Tiffany Campbell is a California surfer/filmmaker who recently co-directed the acclaimed surfing film, Dear & Yonder. The film stars an all-star lineup of women such as Linda Benson, Ashley Lloyd, Kassia Meador, Sofia Mulanovich, and more. Tiffany talks to us about her life of skating, surfing, and filmmaking.
What was life like growing up?
I wanted to live outside when I was a kid and I got pretty close. We had a large overgrown field in our backyard beyond the manicured lawn (we called it “the way back”) and my sister and I would build elaborate villages out of bamboo fashioned into tipi structures that we would layer thick with the stocks of overgrown weeds. We even had a fire pit where we experimented with outdoor cooking. This almost always ended in disaster – don’t cook Jiffy Pop over an open flame! If we weren’t in our field-village, we were riding bikes and playing with the neighborhood kids whose backyards were linked to ours through a series of kid trails. I had a lot of freedom to roam.
Who did you look up to and admire when you were younger?
When I was young I loved Pippi Longstocking, she was my ideal. She is the main character in a book series created by Swedish author, Astrid Lindgren, which was later adapted into a series of awesome films. Pippi is about ten and her Dad is a pirate who is at sea most of the time, so she lives on her own in a house she named Villa Villekulla with a monkey, a horse and a pile of gold coins. She outsmarts cops, avoids school and wraps up all the dirty dishes in the table cloth after a meal and throws the bundle away – just to name a few of her more charming traits. I also wanted to be like the Swiss Family Robinson (also a book and movie). They are a family who are ship wrecked on an island and learn to survive in a strange land, but the point is that they build the best tree house ever, which fueled my imagination for years. I had a bit of an obsession with self-sufficiency and adventure. Still do.
What was the feeling you had when you first stood on a surfboard?
I was twelve when I finally convinced my older brother who was sixteen, a surfer and had a driver’s license to take me surfing. This was in the eighties mind you, and he was extremely embarrassed to be seen with me. I was forced to walk well behind him. Out in the water I was able to get to my feet after a few tries and ride one in. The feeling was liberating and addictive. On the way back to the car I was training my mind on that wave to make sure I didn’t forget my “technique”, and I forgot the distance rule on land. A guy called out to my brother, “Hey Nate, who’s your little girlfriend.” I tried to fade back, but it was too late. He never took me again, so I started skateboarding instead and didn’t really pick up surfing again until my late twenties.
Where did you interest in filmmaking come from?
When I was a kid we got one of the first home video cameras. It had a giant metal box of a VCR attached to it by a cable, so you had to carry both around while you filmed, but we didn’t care, we were making movies. I was about ten years old when I wrote and starred in my own drama. My sister was filming the scene. I was standing on our back patio in the shadow of our house and my son (played by my little brother) had been kidnapped and missing for weeks. In this shot I was at my wits end looking up to the sky, clutching a gold teddy bear charm that I wore around my neck to remind me to never give up hope. It was very corny. But I remember this deep seeded need I had to get that feeling of loss and despair across to an audience (otherwise known as my Mom). We weren’t allowed to show much emotion in my family, so in the beginning filmmaking was a safe avenue for expression. Then when I started skateboarding in my teens it was a means of documentation. No one was paying much attention to the ladies who skated, so my sister and I started a skateboard company called Villa Villa Cola (named after Pippi’s house). We were a collective of female artists, skaters, filmmakers and photographers who worked together to document and inspire girl skaters. Not much has changed except we’ve broadened our scope to include surfing and altered the name to Villa Villa Cola Productions.
What inspired you and Andria Lessler to create “Dear & Yonder”?
Andria and I met through skateboarding 11 years ago when there were only a handful of girls doing it, so we formed a pretty tight bond. As we got older skateboarding took a backseat and we fell in love with surfing. Over time we watched a lot of lady surf videos and found that they were limited to two themes: competitive surfing or the trials of being a female surfer in a male dominated sport. Those themes definitely have their place in the genre, but we wanted more depth. We kept saying things like why doesn’t someone feature this woman or that woman or do something on this theme or style of surfing. It just killed us that there were so many dynamic stories going unexplored. In short we realized that we were the ones we were looking for to create what we wanted to see and things fell into place from there.
What has been the reaction to the film?
After the Dear & Yonder premieres women would frequently approach us with an indescribable sincerity in their eyes (almost tearful) and say, “This film is exactly what I needed, thank you for making it.” That kind of response helped everything come full circle and I would remember why we started out on this crazy escapade in the first place. When you make a film it’s so much work that you feel like you’re out to save the world or something, but the reality is that if your work moves a handful of people then you’ve created something meaningful.
The reaction from the male side of the spectrum has been supportive too. They are often surprised that they could enjoy a women’s surf movie, so I take that as a compliment.
Of all the places you have traveled to, what place in particular stands out? And why?
