– stripping surfing back down to its most elemental form

Cyrus Sutton Interview

I first met Cyrus Sutton this past November when he came to Nova Scotia to screen his latest film project, Under the Sun. In his mid-twenties, Cy has amassed a large body of work already. His first film was titled Riding Waves -an introspective look at several different California surfers. From Donavon to John Peck and to Dane Reynolds, Sutton explored how the surfing lifestyles can take form. His latest surf film Under the Sun features amazingly beautiful cinematography, coupled with a clever discussion into the commercialization of surf culture in Australia. He is also working on a climbing film among other projects.

Cyrus is articulate and intelligent. He also lives a natural lifestyle and seems to focus on progressing in his art and his surfing rather than worry about the trivial aspects of life. As can be seen in both his photo and film work, Cy has an eye for the natural beauty of our world. His talent is certainly yet to be fully realized. It’s not only his artistic and intellectual abilities that shine but also his surfing. He rides the heavily glassed single fin logs with ease and grace. He’s also proficient in the shorter realm like the fish and the alaia. We wanted to interview Cyrus as part of our continuing exploration of the essence of surfing.  Enjoy.

Tell us a bit about where you from and how you got into surfing.

I’m from Orange County, California and I got into surfing because I thought it’d make me cool and a stud with the ladies. It was only after religiously immersing myself in the oceanic elements that those superficial motivations washed away and a higher surfing consciousness was awakened.

You filmed Riding Waves when you were still in your teens. Were you also surfing competitively at that time? Can you tell us a little about your inspiration and perhaps your challenges as well? Who influenced your surfing?

Joel Tudor was my main influence growing up. He was pretty much the only guy surfing all kinds of boards with incredible grace in California in the 90’s that I was aware of. I made my own videos cutting out his sections from various films and I would watch these Joel montages endlessly hoping that his style and positioning would somehow bleed through the television screen.

There was really only a small crew of us oddballs back then who wanted something more out of surfing than the pervasive elitist thruster consciousness. Competing in longboard contests back then was far more a communal gathering compared to today’s average ASP shortboard events. That said there were definitely still some healthy competitive juices flowing at the events. Although I don’t really compete anymore, I do miss the adrenaline rush of paddling out for a heat wearing a jersey- it was fun. I made Riding Waves as a testament to my belief that the act of surfing was a much more powerful universal expression than was being marketed at that time.

We’ve reviewed Under the Sun on Phoresia so I won’t go into that. Tell me more about why you make films. Tell me what it is that makes you want to film surfing instead of being out there in the water. Are you still inspired to make films?

Yeah I’m still inspired to make films. I’m not sure how many more surfing films I’ve got in me, but I’m a storyteller and I believe filmmaking is the ultimate storytelling medium of this age. Cyrus SuttonMy films just feel like a cycling of the intense inspirational energy I get from people, places, and ideas I’ve been lucky enough to interact with. And up to this point the majority of my indulgences have been mainly surf-centric therefore that’s been the subject of my films.

Absolutely nothing makes me want to sit on the beach and film while the waves are pumping. It’s actually a mental process for me to be able to do that. I quit surfing for a few days before a trip or during a time when I know I’ll be having to film for a while and I won’t surf much at all while I’m on location filming. That allows me to remove myself from the role of a surfer and focus on all of the details involved in getting good shots. And despite my addiction to surfing, the act of intensely anticipating a surfer’s path across a wave, or connecting at a critical moment in the water, have their own rewards.

You’re from Orange County. I think it’s fair to say that for many of us Orange Country represents a plastic and superficial consumer lifestyle. The surf media often portrays the Southern California surfer as one who is independent, artistic and maybe even a bit of an anarchist. Is this contrived? Does the whole “soul” surf scene there have any real characters?

There are all kinds of surfers in Orange County as in all of Southern California and while the OC zeitgeist is definitely one of conspicuous consumption, I think the surfers are a little more open-minded than the majority of the OC populace. That said the portrayal of the So Cal soul surfer is still pretty contrived. This is a very competitive culture where housing and the overall cost of living has everyone stressing, and while we have integrated the incredibly transformative act of surfing into our lives we have also been fed exploitive values and conditioned to measure all things with dollar signs. The social pressure of fitting into this materialistic and productivity-obsessed culture leaves us constantly wrestling with two extremes. But I do believe that if a person can separate their life on land from their life in the water, they can create their own internal place where surfing is pure.

I was thinking about my quiver the other day and it dawned on me that I have the hipster quiver. I mostly ride my little quad fish or my single fin log — both with resin tints and gloss finishes. What’s your take on board styles and board fashion? Does it matter?

If you’re feeling good about what you’re riding and that helps you paddle out more often then that’s what it’s all about. Surfing is so over-exposed and we’re all so jaded that little things like resin tints and certain board shapes can often make the difference in whether or not we paddle out. We’re all kooks really. I mean right now I’m dividing my surfs between a fucked piece of wood that I sink up to my eyeballs on and an ass-dragging log, but that’s what’s keeping me in the water everyday. As far as I’m concerned the less we need to travel to compete over the same “world-class” breaks and the more stoke we can learn to squeeze out of our local surf, the better off we’ll all be.

We’ve been exploring different definitions of the essence of surfing. That aspect that makes us devote our lives, or should I say design our lives, around being able to surf as much as possible. What do you think is the essence of surfing?

For me surfing is the repetitive navigation through a zone which makes all of your rough spots smooth.

Recently you got to spend a few days in Nova Scotia to screen Under the Sun. How do you see surf culture there, was there anything strikingly different?

The crew I met and surfed with up in Nova Scotia share a collective high that comes from living in a place where the entire surfing experience is still fresh and beautiful. The sights and smells surrounding each session are so beautiful and enlivening- walking through forests and meadows, paddling through lagoons, its incredible… way different than Orange County. I just hope that they continue to honor and value their natural resources and learn from other surf cultures that have traded that for money and notoriety.

You can see Sutton’s site at

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One Response »

  1. Thanks for that. Seems like a pretty genuine guy, and with well thought out comments.