Mikey DeTemple is an East Coast surfer/filmmaker who recently produced and directed the film “Picaresque.” A stylish longboarder, Mikey has won numerous pro contests and has graced the covers of Longboard Magazine and ESM. We spoke with Mikey to learn more.
So where and when did the Mikey DeTemple story begin?
Born (Aug. 30, 1983) and raised in Babylon, New York, which is in central Long Island, until I was 14. I was a part-time surfer for the most part; I surfed in the summers when it was warm. Back then, in the mid-‘90s they didn’t make winter suits for people my size, so I didn’t really get to surf in the winter. We spent the summers out in Montauk.
When did surfing come into the picture?
I didn’t start surfing until I was 12. My dad was one of the better surfers on Long Island in the ’70s, along with a handful of other guys. He surfed his entire life, and I was always around it, but I was never really all that into it. But one day it kind of clicked; it was actually my mom that got me into it. I think my dad always wanted me to surf really badly, like forcing it a little bit made me deter from it a bit. So I would always hang out at the beach with my mom, we used to go to the beach every day in the summer, regardless of what the weather was like. Eventually I just got sick of playing in the sand, so I started boogie boarding.
What was your first board?
It was like a 5’6” Nomad, made here in Florida. It had these G&S one-star fins in it. It’s a pretty rad board; I’ve still got it actually. It was my dads. I guess he bought it on a trip down to Florida at some point in the late ’70s. It has like blue water droplets over it, like the old splash containers, it’s pretty amazing.
I know you’ve had some health issues in the past, tell me a little bit about it.
I was like 11 years old when it happened. I used to play ice-hockey and I broke one of my ribs while playing, I had to go to the hospital, and I guess it’s like hospital procedure to do an EKG on anyone who has a chest problem, and they found it on the EKG, and it was like the broken rib didn’t even matter anymore. They were tripping out. They found something called third-degree heart block, which is like an electrical problem with the natural electrical system of the heart, where the ventricles aren’t able to communicate with each other. So they wanted to do an emergency surgery that night and they ended up transferring me to a different hospital a couple hours later, to one with a much better pediatric unit, a couple hours away (Stony Brook University Medical Center). I was there for like five days.
How did that change your life?
They put me on heart monitors and the first month was kind of weird, doing all these tests and trying to figure out what they were going to do. They were trying to figure out whether to put a pacemaker in me. They came to the conclusion that it was asymptomatic, which basically means that I had what they found, but I didn’t show any symptoms of having it. So my doctor back then basically said, I don’t want to fix something that’s not broken, so we’re just going to do check ups every six months and see how you’re doing. He kind of guessed that once I got into my late teens or early twenties that I would start having some problems, that then they were going to have to put a pacemaker in. My first cardiologist completely nailed it, that’s exactly what happened. I was 19 when I started passing out and wasn’t asymptomatic anymore and was showing full signs of having third-degree heart block. That’s when they went and put the pacemaker in.
And did that improve your quality of life?
Oh, gosh, it was night and day. I didn’t understand how I lived like that for so long. Right after I recovered from the surgery I had so much more energy, I was so much more alive, it was just completely, like I said, night and day. It was like getting a new engine or something.
Talk a bit about the East Coast surfing scene. What sets it apart?
It’s so different, every little town, city, every state, I mean, the East Coast has 14 states that are touching the Atlantic, and each one is so different: Florida, which is like a hotbed for professional shortboarding; you go to Georgia which is a really weird 12 miles of coast, kind of rednecky; South Carolina, North Carolina. North Carolina has completely different types of waves, where it’s just dredging, barreling. You really get everything. You go up to New York City and there are stockbrokers surfing.
When did you start taking surfing seriously, making it more than recreational?
I moved to Florida when I was 14, my parents were just kind of over the cold of New York and the economy was pretty lousy there in the late ’90s. Things were just so dirt cheap in Florida, so they moved down here and bought a three-bedroom condo on the beach in Indialantic, near a pretty decent sandbar. I used to have to drive 40 minutes to get to the beach from my house in New York, so just being able to walk out back to surf was just the best thing ever. I would surf every single day. I would surf before school, after school, during school – without telling my parents [laughs]. I was surfing so much. I was surfing okay when I was living in New York, but with surfing every single day, whenever I wanted to, without any hesitation, it really started happening where I was progressing so much faster than in New York.
What is it about surfing that makes it such a fixture in your life?
