Rick Chatillon is sitting next to his wife, Ann, in the Starbucks near Newport Boulevard and Via Lido in Newport Beach, roughly facing the Lido Theater.
That’s the same historic movie house where the Chatillons’ documentary Living It Forever will make its world premiere on April 28.
Actually, the Chatillons are pointed more toward Lido Drugs, which for years was Richard’s Market, where Rick worked as a box boy back in the 1960s, when 13-year-olds could hold such jobs.
As for the spot he’s sitting in, years ago, it was the women’s department of Bidwell clothing store, where Rick’s mother worked until it moved across town to Westcliff Plaza and later changed its name.
Rick, who graduated from Newport Harbor High School, cannot move 5 feet in this beach town without bumping into a bit of personal nostalgia.
Approaching his 58th birthday, he has been surfing since the early 1960s and has hung 10 all over the world. But every morning he’s in town begins at 22nd Street.
“It’s a great wave when it breaks,” he says. “It’s just home, where you want to surf with friends.”
Living It Forever’s producer has, in fact, been living it forever. And the Chatillons believe the first surfers of the breaks near Newport Pier deserve recognition by the surfing world and beyond. “I feel they are the unsung heroes,” says Ann, the documentary’s writer and director.
Look at a surf report, and you’ll see the 22nd Street breaks identified as Blackies, in honor of the infamous watering hole that is separated by sand and parking lot from the waves. Rick remembers when it got even more specific than that, when a particular 22nd Street break was known as “Barstools” because it lined up with the bar’s outdoor seating.
The collection of nearby businesses that constitute what is now known as McFadden Plaza was raunchy back in the day, and it largely still is now, despite high rents and the presence of the upscale 21 Oceanfront restaurant.
But, as the engaging and informative Living It Forever shows, Newport Beach’s pioneering surfers loved 22nd Street then and still do now.
Some interviewed onscreen have gone on to great success, such as legendary tattoo artist, printmaker and painter Ed Hardy; world-renowned filmmaker Greg MacGillivray; and Old Guys Rule clothing founder Don Craig.
Three early United States Surfing Association (USSA) champions, who were crowned upcoast near Huntington Beach Pier, considered 22nd Street their home breaks: Ron Sizemore (1961), Ilima Kalama (1962) and David Nuuhiwa (1968 and ’70). They are also interviewed in the film, as are other 22nd Street surfers such as former NBA player John Vallely; Russell Surfboards founder Bobby Russell Brown; creator of the classic Penetrator surfboard mold John Peck; and, apparently, the only girls who used to surf 22nd Street, sisters Ann Kilroy and Sue Kilroy Hahn, both grandmas now.
Alex Knost, who surfs on the Vans and RVCA teams and forms half the music duo Tomorrows Tulips, is among the younger interviewees in Living It Forever, which is narrated by “Surf Junkie” Jeff Malanca, who writes an Orange County Register surf column and hits 22nd 365 days a year.
Despite hassles from cops, douchebags from the Inland Empire and city fathers who imposed a surf tax, 22nd Street’s first surfers stuck to their passion and opened the woody door for future wave riders such as Knost. That’s the legend Living It Forever amplifies.
“This is Rick’s labor of love,” Ann says of her husband, a freelance videographer with clients such as banks and Hoag Memorial Hospital.
She has been writing and shooting photos for Coast magazine since founder/former publisher Jim Wood approached her 15 years ago to join his start-up. Her reporting came in handy in identifying, locating and interviewing the people who appear in her 77-minute film. “We became sleuths,” she says.
“Like Sherlock Holmes,” adds Rick.
He turned to social networking, finding Facebook particularly helpful. “It was like a chain reaction,” he recalls. “We’d get one person, then get a phone call out of the blue from someone else saying, ‘I was there in ’59.’”
More impressive than the lineup is Living It Forever’s archival footage. “That was key,” Ann says.
Rick owned a color lab in the late 1990s when customer Ralph Myers, a retired San Clemente businessman, had him work on 16mm film that turned out to be footage of 22nd Street surfers. Myers didn’t think much of it when Rick told him the footage was historical and should be presented as such. The retiree believed the memories contained in the film only interested him.
Years passed, the color lab closed when the world went digital, but “Rick was not able to get this footage out of his mind,” Ann explains.
When he later learned that Myers’ pal Tom Jewell also shot film of surfers in the 1950s and ’60s and that MacGillivray possessed still more early footage of surfers and life at Newport Harbor High School, Rick got the idea for a documentary.
MacGillivray, co-founder of Laguna Beach 3-D and large-format production company MacGillivray Freeman Films, “gave us a reel and said, ‘Do what you want with it,’” recalls Rick, still sounding as if he can’t believe the gift.
What’s amazing about MacGillivray’s early movies is that they show the surfers in Myers and Jewell’s wave-riding footage out of the water: partying, attending school events, riding homemade skateboards created by nailing metal roller-skate wheels into lumber and even sneaking kisses between classes.
“Not being a surfer, I love all that other footage,” says Ann, whose project was rounded out with early scenes shot by Ted Nikas and several other home movies.
Mike “Red” Marshall, an early surfer and board shaper who passed away earlier this year, “was a big help,” according to Ann, who says exposing the world to Red’s role in the rise of surf culture is partly what motivated her husband.
It was Marshall who helped the fledgling filmmakers sort their time line, explaining when surfers from Newport Beach and Corona del Mar first came together and how they evolved from body surfing to inflatable rafts to surfboards.
Another crucial role Marshall played in the production was getting the filmmakers access to Hardy, the Corona del Mar-born artist and early 22nd Street surfer who was known then as “Fat Rat.” (It turns out all the Newport surfers had often-uncomplimentary nicknames.)
Hardy’s longtime pal Marshall took the Chatillons to a party in Los Angeles celebrating the publication of an art book by the now-San Francisco-based illustrator who inspired the Ed Hardy clothing line overseen by designer Christian Audigier.
Cutting through the handlers and schmoozers, Marshall managed to get the couple a solo, hour-long spot interview with his friend in a side room—much to the chagrin of a Japanese film crew who had to wait an hour beyond their scheduled shoot time. “He was really a nice guy,” Ann says of Hardy.
The couple was thrilled to have been able to screen Living It Forever for Marshall before he died. “He was able to preview a rough cut a few days before he had a stroke, went into a coma and never came out of it,” Ann says. “I am so glad he saw that movie.”
Rick boasts that as far as he knows, this is the first documentary to present such an early and extensive view of surfers from a California coastal town in the 1950s and ’60s.
The couple guesstimates the total film budget will be $25,000. “We’re still spending,” notes Ann, explaining new music and “sound sweetening” was still being added to the film as they spoke—“and the clock is ticking” toward the deadline to turn a completed film in to the festival.
Three donors gave the couple about $5,000 each to complete the project. The Chatillons hope to make their investment back through distribution and are encouraged by positive response to the documentary’s trailer on YouTube.
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“People are flying in from various parts of the country,” she says. “I figure once it premieres, it will open doors for us.”
Living It Forever screens at Regency Lido Theater, 3459 Via Lido, Newport Beach, (949) 673-8350; regencymovies.com. April 28, 7 p.m.
This story appeared in print as "Positively 22nd Street: Early Newport Beach surfers & their favorite spot (which you may know as Blackies) get their historical due in Living It Forever."