I recently got back from Japan, so it’s currently the stand out. Andria and I went to promote Dear & Yonder over there and it completely changed my idea of Japanese culture. The day after we arrived we had to do ten interviews back to back and each interviewer asked what message we had for girls in Japan and my response was to encourage them to try surfing and not be afraid blah, blah, blah. Well the next day we went surfing and there were girl surfers everywhere, van loads of them and they were not afraid. I had this preconceived idea that Japanese women are repressed and shy, so there wouldn’t be anyone to receive our film there. It’s so nice to be wrong sometimes.
Who/what inspires you?
I live in the mountains of Santa Cruz in a pretty rural setting, which has been a huge inspiration especially during the making of D&Y. Whenever I would get stuck on an editing problem, I would just take a walk in the woods. About a mile from home the answer would come to me, and I would have to run home before I forgot the solution. I’m inspired by the physicality of nature: the plants, animals, weather and the ocean. But it also provides the solitude for a direct connection with the source of inspiration for me, which is something felt and not seen.
As for people there are many, but Thomas has been the biggest inspiration without his guidance and support I wouldn’t have made Dear & Yonder. In addition to that his creativity and drive are constant inspiration. Plus my love for him and his for me keeps me motivated.
The women in D&Y are a wellspring of inspiration for me. We obviously admired them enough to put them in the film, but the layers just kept accumulating as I got to know them personally. Putting the historical bit together was eye opening; I had no idea how many awesome characters there are in women’s surf history. I just love them all for their unique personalities and boldness.
My film partner Andria as well. She brought great ideas to the table that nudged the film in unexpected directions and opened up other possibilities.
What is the greatest thing you have learned in your life?
What are you most proud of?
Having taken an untraditional path in life and arriving in my thirties pretty happy and fulfilled.
What meaning does surfing hold for you and how has it changed your life?
Before I surfed I was a skateboarder, so I spent a lot of time in cities and concrete environments. At the time there was a part of me that was drawn to those grittier places, but I was a nature lover at heart. Surfing was the perfect fit because it challenges me in a similar way as skating, but I get to be in an environment that feeds my spirit. Surfing has a mental, physical, emotional cleansing effect that helps me stay balanced.
What brings you the most happiness in the world?
Shared experiences with family and friends.
Who are some of the people you feel are shaping the path for surfing today?
My hope is that people caretaking the oceans are shaping the path for surfing because without a healthy ocean environment the surf sucks no matter how good it looks.
Dave Rastovich’s commitment to cetaceans is so admirable. If every surfer (myself included) channeled that much attention and energy into caretaking the richness of life beneath our dangling toes, we would see a huge shift in the path surfing is taking. How would that be if surfers were seen as saviors of the ocean instead of air headed, thrill-seekers?
What is your favorite board? Your favorite surfspot?
My favorite board is my custom shaped 9’4” single fin by Michel Junod. I love his style so I asked him to shape me something along the lines of what he rides so I could try and emulate his moves. I don’t know if it’s working, but I love that board. Oh and I’m about to get this peanut board from Tyler Warren, it’s a fat 5’2” twin fin with a square tail. Thomas got one and I fell in love with it, so I can’t wait to get this one because it’s tailored to my size.
Favorite spot would be Noosa Heads if it was a left and it was in Santa Cruz, but unaffected by the weather here and not many people surfed it because they’re too accustomed to going right. The same could be said for Malibu or Rincon. Also there would be a hot shower on the beach, but I guess you weren’t asking about my fantasy surfspot.
What’s your favorite meal?
My favorite meal includes lots of fresh vegetables from my local farmer friends. It’s even better when a farmer prepares the food because they know just how to get it from farm to table in the most delicious and simple way possible.
What are you currently listening to on your iPod?
Well I’ve been mostly listening to audio books. I love to read, but one can’t read and do other things at the same time very well, so I listen to books, mostly while I cook. The last audio book I listened to was “The Horse Boy” because I’m interested in shamanism and I love horses. But as for what music I’m into, well I’m in a slump, so I’ve been listening to hot country on the car radio, because it makes me laugh, and random folk music on Pandora when at home. I like the storytelling aspect of music and being surprised.
What causes/ projects/ organizations do you support?
I support organic farmers, Sea Shepard, Keep a Breast, Save Our Shores, Permaculture, wildlife education/conservation and anything that moves us away from our dependence on oil.
What are you most grateful for?
I’m most grateful to be alive at this time and for all the blessings I’ve received in this life: A big family including a twin sister to get through the tough parts with, an awesome husband who supports me in every way, a diversity of friendships and community, good health, a beautiful home to retreat to or invite others in, the mountains to the sea, and Muddy, our dog, she is the best.
What’s next for Tiffany Campbell?
Thomas and I are working on buying a house and I’m looking forward to a big garden, chickens, ducks and eventually goats. I’m ready to put down some roots.
To learn more about Tiffany Campbell and Vill Villa Cola, click here. Photo captions: 1. Kassia Meador, 2. Ashley Lloyd, 3. Filmmakers Tiffany Campbell and Andria Lessler, 4. Liz Clark, 5. Trailer for the film, 6. Tiffany Campbell on location.