I was just really brought up on the beach. And New York is just so different. In Florida and California, everyone really takes going to the beach for granted. In New York, you really kind of harness the beach and the weather, and how you really only get those three months out of the year to embrace the weather and the sand and the ocean and stuff. Otherwise, it’s just so brutally cold. I was always around the beach, my dad was a commercial fisherman, so, I’ve always been drawn to the ocean. It pretty much came natural.
When did you decide to pursue the contest scene and make a career of sorts out of surfing?
I used to do all the ESA (Eastern Surfing Association) contests in Florida, and there were some really good kids, and I started winning a couple of those contests. I started traveling a little bit more. When I was 15 I made the final of a pro contest, the Easter Surfing Festival at Cocoa Beach and Joel Tudor was in the final, and Dodger Kremel and, I think, Cody Simpkins, or someone like that, and I got second or third, something like that and I made $1,200 and I thought, I might be able to make a little bit of money doing this. Kind of got really motivated to try.
How and why did the movie-making thing come about?
I was doing contests for so long, I would travel places with three of the same boards, three 9’0”s with three fins, one ounce glass, and I’d go to all these cool places and I’d do the contest and leave. Some of the sponsors I had at the time used to tell me, “When you’re done with the contest you go home, you don’t stay and hang out. We don’t pay for you to hang out, we pay for you to do well in contests.” I thought the whole contest and longboarding thing kind of started to get really lame. And I started to get really burnt out on where it was going, and the things that were being done. So I just thought, going to all these cool places that I’ve been, why not just go and surf all these places instead, and just do photo trips. I think it was on a photo trip to the Maldives like three years ago, and all we had was a photographer on the boat, and there were like five of us and the waves were insane, and I thought “Man, this would probably be one of the sickest video sections ever if someone was actually shooting! Why do I go on all these trips and no one ever shoots video or film?” I just started thinking I wanted to make something cool. It’s just going on trips and shooting sections of a movie in different locations and stuff.
Picaresque was your first movie, which came out in 2008. What’d you learn from that experience?
Oh, man it was amazing. I didn’t know anything going into it. I basically have Dustin Miller to thank for even getting it done, because I was so clueless on half of the things I needed to do. I didn’t understand music licensing, or time lines or deadlines. I just knew I had a vision, and I knew what I wanted it to look like, but I didn’t know the backend stuff that goes into producing or directing a movie. Like I said, I knew what I wanted it to look like and I knew who I wanted to be in it, and I knew where I wanted to go, but that was really it. Actually doing it and having investors and having deadlines, I learned so much. I probably learned more working on that movie than had I gone to film school for four years.
So, is there another project on the way?
Yeah, I’ve been working on another film the last seven months; we’ve shot a couple locations. We were up in Maine back in November, building boards with the guys from Grain, the LaVecchia brothers, and hanging out up there. And I did another trip to the Bahamas recently. Kind of a far out-there island that’s really difficult to get to.
Have you been getting waves?
We got Maine pretty dang good for a log, and the Bahamas were really fun – it was a very, very interesting trip. We ran out of food, we ran out of water and our boards got stuck on the island for 45 days. But we came back with what we needed.
Details? Are there a couple customs guys with a new quiver or what?
No, the only way to get to this island is by private charter flight. And they changed the flight on us the morning of the flight. They sent a different plane, and the plane they sent wouldn’t fit our boards and they were kind of taken hostage by the guy who owned the marina. To make a long story short, I had to fly over to Nassau a few weeks ago and had to pick them up off a government mail boat and then bring them back through customs and ship them out of Florida back to Kassia Meador and Scotty Stopnik and I took my boards back home. It was great, makes good stories.
Do you have a name for the movie yet, or is that on the hush-hush?
I would love to make up some sort of bullshit story on how I want to keep quiet on what it is, but really I just can’t think of a name. I’ve been forcing it so hard, I’ve been flipping through the dictionary. Picaresque just fell into lap; it was the easiest thing ever. That’s probably why I’m having such a hard time, because it was such a good name and it came so easy. Where as this one, I can’t think of anything.
When are you trying to have it done by?
I would like to have it out in stores before Christmas, but you say that, and it will probably be out the next summer. Just how it goes. Whether you’re waiting on music to clear or any of the million other things that can go wrong when you’re making a film. We’re off to a good start though.
Through the movies and surfing, you’ve done quite a lot of traveling, what destinations stand out and why?
