A local filmmaker’s surf documentary featuring a UCSB student is set to premiere at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival on Feb. 11.
Russ Spencer’s film, “Hana Surf Girls,” showcases the surfing talents of two native Hawaiian girls — including third-year student and UCSB Surf Team member Lipoa Kahaleuahi — and chronicles their journey towards adulthood. Although the majority of the film takes place in Hawaii, it also includes footage of UCSB, Isla Vista and even Floatopia.
According to Spencer, “Hana Surf Girls” highlights Hawaiian traditions and values as it tells a story about growing-up in a tight knit community.
“I can’t imagine doing a better surf film than this one,” Spencer said. “It has a real, deep story, unlike other films of its kind. It’s the universal coming of age story all of us have to face when we grow up and move out of the nest.”
Kahaleuahi and co-star Monyca Byrne-Wickey grew up in Hana, a tiny Hawaiian community on the eastern edge of Maui. While vacationing in Hana, Spencer saw Byrne-Wickey surfing and was intrigued by her talent.
“Every day when high school got out, these amazing girls got in the water and dominated the peak,” Spencer said. “In California, you see some girls in the water but [in Hana there] were impressive, healthy, vibrant surfers.”
Spencer pitched the concept of his documentary to the two girls and Byrne-Wickey and Kahaleuahi agreed. Soon after, Spencer was back in Hawaii shooting footage of the annual Hana Surfing Games.
“The production process was unique,” Spencer said. “I didn’t plan where the film was going or what it would be about. I didn’t have time to make a plan, get funding or a crew.”
According to Kahaleuahi, Spencer’s filming techniques were non-invasive and, despite being filmed, she was able to live normally.
“It was only him filming,” she said. “He caught me on campus on days when I had class [and] then he came over to Hana for several weeks and just followed me around doing the things I normally do when I’m home for summer. It didn’t really change anything. I grew up in the water and it’s always been the center of my life, so he just filmed me surfing, doing what I love.”
Kahaleuahi said Spencer remained both open-minded during the filming process and conscious about his depiction of Hana.
“Russ was really good to work with,” Kahaleuahi said. “He was open to our views, corrections and any editing concerns we had. It was important to us that our community wasn’t put in a bad light, that all the words and explanations were correct, and everything done in a respectful way.”
Kahaleuahi — who plans to travel the world and aid poor communities after graduation — hopes that her involvement with “Hana Surf Girls” will inspire Hana natives to pursue their dreams.
“To me, the film [is about] being able to overcome adversity,” she said. “I want it to inspire kids where I’m from to do whatever they want to do which, in our case, is going to college.”
Although the film is due to premiere in less than a month, Kahaleuahi said she is still processing the experience of starring in a documentary.
“It’s still a little strange to me that this is all actually going to happen,” she said. “Having gone through the process, it’s weird, it’s exciting. I don’t know how it will all turn out, but it’s been a great experience.”