Film pays homage to Vietnam surfers Sea Notes Chris Ahrens

For information on future showings of "Between the Lines," visit

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Editted by Kris Stewart to make it viewable on line. Sea Notes is a weekly column written by Chris Ahrens in our local "Coast News" paper. My husband, Glen, and I were fortunate to attend the film's premiere at Hansen's Surfboard Shop in Encinitas last June 2008. This movie resonated with me for several reasons. I married into the Surf Tribe in 1975 and am grateful to feel I belong there. I am a Marine Corps Brat (Wendy) who got to spend high school in one location (Vista High) while dad served in the war. This is unusual for for a military brat. A great documentary on this lifestyle, from the child's point of view, is "Brats: Our Journey Home" by Donna Musil, featuring Kris Kristofferson (an Air Force brat).

Film pays homage to Vietnam surfers Sea Notes Chris Ahrens

June 27, 2008
I can still recall the anxiety brought on by the sound of letters falling into the metal mailbox, located in the front room of my family's house. I was 18 years old, and each day I rifled through the mail to see if my draft notice had come, with the seemingly cruel ironic word "Greetings," announcing that I was to take a physical for entrance into the U.S. Army. The only thing that made me forget about that letter was hours of surfing.

In time, two friends my age would pay the ultimate price and never return to their families. I entered college and hoped that student deferments would continue to hold. They did and I escaped the war, but not unscathed by memories of my actions at the time. And so for me this is more than a story. It's a confession of how I turned my back on friends returning to a changed society, often hurt and confused by the disrespect they encountered from people like me. All I can say is I was wrong and young, manipulated by rock music and a biased media. For what it's worth, I am sorry. Surfing was numbing me to the pain of others and a reality half a world away.

Recently my longtime friend Scott Bass, a Surfer Magazine online editor, mentioned a documentary he was writing and co-directing, concerning surfers and Vietnam. Preoccupied with my own film project, I gave his project little thought until running into one of the film's producers and directors Ty Ponder, who explained the film and showed me a book on the project, leaving me with a promotional video. From the moment the first scenes came up and the music began with the voice of uniquely qualified award-winning director John Milius ("Big Wednesday," "Apocalypse Now") speaking, I was hooked, taken back to what Milius' character Captain Kurtz called "the horror," seeing friends like Santa Cruz's Pat Farley make the jump from surf-stoked kid to rampaging soldier. One of the most powerful moments of the film occurred with Farley's tearful tale of having to club to death an innocent victim of the war, a dog he had been given.

Other surfers, like former U.S. Surfing Champion Ron Sizemore, told of their Vietnam experiences and I paused to consider the words of Jerry Anderson of Cardiff's Headline Graphics. He spoke of getting off the plane in Vietnam and being greeted by men who had completed their tour of duty. Instead of jubilated, Anderson described the men as "looking dead," while he entered a jungle hell and they began the long journey back to a country that did not embrace their valiant efforts.

Offering balance to those who went to war is the story of Brant Page, who kept one step ahead of the draft board, surfing in then-remote regions of Hawaii.

It's been weeks, but "Between the Lines" continues to enlighten while burning holes in my conscience because of my behavior, visiting my dreams (last night especially) and leaving me the way all good works of art do, with many questions about myself and the world we live in.

A debt of gratitude is owed to producer Jerry Anderson, executive producer/director Ty Ponder, director/writer Scott Bass and director of photography Troy Page.

For information on future showings of "Between the Lines," visit

Contact columnist Chris Ahrens via e-mail at