“I Just Wanted To Jump Out Of A Fucking Helicopter”
The feature film, “Heavy Water”, according to Nathan Fletcher
Ken Burns could easily do a 10-hour documentary series on the Fletcher and Hoffman families. From Walter and Flippy Hoffman scrounging balsa rescue boats in Pearl Harbor to build blanks back in the late ‘40s, to Joyce Hoffman’s beauty and grace, to Herbie Fletcher’s cosmic vibrations on Maui and subsequent jet ski antics at Pipe in the ’80s, to Christian elevating surfing’s air game, the family crest burns bright in surfdom.
But alas, filmmaker Michael Oblowitz beat Ken Burns to the punch. In his new film, “Heavy Water,” he trains his lens of Nathan Fletcher.
“Radical people do radical shit,” Herbie once told me on the beach at Trestles.
The peach doesn’t fall too far from the branch when it comes to Nathan’s approach to life. Stab recently caught up with him to discuss the movie project and how it all came together. The following is his stream-of-conscious take:
This might be the most iconic wave of Nathan’s life, but the wave of his life, he made.
The idea for the film came from Michael hitting me up. He wanted to do an interview, so we did it. Then later he called me back and asked about doing a movie.
I was thinking, ‘Okay, whatever. Then I started thinking, man, I’ll do it, but maybe I could jump out of a helicopter or something.’
He thought of it and got super excited. I just kind of threw it out there thinking that he wouldn’t pull it off. Then it lined up, the helicopter thing, and it was on.
There were a lot of weird little kinks and bullshit things that came up while we were making it. Different people wanting different things…or not wanting different things. There were a lot of touchy subjects, and all that being said, the greatest part about the whole thing is that it touches on certain subjects and events that have been really impactful in my life and in the surfing world. It deals with going through all the bullshit of life and coming out better for it and getting some glory.
It goes through those waves at Cloudbreak and Teahupoo. What a lot of people don’t know is that wave at Cloudbreak was actually the ride of my life, not the one at Teahupoo. That Cloudbreak wave is the best wave I’ll ever catch. I was out there with my friends, had the right board at the right time on the right swell. And then Bruce got this crazy wave too.
The Code Red wave at Teahupoo was different. It was a tow-in and the circumstances were different. It was more high stress. I was kind of tripped out on the whole situation. It wasn’t me just jumping in the water, paddling over and riding a few waves. With a wave like the one at Teahupoo, I could tow into that, you could tow into that, it was all about who was there at the right time, in line, waiting for a wave on that swell.
It just so happens it was me.
“That Cloudbreak wave is the best wave I’ll ever catch. I was out there with my friends, had the right board at the right time on the right swell. And then Bruce got this crazy wave too.”
It just so happens that there were other people that had the opportunity to go on waves like that, but they didn’t. That was another trippy thing. And then there was the contest going on. All those things are the reason that wave go so much coverage. Obviously, the image, the wave and all the media being there, that’s really how all that went down. But the Tavarua wave was the one that made me feel like, wow, I just caught the ride of my life. It’s funny.
In the film, we also touch on some family stuff. We talk about what my dad was doing with jet skis on the North Shore back in the day. We talk to Peter Cole about some board design. I’m really, really sorry we didn’t get Stretch in there because he’s been such a big and important part of my life. That was the hard thing with a project like this, some people made it, some didn’t. But it’s really not even about that. It’s the story of me and Bruce going into the helicopter.
As a surfer you want to have all your A-plus rides in there, but some of the footage we couldn’t get, or it didn’t exist, or we couldn’t license it, so there are some mushy rides in there, but it is what it is. It serves the purpose of telling the story. And I guess that’s the difference between a documentary and a surf movie. You have to have footage to move the story and the narration along.
Like the finest whiskeys, Mr. Fletcher gets smoother with age.
It’s like a mix between Wave Warriors and Hollywood. It’s got the graphics and the narration and everything, but it’s also surfy. The story leads up to the helicopter, which is more dramatic. There’s not as much talking, there are multiple angles, it’s kind of futuristic and crazy. So it starts really documentary style and ends with this look at the future of surfing and big waves and whatever’s going on…not like a wave pool.
With the helicopter, it’s one of those things we thought of, but then when it comes down to the day, there’s fucking insurance, regulations, cameras and all this stuff. It’s coming down to who knows how many hundreds of thousands of dollars just for the day. So once the wheels are turning and the day arrives you have to do it. It’s not as fun as when you’re thinking about jumping out of a helicopter a bunch of times. There’s the fucking FAA, you’re hanging out of a helicopter unstrapped, a surfboard hanging out of your arm, and you’re just like, what the fuck?!
With the whole helicopter thing, I just had to make it, but it wasn’t like I got to practice or fuckin’ have fun with it. It was more like I just completed it. You could do it on such a bigger scale, but that would take more days and more practice. The fact is, I did it. It was super fun to do and scary, but in my head, it was hectic and super fun and I don’t give a fuck what anybody thinks.
I think it took me seven tries to make. It took almost an hour to set up each attempt, so we started at 9:00 am and by 3:00 or 4:00 pm it was getting kind of heavy. Go to the beach, get on the helipad, get the cameras set up, then it gets stormy and rainy. At the end of it all, I’m just super happy I got to ride a wave.
Long story short, I’m grateful I got to do it.
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