The Last Six Months for the Ciggy Board Boys
So, you’re probably thinking... I wonder what happened to those Cigarette Surfboard dudes? I sent them money a year ago! Did they ever even come back from Europe? Nah, they took the money and ran — most likely on some extravagant surf voyage. Damned surfers!
Well, at times we have wished that was the case, but we’ve actually been hard at work, making headway towards finishing our film.
It has been a journey of twists and turns, meeting amazing people, and encountering many serendipitous moments — signs from the universe that we’re on a good path. Different perspectives have influenced our understanding of the plastic pollution crisis and the single-use culture threatening our oceans. We are now well aware of the monumental challenges represented by the littered, plastic-laden cigarette butts found on beaches around the world. We’re more certain than ever that surfers have an obligation to help shift the tides on these issues. The more we’ve learned, the more we’ve continued to define and refine our project, and how we want our film to look and feel. The last six months have affirmed that our passion, tenacity and timing have put us in a great position to influence the action needed to help conserve and protect our oceans and surf, using the Cigarette Surfboard as a platform to educate and engage the surfing community and the broader public.
Flick it, fuck it, not my problem. Single-use plastic items have never been more apparent on our beaches and in our ocean. We will have to do more than just clean-up this problem — we must prevent it in the first place.
Last June we headed to Europe where Taylor was invited to speak at the “We Love Green” Festival in Paris, an annual celebration of music, culture and environmental sustainability attended by 70,000 people in the summer of 2018. Taylor participated in a panel discussion on the “Think Tank” stage (in a discussion forum that included the coordinator of citizen mobilization of Zero Waste France) about why the surfboard was made and the scope of the upcoming feature length film. The Festival paid for our airfare, room and board — a huge help on our tight budget!
In 54 days, we visited 5 countries, camped in our tents most nights, and interviewed 18 people directly involved in environmental protection. We met with countless other influential folks, not to mention being interviewed about our own project by the UK’s biggest surf magazine, Carve Mag (and yes, there are good waves in the UK, as well as a solid surfing scene). We interviewed people from non-profits, surf brands, marine scientists, designers, business leaders, and of course, surfers — all of whom are driven by an affinity for the sea. These interviews have allowed us to develop a more holistic understanding of the issues and systemic problems contributing to plastic pollution, and the “flick-it” out-of-sight, out-of-mind mentality that has polluted our oceans. But more importantly, we have learned more about some efforts and ideas that have been tried, and which ones are actually working.
The faces and places we met and learned from — all our interviewees from the Europe trip. They helped us better understand the complexities and solutions surrounding plastic pollution, and why surfers have an integral stewardship role in this international issue.
Our travel was during the peak of holiday season for Europe (June-July). While acknowledging the demand put on local municipalities, it was more common than not to see overflowing trash cans with copious amounts of plastic products mixed with trash, destined to make their way to landfills, incinerators or even into the waterways that flow to our ocean. When we consider that the projections for plastic production are set to double and triple in the coming years, a huge question becomes… where will all of this plastic go — landfills, the oceans, outer space?
As with any complex problem, there is never one solution. We have come to realize that beach clean-up efforts are important to remove trash, engage the public, and raise awareness on the issues. But beach clean-ups are a “downstream” approach, when we need more “upstream” methods to stop plastic pollution at its source. One solution is to end the need for clean-ups by curtailing and eventually stopping the massive production and consumption of single-use plastics.
The idea that we can just clean-up or recycle our way out of this problem perpetuates the notion that it’s okay to keep using / disposing of everything. But there is no “away”. If a bathtub is overflowing, would I first start mopping it up, or turn off the tap? Both clean-up and prevention efforts are needed, but beach clean-ups alone can’t keep pace with our current habits.
As we sat out front of a coffeeshop in Amsterdam, watching tourism at its peak, we witnessed countless cigarette butts being flicked and bouncing their ways into the canals. People either don’t get it, or they simply don’t care. After all, the “flick” of a ciggy butt is common in film, music and literature, and we have been conditioned to think it’s okay. Flick it, and fuck it, not my problem. Yet ciggy butts are made from plastic and the rain washes them through street drains, which then lead to waterways that flow to our beaches and ocean.
