San Clemente's Brent Deal has made his living the past 15 years directing children's toy commercials, but he started out behind the camera on Hollywood film crews in the early 1990s and has always had an urge to make his own movie.
He finally made one—and then another within an eight-month span. H2indO and Decade of Dominance, Deal's feature-length documentaries surrounding the sport of stand-up paddle surfing (SUP), make their world premieres at the Newport Beach Film Festival, which opens Thursday, April 26.
Sipping a morning coffee outside the Gypsy Den in Costa Mesa, Deal concedes he figured moviemaking had "passed me by" when, knocking around San Clemente, he chatted up legendary local waterman Chuck Patterson, who a couple of years ago famously posted videos online of himself paddling near a pair of great white sharks off San Onofre State Beach. That's when it struck Deal: No movie has been made about SUP, or at least none he'd seen.
Decade of Dominance at Lido Theatre, www.newportbeachfilmfest.com. Sat., 8:15 p.m. $15; with admission to post-screening party, $40.
H2indO at Lido Theatre. Sun., 6 p.m. $12.
Promoters will tell you SUP has been the fastest-growing sport in America over the past decade, having moved ahead of snowboarding in popularity. Locals started noticing paddle surfers popping up with more frequency in the late 1990s, but the mode of transportation actually dates back to the early Polynesians.
With no personal experience with the sport, Deal began making H2indO as an overview about the rise of SUP, with various riders riding and talking heads talking. He figured he pretty much had the film in the can when he got a call from Patterson, who said Deal had to go with him on a two-week trip to Indonesia with six other world-class paddlers. When the filmmaker explained he could not leave his wife and two children under 10 for that long, Patterson shot back, "You're going on this trip," characterizing it as a once-in-a-lifetime gathering of SUP royalty.
Deal broke the news to his wife, Deina, and braced for an iron skillet to his noggin, but he was surprised when she said he had to go. "It was a great compliment," Deal says.
But he worried he'd be exposed as a fraud when he showed up at the boat in Indonesia with his bags of gear. H2indO even begins with Deal muttering something about not having a clue about SUP. Questioning whether he even belonged on the boat proved to be a bigger obstacle to him than lighting, equipment failure or managing clashing egos.
Coming in a close second as a hurdle was his own attempt to give SUP a try, something he did in board-breaking fashion. "No one wanted to loan me their board after that," Deal says with a laugh.
Once he got to really know the athletes floating alongside him, he realized he might have an even better film than he first envisioned. "I wanted it to be compared to Riding Giants or The Endless Summer, the greatest surf movies of all time," Deal says.
What sets those films apart from so-called "surf porn"—endless scenes of guys and gals doing amazing things on sticks while amped-up music blares—are the real human stories, something Deal hopes he captured. "I want the lady in Iowa who has never seen the water to enjoy a stand-up paddling movie," he says. "If that's the takeaway, I have done my job."
While making H2indO, it became apparent to Deal that one subject's human story required an entire movie: that of Australian waterman Jamie Mitchell, the unmatched eight-time winner of the Molokai to Oahu Paddleboard Race. Decade of Dominance charts Mitchell's pursuit of a 10th consecutive world title. But Deal's real goal was to try to figure out what makes Mitchell tick.
Deal recalls that after still photos of Mitchell were shot for the movie, the Aussie looked them over and immediately picked one. Examining it, Deal reassured Mitchell his nose hairs could easily be Photoshopped out of that picture. "No, mate," Mitchell responded. "This is who I am."
"That's the thing that impressed me about him," Deal says. "He is very laidback, the nicest guy in the world. But he has this switch, and when he turns on that switch, get out of the way. Of course, no one is ever in his way because he's always out in front."
With both films completed, Deal's executive producer Elyse Lewin, who had hired him years ago to work as director of photography on a commercial, contacted Leslie Feibleman, the Newport Beach Film Festival's action-sports programmer.
"I am fortunate to have a bulldog of an executive producer who got ahold of Leslie and said, 'We have a stand-up paddling movie, and you are going to want to watch it,'" Deal says.
Feibleman was so impressed with H2indO, she asked if Deal had any other other films. Hello, Decade of Dominance.
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The filmmaker is heading into his first film festival "like a wide-eyed kid," his biggest fear being his movies will be met by "crickets" in the theaters. That seems unlikely.
"The end quote of H2indO is me telling my wife she could have said no. She says, 'You were born to do this.'"
This article appeared in print as "Stand-Up Guy: Brent Deal's first two paddle-surfing movies go splash at Newport Beach Film Festival."