Cyrus Sutton is a California surfer / filmmaker who is the creator of Korduroy TV. In addition to being an extremely talented surfer, Cyrus is all about doing-it-yourself, from hand planes to organics. We asked Cyrus what it is that makes him tick.
What was your life like growing up?
My parents divorced when I was a baby and I spent my early years between my mom’s in Long Beach, where she’s a professor at Cal State Long Beach, and my dad’s in Fullerton, an inland Orange County suburb where he’d been raised and returned to after college because of its central location to the mountains, the beach and his teaching at Cal Poly Pomona. I didn’t grow up with much of a connection to the ocean, but rather the mountains. My dad was an avid fisherman who built me my first fly rod when I was 9. We’d spend summers in the Eastern Sierras hiking and pulling trout out of the clear streams with the flies he’d tied over the winter.
Tell us more…
My first experiences with the ocean were far less romantic. I was scared to death of it until I was 8 and before that wouldn’t even go into our community pool without a float strapped to my back, inflatable water wings around my arms and a boogie board. It was pretty funny, but that’s what I needed to find my comfort zone. When I graduated to the surf, it was at Seal Beach with my best friend on a boogie board. We called ourselves the “boogie men” and had a little pseudo-superhero theme song we’d chant when paddling out. We were so stoked. The next summer we started riding longboards.
But shortly after, my dad got an exchange teaching job at the Kyushu Institute of Design in Japan. I normally lived with my mom, but my dad thought it would be an opportunity of a lifetime so I went. It was intense. Going from being driven to school in California to a place where I had to navigate my bike through an urban labyrinth before boarding a bullet train that sped me to a mega-terminal where I’d have to find my connecting subway train. The whole process took about 90 minutes each way and school wasn’t any easier. I didn’t speak a word of Japanese and the classes were grueling. By the time I left, I was pretty much traumatized by the whole ordeal and plunged myself into surfing, which took me back to a place where things made sense.
When did you get your first surfboard?
Before Japan, my dad walked me into Harbour Surfboards and we ordered my first board.
Who did you look up to and admire when you were a young man?
My heroes were surf stars, like Joel Tudor and Rob Machado, who seemed to have a supernatural connection with ocean and that was inspiring.
Who/what inspires you now?
Anyone who can sort through all of bs out there, and find an internal space or state of mind that works for them. Not just living out other people’s values or expectations, but distilling their priorities down to things that fulfill them—taking the leap to truly understand who they really are. For me, this has created a deep sense of contentment and I think operating from this place opens the door to everything in life—at least it works that way for me. So that “place” is my inspiration.
Tell us about your latest film Tom’s Creation Plantation…
The goal of the film is to convey the infectious enthusiasm of Tom Wegener, a guy who’s found what makes him happy in his own proudly kooky way. By operating from his “place,” he stumbled upon a previously forgotten appendage of surfing and believed in it when most surfers wouldn’t have the balls to advocate such a unlikely form of surfing: the alaia. The alaia is a plank of wood with no buoyancy. The surf craft works sheerly because of the surface tension created by wave-generated momentum and the planing surface of its outline.
What is the greatest thing you have learned in your life?
That everything in life is relative. In other words, we only perceive something as good if its comparatively better than what we’ve experienced before. If I try to fight this natural tendency with my mind, then I’m constantly engaged in a mental struggle to be grateful. I find I’m much more content and informed if I’m not struggling to be grateful all of the time.
By just letting life happen to me, I am less attached to the positive and negative situations that arise and I am able to just understand the lessons they contain. The lessons are the same for all us and whether you are rich/poor, handsome/ugly, etc., it’s how we react to those lessons that determine our quality of life. Feelings of guilt over having “more” than others or envy over having “less” disappear because you realize that people who have it easy in some areas are going to be more challenged in other areas. So the realization that everything is relative has allowed me not to feel obligated to follow anyone else’s rules or feel guilty about finding my own path to contentment.
What are you most proud of?
I’m most proud of myself when I’m able to let things go I cannot control. If you’ve read this interview up to this point, you can tell that I think a lot about shit and that has screwed me up a lot in the past. So when I’m able to just feel out where I want to go and let go of my own expectations, I can let my over-active brain exist in the moment and work for me, not against me.
What meaning does surfing hold for you and how has it changed your life?
At first, surfing was an escape. Then, in high school, it was a way to be cool and get girls. For a brief second, it was a career. And now it is a teacher.
What brings you the most happiness in the world?
Surfing, exploring, sharing, eating and being around the energy of strong women.
Who are some of the people you feel are shaping the path for surfing today?
The mass of people going to beach to find an escape from their normal lives. Their numbers are growing daily and they are dramatically altering the surfing’s path. While it’s got obvious drawbacks (less waves for me), it is a chance for humans gain new a appreciation of the ocean on a larger scale. And if we as surfers open our minds to what are rideable waves, then there’s plenty for everyone. These are exciting times.
What is your favorite board? Your favorite surf spot?
My 4’10″ block of foam cut with a handsaw from a soft top blank—no fins, no stringer, no glass. And the surf spot is anywhere that allows me to catch a good amount of waves and get in a rhythm.
What’s your favorite meal?
Steamed veggies and potatoes with hamburger made into little meat balls drizzled with my sesame sauce goes down real nice and makes me feel good the next day.
What are you currently listening to on your iPod?
Right now I don’t own an iPod and I’m just enjoying silence. But I love live music.
What causes/organizations do you support?
I don’t really support any causes or organizations, not that there aren’t a lot of amazing people banding together to do a lot of important and positive things. I’m just an advocate of empowering yourself. I think if everybody took the time to empower themselves first before trying to save some cute endangered species, we’d solve the real problem at its source. I make films and have a website that’s about doing something to that effect, so I guess that’s my contribution and what helps me sleep at night.
What are you most grateful for?
I’m grateful for anything I didn’t have before. Then once I’ve had it for a while, I stop being as grateful. But that’s the wonderful thing about life—its always offering new challenges and hardships, and thus new opportunities to be grateful.
What’s next for Cyrus Sutton?
Going to eat dinner with my girlfriend’s family. It’s her dad’s birthday and I’m making the salad. Then we’re going to play Balderdash, which I’ve never played but it sounds like fun.
Photo credits: 1. Ryan Tatar, 2. Jack Chellemi, 3. Foto Pero, 4. Dan Llano, 5. + 6. Ryan Tatar.