I always say this, but I love the northeast in fall more than any other place in the world. It’s got so much going for it: there’s so much swell in the water, it’s so uncrowded because Labor Day has passed and people go back to work and summer houses are done. You get a lot of quality surf by yourself and the weather is amazing. You still get those days where it’s 70 degrees and the wind blows offshore, I rave so much about the northeast.
Can you still find secret spots up there?
I surf New York by myself all the time, especially that time of year. You’re still in 3/2s, and you’re not wearing booties and it’s not cold yet. It’s the best. There are other places that obviously have better surf that time of year. France is one of them, which is one of the most gorgeous places in the world.
So are you done with the contest thing altogether?
I still do a couple contests on the East Coast, mostly because I can ride a log in them and I don’t have to ride three-fin longboards and do kick flips and stuff. I could never stick those [laughs].
So what role does surfing play?
Right now I just love to travel and ride a bunch of different things, and go on different trips to new places, and make little films about it and stuff like that. More what people were doing before the contest scene came into play. Just cool trips to unique places. Even not unique places, but making normal places unique somehow.
Is that where you see the longboarding thing going?
Yeah, I think so. Just the whole way longboarding is going, I wouldn’t even pigeon-hole it as longboarding, I would call it more just surfing, because I definitely don’t have more than one or two longboards in my bag when I travel. Usually I have more shortboards and oddly shaped things, whether they are Stubby’s or some sort of single-fin or a rounder-style shortboard or something like that. Always going on trips bringing all sorts of different things. I think that’s where it’s going.
That takes me to my next question: what’s currently in your quiver?
Chris Christenson is making the majority of my boards. I’ve got a 9’9” pintail log, which is unreal in glassy type waves. I’ve been really addicted to this 6’2”, I guess it’s like a Hull outline, without a Hull bottom, and with a far forward single fin. He calls it a Stubby. It works insane when the surf is kind of lined up and it’s super fun when it barrels. I’ve got one of Jon Wegener’s peanut alaias, a 5’8”, which always comes with me everywhere. And then I’ve got a 5’4” roundtail quad that I always bring with me. That’s kind of my go-to set-up. You can ride anything on those four boards. There’s no way you can ever not have fun on one of those boards in whatever conditions are thrown at you.
What excites you about surfing right now? What’s going right in surfing?
A lot of people are riding everything. There are so many people that shred on so many different things, like Harrison Roach surfs amazing on anything, Chris Del Moro surfs absolutely anything that’s handed to him and surfs better than most people that specialize in just one thing, whether it’s a longboard or a shortboard. I think that kind of stuff is cool, that’s what excites me. Not seeing people ride one board in every type of wave. I don’t know, I would get really bored. I don’t know how I used to do that. I spent a lot of time trying to figure that out.
What’s wrong with surfing or the industry right now?
I just don’t think there’s enough money in it. I don’t think there’s anything, per se, wrong, maybe everyone’s shorts are too long [laughs], but I wouldn’t say that anything is really wrong with it. Maybe marketing money is being spent in some of the wrong places some of the time, but I think a lot of the companies have the right idea of what’s going on and a lot of companies are backing some alternative style stuff and that whole deal.
Now some general personal questions: what are you listening to these days?
The lead singer from The Shins just came out with a new project called Broken Bell, that just came out a few days ago and it’s unbelievable. There’s a band from Florida, they are from Palm Beach, and they’re called Surfer Blood. None of them surf and they’re super young, but they play amazing music. They’re like Modern Day Pavement, kind of. That’s kind of weird for a band like that to come out of a cultureless south Florida town.
What are you reading?
Actually, I just finished reading “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly,” a couple of weeks ago. It’s written by the editor-in-chief of French Elle and it’s about when he had a stroke and it left him with a condition called locked-in syndrome. He basically wrote an entire book by dictating his entire story to a nurse by blinking. She would recite the most frequently used letters and he would blink when she got to the proper letter. Amazing. Really, really crazy.
What else is going on in your life that we should know about?
Just making that film , traveling a whole bunch, I just signed another two-year contract with Hurley, which is pretty awesome. Those guys are very supportive of everything that I do.
Last thing: what’s next?
I’ve go about four more trips to do on the movie, so that’s really going to occupy the rest of my summer. Hopefully be full-on editing by August. I’ve been learning Final Cut a lot more and I’ve been laying out this whole project myself. SO it’s been very, very time consuming logging and capturing. The last one I didn’t really do any of that on my own.
Find out more about Mikey DeTemple and the film Picaresque here.