September 4th, 2015
SeaMade: The Making of “Under Desert Sun” by Kevin Voegtlin
Angola. Do you know where that is? Honestly, I didn’t…that is until I met Kevin Voegtlin, an independent filmmaker who recently made a film about a surf trip to Angola. Last year, Kevin’s buddy Kepa Acero traveled through the Angolan desert on a solo hunt for waves. Surfers in the area pointed him to a left-hand point that wasn’t breaking but he knew deep down that it would fire on the right swell. A few months later, Kepa returned with Dane Gudauskas and they absolutely scored. Kevin’s documentation of the surf trip evolved into his film “Under Desert Sun,” which was just released for your viewing pleasure (see full film above). I got together with Kevin earlier this week to get a better idea of what this Angola surf mission business is all about. Now go grab your readers for the interview, a brew for the movie, and a map to figure out where in the world Angola is located.
MADISON GAGLIANO-OLSON: You just released your film last week and have been premiering it from San Clemente to NYC. Congrats! It’s rad! Looks like you guys had way too much fun on the trip. Tell me about some of the best times in Angola.
KEVIN VOEGTLIN: There were moments when things finally worked out, like when we got our car and were driving through the desert at night. Then the sun came up as we got to the waves. Kepa was so passionate about surfing this wave and when we pulled up it was pumping. We were all so stoked.
MGO: Did the whole trip line up smoothly or were there some difficult moments?
KV: The entire first four days of getting there was such a mission. I had a whole day in Dubai on a layover. When I finally got to Luanda to meet the guys they took our boards into customs. I don’t think the customs agents have ever seen surfboards. That took forever. When we finally got our bags back, our plane had left without us. Kepa’s friend came and got us and she told us to get on the bus in the morning.
We stayed with Portuguese friends that night but got attacked by mosquitoes in the capital, which is malaria haven. That’s another story! The bus ended up breaking down so we were stuck again. The capital is not somewhere you want to be- it’s a sketchy place for three white guys who don’t know where they are. We sat in a parking lot for five hours waiting for another bus and ended up on a 14 hour bus ride. There was so much anxiety and emotion getting up to that because we knew there was a swell coming and we were having the hardest time getting there. But that bus ride gave us a chance to rest up and we finally got there.
MGO: Dane is known to be a pretty comedic guy. Did tensions ever get high between you guys or was everything groovy?
KV: Everything ran so smoothly between all of us. It was such a good group of guys. We would sit and talk story, maybe have a warm beer at night that had been rolling around in the car for three days. Haha, ya, it was pretty amazing. I don’t think I’ve ever done a trip where everyone got along so well the whole time.
MGO: Did you get to surf on the trip?
KV: I surfed twice. It was tiny, like knee-high. I was so focused on making the film. It was my first time being in full control of a project. Whenever the guys were surfing I wanted to shoot. I trunked it both times- once at night- I lasted maybe a half hour and I was freezing cold.
MGO: What are the waves like in general?
KV: Its pretty much all sand bottom left points. The prime season is the southern hemi winter. Some waves worked the whole time while others were more finicky. One really good wave we had for an hour and a half, but the tides and wind changed so it shut off. The set ups were endless though. Every turn on the road we were like, “Should we go surf that one?!” Sand bottom left points for days!
MGO: Did it ever go flat? Tell me about some flat day antics.
KV: Every day would’ve been surfable but we were so limited on resources that we decided to go into town and recharge when the surf wasn’t working.
MGO: What was the heaviest day of surfing?
KV: The first day was incredible because we actually got the wave that Kepa had been eyeing on his previous trip, and he got barreled three times on his first wave. The conditions also came together well the very last day, which is the last section of the movie.
MGO: Do you think you could survive in the Angolan desert for 40 days on your own like Kepa did when he first explored there?
KV: I think I could survive but it would be miserable. It would have to be a different person and a different mindset than me. Kepa speaks Portuguese so he could go into town and talk to people in the towns to stay sane. But ya, I suppose I could pull it off if I had to. It’s rough out there. Three days into the trip the swell backed off and we went into town to recharge. All we had been eating was white rice with tomato paste and fruit, with seashell spoons. We were so sick of it, so Kepa got in touch with some girls he knew from his trip before and they made us an incredible dinner of fish and wine and sweet potatoes. It was so good to get out of the desert and get a proper meal.
MGO: Did you feel prepared during the trip?
