we have as deep and devoted surfing community as exists anywhere in the world.
Did you make the film you aspired to create?
JB: I wasn’t sure how to do it when I started. I just knew that I hadn’t been to many of the beaches I loved to surf in many years and it would be the perfect excuse to get to know the places and the people who were surfing them now. I asked my son, Jon, who went to film school and is a professional how I should go about making a documentary about surfing in New York, and he told me to just keep shooting a lot of footage and eventually the story would reveal itself. He was right!
I just wanted to share my love for surfing and my appreciation for all the good people and places and good times I had because of surfing, especially New York surfing.