Knowing we were viewing just a tiny fraction of the problem, it left two young surfers feeling utterly overwhelmed by the mounting threats facing our oceans. Time and time again, we were hearing the same frustrations and despair from the people we met. Staring out into the crowds of people as thick as a “Where’s Waldo” book, we asked ourselves, “what in the hell can we do…?”
As we traveled from Paris to the Netherlands, from southwest France through the Basque Country, out to the tip of Cornwall, England, and through some small towns of western Ireland, we were continually amazed at how local community action is extremely powerful. A lot of the people we interviewed in our weeks of travel had been involved in one way or another in their local community, creating measurable change that made far-reaching global impact seem much more achievable.
Our moms were a bit upset we didn’t send postcards from Europe, so we’re finally getting around to it. A few pictures from a few different places we visited. Unfortunately Butts Farm didn’t have any surf.
After spending some time immersing ourselves in a few of these communities, we got a sense of how some people saw and tackled the problems facing them. There’s Surfers Against Sewage in the UK, who rallied citizens and governments to change the way sewage was spewing into the open ocean, beginning with just a few surfers in a small town in Cornwall in the early 90’s. Then there’s the crew of professional surfers in Ireland who have changed their personal lifestyles (no airplane travel, for one) and are currently addressing the need for healthy and resilient food through clean, non-ocean polluting organic farming, inspiring people and farms across the country (Moy Hill Community Farm). There’s Dave Hakkens and his team of creatives who have invented and share open source DIY plastic recycling systems from a small town in the center of the Netherlands, in order to make use of the plastic that’s already been produced (Precious Plastic). These were just some of the many inspiring and influential people we crossed paths with, showing us that the accumulation of small, local efforts can have national, and even global, impact.
In the early 1990’s, a community of surfers in Cornwall, UK came together and stood up to the powerful interests of the English water companies that were dumping raw sewage into their surf breaks. We sat down with two of the founders of Surfers Against Sewage (Chris Hines and Steve England) to talk about the birth of S.A.S. and the responsibility surfers have to protect our waters at all costs. Thirty years later, S.A.S. is a powerful organization tackling plastic pollution and initiating other strategic efforts to safeguard our oceans.
If you know where to look, you might find it. That was pretty much the directions we got to this place they call Moy Hill Community Farm. This group of devoted farmers (and fearless surfers), a bubbly bunch of honest and hard-working people, are the very definition of regenerative agriculture and local community action.
We spent a day with Dave Hakkens and his team learning about their design perspective and ethos behind Precious Plastic. They devised an online open source network that enables people around the world to create plastic recycling infrastructure in their communities. Dave shared with us an important insight: “If you want to do something with wood, you buy a saw and hammer… If you want to do something with metal, you get a welding machine… But plastic, people don’t really have the tools to do something with it.”
We know the Cigarette Surfboard is not going to change the world, but we know that we can contribute something to catalyze change. Not many other humans share the immersive experience and understanding of the ocean as surfers do. We study tides, swell forecasts, wind charts, and underwater geography to understand where and when surf will be best — rarely deeming ourselves scientists, but constantly taking in data through our evaluation of the marine and atmospheric environments. It is our responsibility as surfers to realize that our relationship with the ocean is not just about how many waves we take from it. What we have come to understand in creating our film is that surfers have an opportunity to be a uniquely powerful voice for the ocean and agents for change. That is why we want our film to appeal to our community of surfers and the surf industry. It is our responsibility to question, challenge and change the status quo of over-consumption and plastic waste that contributes to ocean pollution, which dirties our waters, waves and air — for the sake of our generation, and those yet to come.
