Surfer Chris Malloy on The Making of Groundswell
Keystone XL isn't the only pipeline in the works that will send oil from Alberta oil sands to far-off lands. Canadian pipeline builder Enbridge wants to build a new pipe to connect Edmonton with the port of Kitimat in northern British Columbia, where oil would be loaded onto tankers and shipped through the Douglas Channel, headed to Asia and California. The proposal, called the Northern Gateway Project, may be approved later this year but has attracted opposition from environmentalists and Aboriginal people on the B.C. coast. (Check out this story for more details on the proposal.)
The Raincoast Conservation Foundation is fighting the pipeline and appealed to gear-maker Patagonia to get the word out. Patagonia turned to filmmaker and surf ambassador Chris Malloy, who, along with a team of B.C. surfers and Raincoast's Chris Darimont, sailed along the coast on a surf safari/reconnaissance mission to see the proposed tanker shipping lanes. The result is Groundswell, a short film that Malloy is currently editing for release this fall.
I talked to Malloy about the journey, the movie, and what inspires him to document threatened landscapes.
–Mary Catherine O'Connor
What compelled you to make Groundswell? What kind of impact do you think it will make?
I was motivated to go up there and see it with my own eyes, so people [who watch the film] could see what is at stake. A lot of people will see the film and say “OK, I don't give a shit, we should still [build the pipeline]. And that's fine. But I want them to know what's there, because they're not being educated about what's at stake. I grew up in California, and our rivers at one time were full of steelhead. We had bears walking along the coast. The Great Bear Rainforest is the last of the last, and when it's gone, it's gone. That, to me, is worth putting the time in to make the film.
What were your impressions of the place, and of surfing there?
I've never been in water with so much life around me. There were bears on the beach with salmon in their mouths, orcas in the water around the boat, bald eagles in the trees. The coastline is like nowhere else on earth. There's huge surf, big winds, it's so tempestuous that everything has to be just right to get good waves. We can go to a place like Indonesia and get six hours of good surfing each day. We were [on the B.C. coast] for two or three weeks and we got about five hours of good surfing — and that was with a Canadian crew that had done its research. If someone wants to surf there, they have to put in the time and effort.
It was as amazing as any surf experience I've ever had.
Chris Malloy on location. Photo: Jeremy Koreski
What about the people you met?
If you tell people that there are all these natural resources up there, and we don't want you to touch them, they get pissed. I'm not of the leave-it-alone school, but the people who send resources across the world, their only goal is to show profit. There are places where [how resources are used] should be the decision of the people who live there. One thing that really struck me when I talked to First Nation people is that they've been stewards of the land for a long time, logging, hunting, and fishing. They said: “We want to continue to do that. We don't want to make it just trails for rich tourists.” I think that's important for people to know. It'll be an element of the film.
More than anything, I don't want my voice to be the voice of the film, I want the images of the place to tell the story and the people who are from there to tell the story.
Chris Malloy on location. Photo: Jeremy Koreski
Many of your films, including 180°South, have an environmental ethic or message. What motivates you?
I came up in my late teens as a traveling pro surfer, so I basically traveled 10 months out the year and was in a position where mostly I was going out to places that hadn't been surfed, looking for new surf discoveries. There were so many of these to be made in the 90s. When we'd find somewhere really special, whether it was in Indonesia, or South America, or somewhere else, we'd make pilgrimages back every few years.
I started to notice the changes that were happening. I remember being in villages in Sumatra in 1992, where families were using native materials for their clothes and buildings. I wasn't naive enough to think their lives were perfect, but I saw traditions that were handed down over generations. Every year it would change a bit and within five years I saw the same exact families, but by then Pepsi and cigarettes and alcohol had come into the village. The dad would be in Java, working on an oil tanker. Kids weren't learning to fish or farm. There was plastic and trash everywhere.
Ii didn't make me become super judgmental, it just made me realize I was lucky enough, through surfing, to go to places and document them. This made me realize the opportunity I had.
There are growing ranks for surfers…By documenting these places and telling a more rounded story I felt like I could help enlighten the surfing population.
That's what got me going and got me to make more environmentally-focused films. It's what inspired me.