Saturday, 16 May 2015

Bella Vita, Surfing and Pure Italian Style.

This weekend I had the pleasure of watching Bella Vita, Jason Baffa's latest surf film.  I had been looking forward to this for quite some time. Having treated myself to a copy of the DVD from Mollusk while in San Francisco, it received its debut in our house on Saturday evening.

I had anticipated that it would be a great film, based upon Single Fin Yellow and my all time favorite, One California Day.  I wasn't disappointed, not at all.

The film is made beautifully. For a start it is shot entirely in 35mm, giving it a really lovely look and feel, capturing the colours of the Mediterranean and the Tuscany countryside in their full vibrance. The narrative is absolutely lovely, providing an insightful look at so much, surfing related as well as Italian customs and culture. Put simply, the film has got soul.

As for the surfing, well that is everything you would want it to be, plenty of great footage of CDM, styling in the Italian waves and mixing it with the locals. He is joined by Dave Rastovich, as well as the talented Coffin brothers, and of course a whole host of local Italian surfers. They look like a colourful bunch of characters and not only do they surf incredibly well, they also have a huge amount of soul, not to mention enthusiasm, and an underlying passion for the ocean and surfing.

It is a highly crafted surf film, capturing a lot of the aspects of surf culture that I can really connect with, as well as elements of the Italian lifestyle that are really appealing. For it portrays the scene so perfectly, and as with the previous two films from Mr Baffa, it is a true celebration of surf culture, in a real sense.  He really does get it, and skillfully translates the beauty of surfing through his films.

I love this side of surfing, away from the mainstream, the modern identikit high performance movement. This is surfing for me, soulful, stylish and with more than a slight nod to the past, embracing the traditional without being too retro. It is riding waves for the fun of it and the pursuit of doing something super special that connects us with the ocean and sharing the whole experience.  I also loved the fact that the Italian surf scene as portrayed embraces many aspects of Californian surf culture, while adding an whole new twist that is full of rich Italian flavour.

And this is theme is why I liked it so much. The realisation that the individualism that is in short supply with many aspects of surf culture thrives in Italy. This being despite the fact Italy is not exactly known for its quality surf. I have been to the area and had no idea that there was potential for surf along the Tuscany coast, next time I visit I am taking a board!

I really enjoy hearing people's stories and how they fit in to a world that I know and can really relate to. Bella Vita provided this, and the experience left me feeling truly inspired afterwards. I know that the film will become a firm favorite, adding to my collection of go-to surf films.  There for me whenever I need to add some stoke, inspiration, or simply want to watch something that is beautiful. 

Moody and Beautiful...

A Hoppy Taste of California.

Whenever I get back from my travels I always hold on to the feeling by enjoying the things that I had while I was away, if possible.  One of these things is beer.

Beers sampled and enjoyed on European visits are usually pretty easy to come by at home, my favourites of American Craft variety less so.

Many of these are produced by small, local breweries, as such they are only available in the immediate area, even some of the larger ones do not export.  However, luckily for me one of my all time favourite beers is Anchor Steam, which you can find over here, it's quite rare, but obtainable, with a bit of effort. So I thought that this would be a nice treat that reminded me of my trip.

A quick search found several possible sources online, but I also tracked some down and found some in a shop just around the corner.  The guy on the phone told me that he only had a few cases left, so as the weather was conducive to beer drinking I feared that they would all be gone by the weekend.  A trip to said shop immediately took place.

I located the craft beers in the shop, and sure enough there was the Anchor Steam, but wait, what is that I spy.  Why it was no less than Lagunitas IPA, a beer that I discovered on this last trip, sampled at several stages throughout Northern California, including on a Delta Airlines flight from SF to LA, served in a glass bottle, which I though was against regulations, but there you go, and I wasn't complaining.  Anyway, I never for a minute thought that I would be able to find it back at home, never mind in a shop a few minutes from my work.

Oh how wrong I was, and I am so glad that I will be enjoying a few of them over the weekend.

Mollusk Surf Shop...Surf Retail Perfection.

Surf shops get me as excited now as they did when I was a grom, in fact I really struggle to pass one by.  Wherever I am in the world, if I spot one, I'm in it.

I have my favourites that are both local and further afield, and I love discovering new ones too.  But I never fail to get excited when I visit a good one.  I get a real sense of anticipation when I enter through the doors, and then once inside I am hit with the sight of all that surf stuff, the smell of wetsuit neoprene and board wax filling the air.

Every now and then I get to visit a Surf Shop that is on my wish list.  One such shop is Mollusk in San Francisco, which has been on my radar for quite some time, and recently I was able to visit it in person. I wasn't disappointed.

As we were heading south from Guerneville to Monterey we would have been pretty much passing the door, so the zip code was plugged into the GPS and off we went.  The journey itself was outstanding in itself, we travelled through wine country, farm country, the Marin Hills, then over the bridge and into San Francisco, all in beautiful Spring morning sunshine with an incredible selection of music on the car stereo.  Not a bad way to spend a Wednesday morning.

On arriving at the shop we parked right outside, and what a sight greeted us.  The shop looks fantastic, and through the large front window I could see the incredible selection of surf related treasures on display.  I couldn't get out of the car and in through the doors quick enough.

As soon as I was in through the doors I got that surf shop smell that I know and love so much.  The shop has an amazing vibe, one that is friendly, laid back and everything that I would want a surf shop of its kind to be.  We were greeted by the lady working there, who got chatting to K about weddings and al sorts, it turned out that she and her partner were also married at City Hall, just a few weeks previously. So cool.