The new and improved Ciggy Board 2.0 isn’t for sale, but it certainly surfs better than the first version. Although we can’t say we scored epic surf on our Europe trip, the fact that we had a few talented and influential surfers ride this board was an honor. Surfers: Easkey Britton, Fergal Smith, Matt Smith, Tony Butt, Ben & Taylor
Since returning from Europe in late July, here’s what we’ve been working on:
● We recently shot the first rain in Los Angeles and released a short video you can view here (scroll down to second video to view). Some of the footage was bought and used by CBS 60 Minutes, for an episode called “Plastic Plague”, which aired Sunday, December 16th, 2018.
● We made a video for Amanda Keetley of Less Plastic, a woman who we interviewed for our film while in the UK. You can watch the two minute video here.
● We have been meeting and working with a legal team from the free UCLA Documentary Film Legal Clinic, where 2nd and 3rd year law students legally advise us under the guidance of the program directors.
● We’ve also been meeting with media companies, film advisers, and non-profit leaders. This has helped us brainstorm future funding opportunities, refine the structure of the film, and connect with more people to interview.
● We went through all the footage and interviews from Europe, and re-storyboarded the film. For the most part, we are clear and confident on what more we need to shoot, and where it will go in the film.
● We prototyped and began building three new Cigarette Surfboards, while filming much of the process.
Why new Cigarette Surfboards? The first two were huge learning experiences, full of trial and error, and although they serve as a great symbol for the issues we are talking about in the film, their functionality is not great. Professional surfers have ridden those first two boards, and we received valuable feedback. Surfing (in good waves) is actually the main thing missing from the film right now. With more good waves ridden and filmed, and more well known surfers riding the boards because of their technical / environmental merits, the more viewers and credibility we will gain from the surf community, our main target audience. Thus, we have made further advancements in the strength, weight and surfability of the next set of Cigarette Surfboards, in the hope that we will get some good waves quite soon.
In the past couple of months, we worked with three professional shapers who shaped the upcycled Marko Foam Blanks (EPS) of the next three Ciggy Boards: Travis Reynolds, who shaped a 5'5 "Swedish Fish" twin-fin; Ward Coffey, who shaped a 6'3 performance Bonzer; and Guy Okazaki, who crafted a 6'9 pin tail single-fin. They look killer and are going to be a game changer for us. The boards have gotten lighter and stronger, and we are integrating artwork on the bottom made from the cigarette butts, all of which are still picked up off the beach — huge thanks to Heal The Bay in Los Angeles County, Save Our Shores in Santa Cruz, and Surfrider Foundation volunteers in San Francisco, San Luis Obispo, and Orange Counties.
Three new Cigarette Surfboards, shaped by three professional shapers in California. We began with Guy Okazaki — a legendary shaper in Venice Beach with expertise that spans decades. He took the reigns on shaping the 6’9 step-up single fin out of his dreamy shop near the sea. Second up to bat was Ward Coffey, with 20,000+ boards built by his hands. He crafted a 6’3 bonzer with precision that would put a machine to shame. Shaping the third board was Travis Reynolds, a Santa Cruz native who is no stranger when it comes to style. His staple 5’5 Swedish Fish twin-fin speaks the term “form follows function”. All board blanks came from upcycled foam blocks that otherwise would have been recycled, courtesy of Marko Foam Blanks.
All butts begin as plastic, then some of them end up on the beach, and maybe if they’re lucky into one of our boards — what an honor. We’ve developed a way to sift through and create a sheet-like material out of the butts, which will be cut and inlaid into the boards, adding strength and a mosaic style.
Once the three new Cigarette Surfboards are finished up, we plan to head to Hawaii for a few weeks in February to get some proper surf with professional surfer, PhD scientist, and renowned environmental activist Cliff Kapono. We have some other interviews planned in Hawaii including Kahi Picarro of Sustainable Coastlines Hawaii and various professors at the University of Hawaii. We are continuing to sort through footage and interviews, and plan to piece together a trailer for the film by April. This is necessary in order to secure fiscal sponsors and investors for the full-length film.
You might be asking yourselves, “when will the film actually be released?” We have learned what a completely consuming process it is to make a film and really learn the topic. We are juggling other jobs to earn income while we function as our own accountant, producer, production assistant, public relations agent, director of photography and editor, etc. etc., all while inventing and improving the next generation of Ciggy Boards. We now think our projected release date will be early 2020. Trust us, it will be worth the wait!