KV: Ya, I did for the most part. I grew up camping and off-roading in Baja, and backpacking. Even felt prepared on the filming side. Even though it was my first big project I’ve got some good experience over the last five years. There was still that bit of uncertainty knowing the project relies completely on me though. I may have even been over prepared and overshot but at least I didn’t miss anything.
MGO: What was in your camera quiver?
-Cameras: Cannon 7D, Canon Rebel T3I, Yoshika D (a medium format film cam)
-Lenses: 500mmF4, 70-200mm F2.8, 50mm F1.4, 20mm, 16-35mm
-A shit load of memory cards and batteries
MGO: Kepa talks about the purity of the Angolan culture and lack of tourism. As a filmmaker shooting in a country that hasn’t received much surf journalism before, do you worry about exposing the area?
KV: Yes. Somewhat. We try to be sensitive to keeping where we were not exposed. It’s a big country and we were all over the place. Americans aren’t too aware of surfing in Angola but there have been surfers there for a long time. South Africans have been coming up a lot… Australians, and Portuguese, too. The Angolans don’t surf for the most part but the local surfers we met were fired up to meet us. It’s not like we were going behind people’s backs. I want to stress we aren’t claiming these waves and that we weren’t the first ones to surf them. We went with the intention of going to a remote place and getting great waves with friends, not so much as an exploration trip.
MGO: The culture and people in the film are so vibrant. What’s one thing you wish Californian’s would do more like Angolans?
KV: It’s such a dichotomy because the country is rich but the people have hardly anything. The Angolans were so friendly and willing to help. There was one point when we had to buy coal to burn at camp. When we asked a lady where to buy it she decided to help us hunt some down for almost an hour and wouldn’t take any monetary form of thanks. Everyone was so happy and helpful. I think it comes from not dealing with war anymore. They are still poor but at least they don’t have to worry about being shot every day now too.
MGO: If you were to go back, what would you do differently?
KV: Nothing really, maybe just spend more time there. We there for two weeks and the travel time to get to the surf is so long from America. It would be nice to have more time and wait for swell. Oh and be more stocked with food so we aren’t’ eating white rice for days on end.
MGO: What has been your biggest challenge as an independent filmmaker in the surf industry?
KV: The production side of it because it’s not my mindset. Getting funding and sponsors and music licensing is tough. Filming, conceptualizing, and creating a product is my passion. It’s the business side of it that challenges me.
MGO: What are some suggestions you have for other aspiring independent filmmakers?
KV: It sounds so cliché but shoot everything, all the time. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Send out the things you make and get people’s advice and criticism. Just keep trying to better yourself and work. Another thing is building solid relationships in the industry and being able to work with people.
KEVIN’S GEAR ESSENTIALS:
DAKINE ROLL TOP BAG
A solid backpack and big enough to stuff clothes to make it through a camping trip without feeling like a complete hobo. Key factor on this pack is that it serves as a dry bag as well which is huge! While it doesn’t rain much in that part of Angola it was almost always misty; and when you’re cold and wet, the last thing you want is for your clothes to be cold and wet as well.
CHANNEL ISLANDS NEW FLYER
CI New Flyer. When you’re camping and traveling with limited space (and when you’re the filmer and even bringing one board is pushing your luck) you need to think sparingly. The New Flyer goes insane in any type of wave at pretty much any size you are going to find out there.
POLER ONE MAN TENT
Polar One Man Tent. You’re already driving, surfing, eating, and hanging with your crew, do yourselves a favor and everyone bring their own tent. These things are pretty light and break down nice and small: well worth having your own little zone to escape to and keep your stuff organized.
XCEL 3/2 DRYLOCK WETSUIT
A good 3/2 is all you are going to need out there, and XCEL has really been setting the standard for simple, quality suits that are warm and will last through a bit of rugged living.
PATAGONIA MICRO PUFF JACKET | QUIKSILVER WATERMANS FLANNEL JACKET
It’s cold out there, and windy, really windy, so layer up and make sure you have something that can cut out that chill. It’s also damp all the time so make sure you have some water resistant gear.
VERTA FACE STICK
Its the African desert, do your skin a favor and slather some of this on.
FCS CHAMOIS TOWEL
Folds down small and dries fast, both make your life easier. Also impromptu pillow, added blanket, shade rigging, board padding, clean place to sleep on the airport/bus station floor. Bring a few.
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SURFRIDER WIDE MOUTH 32oz BOTTLE
Clean water isn’t regularly available. When it is take advantage and fill this bad boy up.