I wasn’t sure what to expect when I sat down to watch Dear & Yonder, a documentary on female surfers by local filmmakers Tiffany Campbell and Andria Lessler. Yes, I did expect water. And ladies on surfboards. But many surf docs that I’ve seen tend to hold up surfers as supermen, and I half-anticipated something similar. I wasn’t prepared for the transcendent experience that followed.
Dear & Yonder’s opening sequence is a takeoff on the intro to Riding Giants, a 2004 documentary on big wave riders. While Riding Giants’ whimsical overview of surf history features nary a woman, Dear & Yonder’s version playfully highlights influential female surfers. It seems to smile benevolently at Riding Giants’ male-centric version of the surfing experience, and move on to its own purpose.
The meat of Dear & Yonder is a series of glimpses into the lives of female surfers and one group of skaters. Shot in beautiful 16mm and featuring a contemplative soundtrack, lots of slow motion surf shots, the film conveys the meditative, transformative aspects of surfing. Absent are the crowds. Competition is minimal. The commentary is funny. There’s less the sense that the surfers are conquering nature than enjoying it.
There’s a sweet piece on Davis family day at the beach, in which the parents taking turns surfing while the other watches their young son. There’s a fun story about a group of girls on a surf junket to Mexico. We meet Belinda Baggs, a longboarder who sews her own boardshorts out of recycled fabrics. Ashley Lloyd, a board shaper who uses environmentally friendly biofoam blanks. Liz Clark, a surfer attempting to sail solo around the world, in search of waves. Young surf stars on tour. A group of girls shredding the pavement in Arizona. Though the skating segment felt a bit incongruous, there was still something joyful about watching them fly down the winding blacktop.