If you have any questions, comments, ideas, or funny jokes — please reach out. Thanks for your endless support, and we hope to hear from you soon.
All the best,
Ciggy Board Boys
June 2018, Netherlands. If you’ve read this far we’re assuming you’ll stick with us for the long run. So until then, peace out from the Ciggy Board Boys.
Entry 1: Thursday, May 17th, 2018
To the Cigarette Surfboard community,
We hope everyone is having a lovely spring. Here in California, Ben and Taylor have split weeks between the Bay Area, Santa Cruz, Los Angeles, and San Diego. We have been busy, as always, staying occupied with planning, filming, building boards, attending events, meeting with people, and continuously redefining and refocusing the scope and goals of our film. We are on an infinite learning curve that keeps us constantly on our toes. It’s been fun, rewarding, challenging, but most of all, exciting and inspiring - and we’re stoked as ever to keep pushing forward.
We attended the Global Waves Conference in Santa Cruz on March 5th to 7th. We spent those days listening to speakers from around the world (many of whom are environmentally active surfers, ranging from novice to professional) address ocean health problems and solutions: “The conference brings together the best international minds from the surfing, conservation, and innovation communities to tackle the world’s most challenging ocean issues.” We took extensive notes, felt inspired by the presentations, and had the chance to speak with influential people such as Patagonia Ambassador Liz Clark, champion big wave surfer and environmental activist Greg Long, U.K.’s “Surfers Against Sewage” founder Hugo Tagholm, “Sustainable Coastlines Hawaii” founder Kahi Picarro, and inspirational San Francisco filmmaker Sachi Cunningham. We’ve found that people are very intrigued by the Cigarette Surfboard and what it represents.
On top of the conference sessions, there was a film festival featuring notable surf filmmakers, a historical walk along West Cliff and its famous surf spots such as Steamer Lane, and a paddle-out with everyone to commemorate the power and beauty of so many like-minded people coming together to discuss the never-ending fight to protect the ocean. We decided not to film any part of the conference or conduct any interviews, but rather utilized it as a space to expand our knowledge on ocean conservation work and to create connections with influential and inspiring people, some of whom will be critical voices and stories in the film.
The following week we attended the NOAA International Marine Debris Conference in San Diego. We had obtained media passes to film at the event, which granted us access to interview many of the attendees. Over the course of four days, we conducted more than a dozen interviews with reputable scientists, UN Environment representatives, activists, and youth leaders from around the world. We also listened to a few presentations, and had the opportunity to meet Jack Johnson - a truly sweet and passionate human being, using his prominence as a famous musician and surfer to fight for a healthier ocean and happier planet. He even told us he’d be interested in riding the Cigarette Surfboard!
In March and April, we met with a number of notable ocean conservation activists and surf filmmakers in Southern California who have given us advice on the film - and it’s been extremely valuable for us to return often to the drawing board, and hone in on our strategy and structure of the film. Our current synopsis of the film is as follows: “We are creating an environmental surf film that uses the Cigarette Surfboard to question the mentality of littering cigarette butts, and how this largely represents our single-use plastic culture and its effect on the ocean. Our goal is to inspire, educate, and share creative solutions to encourage a “call to action” for the international surf community / industry to become more engaged stewards of the sea. We aim to provide people (surfers and non-surfers alike) with tools to help reduce their impact on the ocean.”
We have stratified the film into seven solution-based case study chapters, which are as follows: surf industry, education / youth, science, preventative solutions, clean-up solutions, activism / local community action, and politics. These are sub-categorized by topic rather than by individual / place - and allow for international people to fit into specific areas of the film to collectively address plastic pollution in our oceans as a global issue. We’ve also had plenty of creative visual ideas, and have figured out how to effectively interweave and connect Taylor’s story (without adopting a “Hero’s Journey” narrative), the Cigarette Surfboard, and surfing within a cohesive and interesting framework that addresses the problems and solutions to ocean plastic.
