Big-Wave Elite Pull All-Nighters In The Powerlines Library - Stab Mag
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Powerlines captures Ben Andrews on the wave of the morning, January 11, 2022. Image: Drake Stanley from recent edit ONELEVEN

Big-Wave Elite Pull All-Nighters In The Powerlines Library

With decades of hustle, two Half Moon Bay filmmakers have created a shortcut to progress at Mavericks.

news // Feb 18, 2022
Words by August Howell
Reading Time: 6 minutes

Remember that bluebird day at Mavericks when Kai Lenny couldn’t seem to fall? All the successful drops and highlines from that December 2020 session were waves Kai had visualized and watched before, hovered over the computer, playing, pausing, and rewinding footage of California’s most notorious wave. 

Film review isn’t unique to surfing. Athletes across a range of sports use footage of games to analyze their competition and improve themselves. But in the big-wave world, having the ability to study the waves themselves in a variety of conditions before you ever get there isn’t just advantageous to learning the nuances of the spots, it also helps propel the sport in new directions. 

Of course it was Curt Myers of Powerlines that filmed Peter Mel’s wave of a lifetime, as featured in Everything & All.

“By the time I got to Mavericks, I felt like I had great insight into how the wave worked because of all the content and interviews from all the surfers,” Jamie Mitchell said. “It was like a guideline of how to surf Mavericks.”

The owner of this invaluable trove of Mav’s footage is Powerlines Productions, made up of Curt Myers and Eric W. Nelson, two filmmakers that grew up within a few miles of the break. 

With Curt shooting from a jet ski and Eric posted on the cliff, this grassroots operation — along with their late friend Chris Wilson, who often filmed, edited and secured music for their edits — has documented nearly every swell to hit the famed peak and crafted independently produced films from their homes since the early 1990s. And if you’ve ever been frustrated by the over-emphasis of peak moments in big-wave footage, Powerlines footage is the antidote. They specialize in telling the whole story.  

Curt Myers by Don Montgomery

“I would watch these surf movies with my dad,” Eric recalled. “And you’d see someone wipeout or have the wave of their life, and then it would go to the next wave. But I would be like, ‘How’d the guy survive? He got completely pounded. Or when he got barreled, did everything slow down?’ For me, the storytelling is what I thought was important to Powerlines.”

They released their first movie together on VHS in 1998. Twenty-four years and 20 films later, the two are using the same methodology of land and water angles and keeping their lenses fixed on the wave, and have become understated historians of all things Mavericks. Their catalog is celebrated by the best men and women who seek to push themselves over that infamous ledge. 

“They’ve been there capturing amazing rides for decades,” Darryl ‘Flea’ Virostko said. “These guys don’t come from money, they’re scraping by raising families and still dedicated to this. That’s where I have a lot of respect for those guys.”

In the early days, there were no vests, minimal crowds, barely a safety net in sight. Now, it’s a different story. In the last few years, Powerlines has become more involved with a crew of local water safety volunteers. From his perch next to the Air Force base, Eric radios the team for incoming sets and keeps tabs on those unlucky enough to venture through the boneyard. 

Eric Nelson by Don Montgomery

“It just expanded with Sion Milosky’s death,” Eric said of the safety emphasis. “We’ve seen the evolution, starting from Mark Foo dying all the way to now where we have a water rescue support staff out there.”

Still, their focus is on capturing and cataloging the surfing, which today can be found mostly on YouTube. Their online following includes Kelly Slater and pretty much any big-wave surfer who has even considered surfing Mavericks. It’s not uncommon for anticipated edits from Mavericks, Jaws, and Teahupo’o to get north of 300K views. On Instagram, one can find footage from the 2000 contest (Kelly finished runner up to Flea) right alongside the highlights from the latest swell. 

The big-wave community is small, and the Half Moon Bay community is even smaller. Curt gets especially excited when talking about the next generation, explaining how he envisions the Powerlines brand expanding beyond just a chronicle of big waves. 

“I love the groms around here,” Curt said. “It’s such a full-circle thing, like seeing Luca [Padua] come up. I just want to support them as best we can. Giving them something cool to study or keep. That’s just as exciting to me as getting Nic Von Rupp throwing his hands up in a left barrel.”

The library they’ve assembled enables surfers to relive many of the wave’s best rides and worst slams. For homegrown 20-year-old Luca Padua, Powerlines footage was his introductory course to Mavericks, and they’ve documented nearly every session he’s had there since he was 13. Lately, their footage is helping him dial in his approach to backdooring that ludicrous left. 

Wanna pack the left? Review this tape.

“There are a lot of intricacies to big-wave surfing, and a lot of times you feel something and you do your best to identify it [in real time],” Luca said. “But to go back after and look at the footage to understand what you did or didn’t do well, that’s incredibly helpful.” 

Kai Lenny recalled that during his first session at Mavericks in 2013, he was surprised at how concentrated positioning was on the peak compared to big-wave lineups elsewhere. For someone as progressive as Kai, having decades worth of footage at his fingertips, combined with notes on his own exploits, proved a valuable formula to push his limits in the big-wave arena. 

“Overly-edited footage can be deceiving,” Kai said. “It can be amazing when it’s cinematic, but to really learn from something, that footage straight from the camera is a huge help. And it’s helped my progression, especially on the day-of-days.”

Through its unique blend of raw footage, quality camerawork, candid interviews and unrivaled consistency, Powerlines films offer stories as well as a framework for getting out of your comfort zone. As awkward as watching yourself surf on camera can be, Kai noted how the duo’s relentlessness behind the lens has allowed surfers like himself to advance the sport, soaking in all the knowledge of past successes and failures to reach new heights. 

“I don’t think the progression would be as high as it is if you couldn’t review sessions and see the mistakes,” Kai said. “Every time I watch myself, I think ‘I’m going to do this differently next time. I’m going to take off later or way deeper.’ It feels gnarly until you watch the clips sometimes. Then you realize you can step it up.”

Powerlines’ clips feel like a day with your friends… if your crew is keen on dodging 40-foot sets and laughing in the parking lot afterward. There’s endless shit-shooting on the harbor docks. But you also see Wilem Banks coughing up blood after his award-winning wipeout in 2017. Jay Moriarity recounting his iconic 1994 iron-cross fall. And who could forget Grant “Twiggy” Baker’s journey into oblivion last year?

“I wouldn’t be where I am today without the help of Powerlines,” Twiggy said. “Most of us big-wave guys can’t afford to have our own filmer and we rely heavily on local producers to help us with footage. Curt and Eric have always been so generous and forthcoming, and many of my XXL wins have come from their footage. Mavericks wouldn’t be the same without them.”

An editor’s note on the grammar of “Mavericks”….or “Maverick’s”: For my entire career in surf media I’ve spelled Maverick’s with an apostrophe, because the spot is named after Half Moon Bay local Alex Matienzo’s dog, Maverick. When writer August Howell interviewed Curt and Eric for this piece, he said, “They were pretty adamant we don’t have the apostrophe.” 

I scoffed. “I’ll take care of it.” 

But when I talked to Eric and Curt about it, they made it clear they were ready to kill the piece before they were associated with that rancid apostrophe. As Eric said, “Whenever I see Maverick’s in a sentence, I see a tick on a hairless Chihuahua!”

I was baffled. How could anyone care so much? But then, of course, I was digging my heels in the same as them, but on the other side of the argument. Two wings of the same bird, it seemed. 

So, in the spirit of bipartisan cooperation, I agreed to publish this without the apostrophe…even though it’s clearly fucking wrong. -Taylor Paul

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