Jack McCoy is a legendary surfer/filmmaker and his name is synonymous with the genre called surf movies. For over 30 years, Jack has been filming the world’s best surfers in the most exotic locations. His many films include Tubular Swells, Storm Riders, and Blue Horizon. His most recent film, A Deeper Shade of Blue releases this year.
What was it like growing up?
I grew up in Kailua, northeast side of Oahu. The prevailing wind is straight onshore, but as a kid I didn’t know any better and the beach was my home. We lived about half a block away and it’s where I spent the majority of my time. It was all bodysurfing and paipo boarding.
The paipo board also did the job as a sand slider. When I got to intermediate school, I met a kid named Buddy Apana who was Hawaiian and lived on the beach in Waimanalo. I started going to his house every Friday after school. I stayed with his family and his sisters and their husbands. One of their husbands was a huge guy name Eddie, and he was a full waterman who taught both of us our serious early skills around the ocean.
I lived for Friday afternoons to take the bus with Buddy back to this world of people who had a lot less than I did materially, but so much more on other levels. One thing that really stayed with me was the Hawaiian music that was always being played or sung.
In high school, we moved to the southeast side of Oahu and all of a sudden the ocean became clean and smooth, and the offshore reefs then became my playground. Surf surf surf. That’s all I thought about. That’s all that mattered. That’s all I did—surf and body surf— because Sandy Beach was only a short 15 minute drive around Hanamua Bay.
Once I got my car, the weekends were spent out at Makaha, where the Sunn family allowed me into their lives and I was exposed to more and more Hawaiian culture.
As I got older, it dawned on me that the connection came from my own roots. My father was one-quarter Choctaw Indian, a tribe that lived on the Mississippi River area—water people. I just always felt that saltwater was flowing through my veins. So growing up was pretty special.
When did you get your first surfboard?
I saved up for months for my first board. My dad had a TV show and worked on Saturdays, so it was my mom who drove me over the Pali and into downtown to the Inter Island Surf Shop, the only surfboard shop in Hawaii at the time. I ordered a 9’3’. I wanted a 3/4″ stringer and clear top and bottom.
Seemed like forever for those two weeks to pass and my mom did the run to pick it up again with me. When I got there, it had a bright orange pattern on the bottom. The guy said they screwed up the glass job and had to put the pattern on it. It wasn’t exactly what I wanted. But what the heck? I’d not slept for two weeks, I was so excited that I took it.
My first board! I was so proud and rode the onshore crap all the daylight hours after school. Then it would make the trip to Waimanalo for the weekend. Buddy and I surfed some funky waves in front of his house and that really got me going. Didn’t matter if it was funky surf. I was surfing on a real board and in heaven. That board got dinged, a bubble on the deck and all sorts of war wounds that taught me how to fix dings and get back in the water—all the details of being a waterman.
What was the feeling you had when you first stood on a surfboard?
Waikiki Beach. Seven or eight years old. Dad got a 10 or 11 foot rental and pushed me into my first wave. Stood up straight away and had a good look around—Diamond Head on the right, the Moana and Royal with the mountains behind straight ahead, and Barbers Point and the sunset to the left.
I know it might sound goofy, but some Beach Boys lyrics (“Catch a wave and you’re sitting on top of the world”) were what I was feeling. Remember it like it was yesterday.
Who did you look up to and admire when you were a young man?
My Hawaiian friends who were watermen and the great surfers of the time. Of course, the Duke. But I loved Paul Strauch, Joey Cabell and Ricky Gregg.
Where were you educated in filmmaking?
When we made our first surfing film (Tubular Swells in 1975) and I guess you could say we graduated from the school of hard knocks. I’d just had a skiing accident and was KO’ed for a few days. When I woke up, I was a bit scattered. I’d been showing surfing films around Aust with Dick Hoole. After the accident, he put a camera in my hand and said we were going to make a surfing film. We learned from our mistakes.
Who was your favorite person you’ve gotten to work with over the years?
Tough question… love ‘em all. Each and every one of them taught me something.
Who or what inspires you?
My wife. I’m a much better person today from the first moment I met her.
I also get inspiration from giving as much as I can and enjoying the little things in life that seem to always come my way.
What is the greatest thing you have learned so far in your life?
The reward of patience is patience.
Do you have any regrets or wish you had done something differently?
Nothing. We all learn from our mistakes
What are you most proud of?
My wife and my two kids (Indiana, Layla Alex and Cooper Jack).
What meaning does surfing hold for you and how has it changed your life?
Surfing has been my life and my life’s work. Everything changed the day I rode that first wave. It’s been blue skies and green lights ever since.
What brings you the most happiness in the world?
My family and seeing my children grow into young adults. After that, I guess it would be a day like last Wednesday. Tom Wegener shaped me a little paipo board and gave it to me a couple of weeks ago. I took a good friend for a day surf trip down the coast and we found this right-hand reef. It was a south and a northeast swell running. There was a good board wave on the south swell side of the reef, but it was when the little norths would come through, where I was sitting by myself, that I’d get a steep takeoff straight into a tube and then a bending wall that came back at you for about 60 to 80 meters. Four feet on the takeoff, two feet down at the end of the wave. It was a perfect day—offshore, clear water, surfing with friends. Doesn’t get much better.
Oh yeah, spending a morning or afternoon at Aggie and Joe Quigg’s house… listening.
Who are some of the people you feel are shaping the path for surfing today?
Derek Hynd, Tom Wegener, Garth Murphy, and I really get stoked on seeing a pure source in guys like Cyrus and Ryan. I’m sure there are many more, but those come immediately to mind.
What’s your favorite meal?
Poisson Cru (Tahitian Raw Fish Salad).
What are you currently listening to on your iPod?
Angus and Julia Stone, Bön Iver, Them Crooked Vultures, Stan Getz, Makana, Jack Johnson (I think of his dad when I listen to his music), Beatles, Birds of Tokyo, Daniel Lanois, PowderFinger, Fat Freddy’s Drop, The Fireman, Gabby, Jan Garbarek, John Lennon, Karma Auger Trio, Kaukahi, King Sunny Ade, Makaha Sons, Yoko Ono, Pico, Queens of the Stone Age, Richard Tognetti, Red Wyte, Rip Van Hippy and Sheila Chandra for starters.
What are you most grateful for?
That next breath.
What project are you currently working on?
My latest film, A Deeper Shade of Blue.
What’s next for Jack McCoy?
Hopefully get some funding to make the two movies I had to slide sideways because with this one I was trying to tell too many stories. I’ve got two in the can ready to be made. We’ll see.
The World Première of filmmaker Jack McCoy’s A Deeper Shade of Blue is slated for a Red Carpet screening the evening of February 1st at the well respected Santa Barbara International Film Festival (Arlington Theater). For more details click here.