Last night Ambassador Sandy Kerr screened his latest film project to a local audience in his home town of Tynemouth, UK.
Ahead of a wider release later this year, it was important to the east coaster that this tight knit of family and friends got first look. An understanding of the importance of community that was most certainly handed down from his father and Tynemouth's first ever surf shop owner, Tony Kerr.
We caught up with Sandy on the phone before the premiere to talk about his fathers surfing influence.
So tell us about your old man and the birth of Sandy’s Surf Shop.
Yeah, that was back in 1991, the year I was born. It started just before that, he put a shop in the back of a café we owned which was on the beachfront. We had about two cosmic surf leashes in and four blocks of wax. Following that he thought he’d have a go at running a proper surf shop here and rented the premises in the tiny village of Tynemouth.
Was that your Dad’s first venture into surf or had he grown up surfing?
That’s the thing, he never had anything to do with surfing before that. He owned a greasy spoon café on the beach and that was simply a surfer’s hang out. Then I think he must have realised there was a really small surf scene up here and no surf shops accommodating for it, so thought he would branch out into that area of it. I think it was more set up to be a kind of community driven shop because he was never going to make lots of money up here; at the time there were only around 2 dozen surfers.
So I don’t know what his business plan was, he just wanted a space that surfer’s could use and hang out in, grab some bits and pieces for when they needed it as it was hard to come by leashes and other surf supplies up here. Before that everyone would have to travel down to Cornwall to get their gear.
So all this happened right as you were born. Sounds like he had plenty on his plate?
Yeah, my dad is proper worker. A Northern lad. Work was hard to come by in the north east during the eighties so if there was work to be had, he would be doing it. Originally he was trained as a mechanic, it’s kind of a Northern thing where work comes first.
But he wanted that balance where he could have friends and family involved with his work, I think in doing so he knew that you were never going to make a million. It was a big risk for him to branch out into a community minded shop, it was certainly a big move for him at the time.
And how well did it do? What was its reception?
Uh, it wasn’t very well received. As I’m sure you can imagine, North East surfers weren’t the most hospitable people at the time. People typically don’t want the line-ups to get any busier, so a lot of the local surfers weren’t that happy with it. But at the same time, my Dad would employ them, by hiring them as surf instructors or giving them boards or wetsuits to test. It was a strange time because they hated and loved it all at once. They didn’t like the idea of it but they enjoyed the proof of it.
So when did your Dad first introduce you to surfing?
Well, my Dad had the surf shop by the time I had started surfing. I was around 4. For a Christmas present he got a local guy, Simon Fathering to make me a surfboard. I remember getting it on Christmas day and it was like the best thing ever because it was the first board I could properly surf. I remember thinking, this is it, I’m a proper surfer now.
He took me out the next day, Boxing Day. I remember there was still snow on the ground but I was absolutely desperate to go surfing. Although my dad owned a surf shop, he wasn’t a surfer and didn’t know loads so he got me the best fitting wetsuit he could find and found one for himself. Got me boots and gloves over the top of my wetsuit – an obvious error to anyone who surfs. Took us down the beach walked over the sand and snow and took us surfing for however long. I was cold but I was in my element.
Was this the beginning of a father/son surfing duo?
My dad never really took up surfing. When I was still really young, I’d go on the front of his big board which were called breakers, kind of like a pop-out. A really heavy plastic single fin, 9ft long, it wasn’t a longboard or a minimal, it was just a lot of plastic. I started out on the front of those when he was trying to surf and I was trying to surf but yeah, that’s as far as my Dad’s surfing career went.
Safe to say it was your Dad who facilitated and inspired that love of the sea?
Without a doubt, as far back as I can remember it was always him down on the beach in and out of the water, in little rowing boats and stuff like that. Before I could even remember he was taking us down to the beach, putting us in the water, putting lobster pots in the sea or going snorkelling or swimming with us.
Even now, he’s touching 70 and without fail, whatever the weather he’ll go for a walk on the beach or go for a swim in the sea. If he’s got an injury or something like that he’ll go for some cold water therapy, if he’s stressed he’ll go jump in the water, anything, he just loves being around the sea.
Did your Dad having that significance in the surf community mean you grew up with some local celebrity of your own?
I think so, he sold the surf shop around 1995 so I was a bit young to remember it totally. I was totally just brought up around the sea and being known as Sandy from Sandy’s Surf Shop or Tony’s son.
When I was 14 or so, I would paddle out back and ask the surfers “do you know my dad?? Tony?” they would be like we know Tony, we know you, we’ve know you since you were a kid. I used to drop my Dad’s name so they would share the waves.
Is your dad still somewhat of a legend over there in Tynemouth?
Massively, everyone knows me Dad, the café is where I have some of my fondest childhood memories and it was the biggest local hang out for me, my two older brothers, all of their friends, their parents, our whole community.
My dad would encourage us to be in the water, he put bouncy castles (another side business) up for us on the beach and through that everyone knows who he is. He’ll drive through town; which is only a few miles long and is constantly waving, tooting, pulling over to speak to somebody. It takes him forever to get anywhere because everybody says hi. Still a huge community man.
So your parents will be there tomorrow night for the screening of your new film?
Yeah. They’ve never seen me surf anywhere other than the local spots. It’s nice to know they’re proud. He’s said he’s going to turn up dressed with wetsuits and body boards to embarrass me. To tell everyone that I’m really a body boarder at heart.
Are there any other fond memories from your surf upbringing?
When I was 16 I got an apprenticeship with an electrician. This was still around the time that it was a really sought after job, everyone in the north wanted to go off and learn a trade. So when you got an apprenticeship, it was considered a good job, but I hated it. I only did it for 6 months before sacking it off.
So in the winter when there were waves, I would finish at 4pm and we would only have about half an hour of daylight left. My dad would be waiting for me with my wetsuit turned the right way out, all in the car, ready to just take us down to the beach to get that last half hour of light and surfing in because he knew how much I hated the building sites. What a hero.