I was blown away by the selection of boards that were racked up from floor to ceiling, down the whole of one of the walls.  They were my kind of boards and true things of beauty.  Mandalas, Campbell Brothers, Gary Hanels, Tyler Warrens, they were all here, looking resplendent.  I could have bought any one of them.  Alas, I feared that they would have succumbed horrible damage on the plane journey home,which would have been a shame. So despite the strong feelings of temptation, I decided to leave without one.

I did however pick up a copy of Jason Baffa's, Bella Vita, which I had been holding back on buying until this trip,  To get my copy from Mollusk made it even more special. I also picked up a hooded sweatshirt and K an new t-Shirt, which she is stoked with.  The lady also gave me some free stickers, I always like that!

So all-in-all it was a wholly exciting and enjoyable experience. The shop was everything that I wanted it to be, friendly, smiley with a great vibe.  The selection of stock is just perfect and everything is set out in such a way that it all looks simply beautiful. Plus it is a mere block or two from Ocean Beach, the perfect testing ground for any new board.

I cannot wait to get the opportunity to go back, next time one of those boards will be coming home with me, for sure!

The Only Place.

Every trip that I make to California gives me a fresh perspective.  I come back home feeling rejuvenated and inspired.  In short I always bring a bit of the vibe back with me.

There are many, many things that I love about California, these include the climate, the light, the colour of the Pacific, the sunsets, the wildlife, the incredible variety of plants and flowers that grow naturally.  I love the surf culture, the car old scene, the emphasis on outdoors living, the list goes on and on.  In short I'm a big fan of CA, and have been for a very long time.

This latest trip filled me with so much inspiration, perhaps even more so than on previous visits - yep, we are talking about a lot of inspiration. I think a big reason behind this is because the amazing trip that we had involved taking in a whole range of different places, a significant number of which were wholly new to us, although did go to many of our favorites as well.  We set out wanting to experience new things, involving seeing parts of California that were less visited, quieter and interesting with more emphasis on the country, away from cities and urban areas. We achieved all of these things.

The areas were explored were mainly coastal Northern California, as well as the Central Coast, which we travelled to by way of Big Sur.  The Big Sur coast is a real favorite of ours, and as always the experience was truly outstanding, especially given that we went through there on a perfect, sunny Saturday, calm and sunny with a slight ocean mist, perfect!  On our trip we ventured inland a bit too, having been recommended a town named Guerneville, on the Russian River, this was a really interesting place, and again, very different from anywhere we had been to previously in the state.  Each day was an adventure and we ended up covering a lot of miles in Frank, the Hyundai (Senata). Along the way we took in so many amazing sights, met a lot of really lovely people and had lots of fun everywhere we went.  Everything about the trip was wholly positive, but the thing that really struck me was just how fantastic the Nor-Cal vibe is.  I have spent quite a lot of time in California these past ten years, and it is no secret that I love it there. This has now been reinforced further still by our latest experience.

To begin with the scenery is outstanding and very different to other parts of the state that I become familiar with.  This is especially true of the stretch of coast north of San Francisco, principally Sonoma and Mendocino counties, where the population is low and the development is minimal, resulting in beautiful countryside and coastline that has not been spoiled by over development. Not in the slightest, in fact I doubt if things have changed that much for decades.  For while there is a lot of farming activity, which has tamed the land to a degree, much of the terrain consists of established redwood forests and open country where you cannot see a single house or anything else man made.  There really seems to be a deep respect for the land here, there isn't a whole lot to spoil the view, no littering, or wonton damage to the environment is apparent. This is in stark contrast to other places in the State, where I often find myself wondering what it would have looked like years ago, before the developers made their mark on the landscape.  The coastline also has the characteristics that give it a much more rugged appearance, there are far fewer sandy beaches here, invariably the dark rock of the cliffs are met by the by the Pacific at their base, where the powerful long distance swells unleash a huge amount of energy upon the rock. Sea mist rises through the trees, many of which are old, and long established cedars, pines and eucalyptus, the latter filling the air with their aroma, adding to the atmosphere.  All of these things combine to create a landscape that is truly beautiful and you feel a real sense of being at the edge of the continent. 

While sparsely populated, the small towns that are situated in this part of California are full of character, and characters!  We were me with so many smiles, hellos and people seemed to have the time to stop and talk, with an openness and enthusiasm that I really liked.  Added to which they are small, really small (the town, not the people!). The population count of many was just a few hundred, this made for some quiet, unspoiled towns with lovely atmospheres and a tangible sense of community.  Also, the area has not been exploited in the name of tourism, a fate that has fallen on many places further south, sadly.

Something else that I really liked was that the area is beautiful and interesting just the way it is, there is now need for man made enhancements.  Furthermore, there is more to the culture and vibe of the area than beach and surf culture alone, it is far more diverse and this richness was something that I really appreciated.  For I have found that in recent years the surf towns that I have been to have gone to seed somewhat.  Undoubtedly caused by vapid commercialisation and the selling of surf culture to the general populous as has been the case back at home, albeit on a much smaller scale. Although the results are similar principally an experience that lacks any authenticity, in that any real connection with surfing heritage has been forgotten, as has the natural environment. This is certainly not the case in Northern California.

We we there during the quiet season, the roads were quiet and tourists virtually non existent. But I got the feeling that even in Summer things don't get all that crazy. There was certainly very little evidence of mass tourism in evidence.

So I have come home with even more love for the State of California, strengthened by the beauty that I found up North of San Francisco. And yet it is so different to the places that I already know and love. I know that I have grown an incredible amount since my last visit, so maybe this gave me a fresh perspective. Or it could be that I am in a different place now, so can fully appreciate the absolute beauty, as well as the overall vibe of Northern California. It could simply be that I have gotten a little bit older and like the quiet life! Whatever the reasons, I am so pleased to have experienced this part of California. The trip has left me feeling truly rejuvenated, the challenge is to keep the feeling alive now that I am home.