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Surfing's Prince Of Decadence: Bunker Spreckels In Review

Bunker Spreckels appetite for excess led him to claim he once laid with 64 women in the span of a week. Which, whether or not that number is accurate, to believe he had sex with a quarter of that in a week is astounding. As the title character of Bunker77, he flings vigorously into the world of surf, drugs, film, and addiction. The heir to the Spreckels sugar fortune and stepson of Clarke Gable lived with his pedal glued to the floor and a blind driver at the wheel–as any good, all-too-rich addict does, he died at the tender age of 27.  

Last week, I joined a group of 20 or so for a private screening of the documentary. The story’s as interesting as it is strange, starting from Bunker’s not so humble beginning, through the chaos of his psychedelic, upper and downer-addled mind, the quasi-pornography he shot with his lover Ellie, making a name on the North Shore into his abrupt demise (an overdose) in 1977. 

Craig Stecyk III, who conducted the majority of the Bunker interviews, was present along with Bob Hurley and director, Takuji Masuda who introduced the film and politely asked we keep our phones on silent. As the film rolled, the mood was earnestly attentive and nostalgic. A caricature of Bunker was slowly brushed and was set to emotional interviews with the ones that he was close to and himself. The attention to detail put into the documentary is impressive, hours of footage and interviews were cut and dissected. Mr Spreckels life was recorded almost in entirety, both by himself or media and journalists. In the later, more self-indulgent and depressed years, the shell of a man is revealed. 

Like any documentary about a deceased, somewhat idolised drug addict, Bunker is lauded for his rebellious nature, coined an original–which he was. The interviews and footage spread across the lands of him selling drugs at Malibu, nestling under Miki Dora’s wing (who called him a "genetic space child"), being claimed as one of the first to tackle backdoor on boards smaller and funkier than anyone else was riding at the time, inheriting his millions at 21-years of age and his waltz down the spiral staircase. It is 90 minutes of booze, drugs, guns, love, confusion and instability–a winning blend for the modern-day attention span. On The North Shore, which was a hard lived, drug ran entity at the time, Bunker was simultaneously revered and scoffed at. But people have always been attracted to the rich and eccentric.  

From my take, Bunker was a shit head trust fund kid with a surfboard. Who, to know fault but his fortune, used his money to gain friends and make awkward careers inside his deranged institutions. He dressed like a pimp, wanted to be an actor, and lived a disoriented grandiose life so full of pleasure that it failed to satisfy. He fired guns without consequence, took as he wished but somewhere glaring out of the negative aspects, there is an endearing innocence about him–a humanising aspiration of wanting to be wanted. 

There is a lesson in the madness, and it’s not a "money can’t buy you happiness" gimmick, but more that everyone’s afraid of their own life. That when you shoot for the stars, sometimes you incinerate in the atmosphere. I’d recommend the documentary whole-heartedly. It’s a worthwhile, informative watch about a man who was bigger than himself.  

The film starring Laird Hamilton, Tony Alva, Johnny Knoxville, C.R. Stecyk III, Art Brewer and narrated by Mike Judge will be in select theatres in Los Angeles on Sept 22nd, in New York Sept 29th followed by a streaming release with Amazon. Keep your eyes peeled. 

You can watch the trailer here

Read Art Brewer's detailed recollection of life on the road with Bunker here.