In San Diego, Scientist and Professional Surfer, Cliff Kapono, rode and spoke about the Cigarette Surfboard at Scripps Beach. We also met with San Diego State University Professor Emeritus Tom Novotny, an accomplished and well-respected scientist who studies the effect of cigarette butt littering on waterways, fish, and the ocean. In the future, we will be filming with both of these influential individuals.
Ben went with his third-grade teacher Laura Honda to San Francisco to pick up cigarette butts, and spent almost six hours doing so (plus some dim-sum in Chinatown). Filming the whole experience, Laura and Ben picked up thousands of littered butts, were thanked by numerous individuals (as well as the occasional “what the heck are they doing” look), and spoke extensively about the role and power of environmental education and exposure to nature for young kids - addressing the “why we should care” question. It was a rewarding experience for both of them, teacher and former student.
Taylor was invited to advise an environmental design class at Los Angeles Technical Trade College, to provide feedback and strategize for a junk-wars competition. He was asked to bring the Cigarette Surfboard as an example for the students, which they found as an inspirational piece. The class went on to win the contest, where they faced other classes from UCLA, ArtCenter College of Design, and CalArts. The Class went on to take first place at the event!
We attended and filmed a beach clean-up in April at Santa Monica Pier, where over 1,000 volunteers helped us pick up littered butts for building new Cigarette Surfboards - we counted over 4,000 butts picked up in just over an hour. Taylor has been consistently prototyping for two new Cigarette Surfboard models, a 5’4” Twin-fin and 6’2” Bonzer. He developed a new way to build the boards - lighter, stronger, and more functional than the original - and it requires less butts, as part of our trademarked one-layer “Ciggy Mat Technology” - top secret (see the photos below). We are currently filming this building process in L.A. and plan to have both boards ready for the water in less than two weeks.
In less than two weeks (we swear we’re not cutting it too close with building the boards…) we leave for Europe. There’s been a lot of effort put into scheduling that trip (planes, trains, and automobiles), but through all the people we’ve met along the way, it’s been pretty easy finding inspiring individuals to meet and film - and there’s been overwhelming support for our project from most we’ve reached out to. In fact, we’re pretty damn booked for the 8 weeks we’re overseas. There’s a whole lot of cool stuff and interesting people involved with ocean conservation work in Western Europe and the UK / Ireland.
We fly to Paris on May 29th. As you may recall, Taylor was invited to speak on an ocean conservation and activism panel at the Think Tank Stage of the Parisian festival “We Love Green”. After the festival, we head to The Netherlands for a week, where we are booked almost every day with interviews with inspiring folks across the country. Then we head to Southwest France, and plan to spend 10 days around some of France’s best surfing areas, such as Biarritz and Hossegor. We have a few people we are meeting with there as well - scientists, surfers, and organizations. From Biarritz we go to London, and spend three weeks in Southern UK, meeting with people from the surf industry, university researchers, and founders of well-known non-profits - as well as spending a few days with relatives of Taylor’s.
Finally we get to Western Ireland, where we will be staying at the farm of the famous Irish surfer and farmer Fergal Smith - pitching a tent, growing some food, and interviewing and filming Fergal (and friends) ride the Cigarette Surfboard. And we’re home July 24th, presumably very low on funds. We’ll put together a prototype video from the trip, representative of the style and structure we intend for the full length documentary. We believe this will help in applying for grants and attempting to obtain sponsorships. And of course we’ll share this video with you, and we will be open to any feedback.
Check out our most recent article by Santa Cruz Waves: http://www.santacruzwaves.com/2018/05/a-smokin-film/
All in all, it’s a good time for the Ciggy Butt Board Boys. It’s also a lot of hard work. But we have momentum, support, and unwavering ambition and dedication to the project. Most important, it truly feels meaningful and unquestionably useful of our time to be making this film. As always, lots to do, and lots to learn.
Thanks again for your support, and don’t hesitate to reply, inquire, or offer suggestions of any sort.
Ben and Taylor