Over the month of October we were visited by two South African Dragonslayers, who brought with them a silver screen sensation for our enjoyment. Satori is the story of a brotherhood of big wave surfers and the visceral experiences they chase.
After a scintillating run of screenings across our stores, we caught up with Dougal Paterson for some words on the journey and bringing their story to the surfing communities of the UK.
Rick & I weren’t friends and so I was surprised to get an email from him.
He was local surf royalty and I was a rogue outsider.
His email gave a brief description of the term “Satori” and asked if I’d ever experienced something like that in big waves ?
Satori (悟り) is a Japanese Buddhist term for awakening, "comprehension; understanding".
Satori refers to the experience of kenshō, "seeing into one's true nature".
At the time, I was holed up in a back alley room in Dubai. Far from home and missing my family, I was en-route to a mystical big wave in Chile. I wrote back attaching a photo taken a few months earlier. In it, I was gliding into the flats after riding an impossible wave. Eyes closed, head back, arms raised, I was utterly undone. I told him, “your Satori, are my thin-places. Thin-places are where the envelope between this world and the next feels especially….thin.” Rick was making a movie about moments of Satori using Africa’s big waves as the backdrop.
I wanted in.
Our first UK screening was in London where the movie played to a packed house. There was the occasional hoot and some chuckles, but mostly, the theatre was a hush of immersive silence. The faces of our crew filled the giant screen, interspersed by miniaturized versions of us sliding down mountains of water.
There was Cass’s magnetic grin and lyrical delivery, Simon’s gruff booming voice, Ross’s tears, Andrews comical wisdom and Jakes uncharacteristically humble confession that he didn’t think he was good enough to be out there.
After each screening we’d do 45 minutes of storytelling. The Q&A would play out in much the same style as the interviews in the movie. Sometimes we’d end up asking each other questions and talking as if there was no one else in the room. Pretty soon we were even telling our versions of each other’s stories. We challenged ourselves never to say the same thing in the same way twice. At the end of each night Rick and I would go back to our accommodation where I’d continue to pepper him with questions about the film.
I was intrigued with the integrity of his storytelling style.
The more we spoke, the more I began to realize that Satori was as much his movie as it was his wife Laura’s. She named the film and helped to dictate the pace of the edit. It was on her insistence that Rick hired other filmers to shoot on the biggest day so that he could surf. There are quick glimpses of him riding waves, punching through a falling lip and a shot of him sitting on the back of a ski with his broken board. So like those great classical artists who would paint themselves into a crowd scene, Rick (almost secretly), appears in his own film.
In Edinburgh we ate haggis at a lavish corner cafe then slogged through the rain to save on taxi fare. In St Agnes we rose before dawn to stand on moonlit waves. In Falmouth we got last prize in a pub quiz. In London I climbed the subway stairs holding my breath, imaging that I was being tumbled by a giant wave. We rode trains, made long drives, flew in planes, ate late night meals and traversed a blur of old buildings. Each night the screening rooms were filled with cold water swimmers, students, families, surfers, cyclists, skateboarders, snowboarders, doctors, musicians, mountain climbers, filmmakers, designers, dreamers, poets, philosophers, a mathematician, an elfin Queen, a vicar and the odd few who were just there for the free beer.
The first time that Rick showed his movie was in the local church hall in our village. He had invited the whole big wave crew and our families. He introduced Satori and received a rousing response. He’d interviewed most of us, so we had good reason to believe that we’d all be in the film.
Rather than dictate the narrative, he had decided to let the story tell itself. Only the interviews that best articulated the experience of Satori, were included.
8 months worth of filming and 45 hours of interviews had been condensed into an hour long visual soundscape. There was none of the macho narrative normally associated with movies about big waves and there were no scenes with men running across the ocean floor carrying rocks. Our interviews came across as heart felt confessionals. A sweet sadness permeated the room on that first night. In the front row sat Pierre’s widow, Angie. The sound of his laughter filled the room around her once more.
Alive again, Pierre rode giant waves and joked about the heart ailment that would eventually take his life.
I watched her body language as she sat there, equal parts lost… and found.