Apocalypse Later


Close up

Renny Yater (pictured) with the re-issued Apocalypse Board (left) and the original Yater spoon used in the movie Apocalypse Now.

Apocalypse Later

Yater Surfboard Reissue Helps Vietnam Vets

By Keith Hamm

photo Paul Wellman

Charlie don’t surf.

Neither does Ben Katz. But after watching the surreal surf scene in Apocalypse Now Redux — the 2001 expansion of Francis Ford Coppola’s 1979 Vietnam War epic Apocalypse Now — Katz set out to score a surfboard. But not just any board. Katz was searching for the single-fin “spoon” that survives intact through the storm of .60-caliber lead, hidden grenades, mortar fire, and napalm as Bill Kilgore, the fearless redneck lieutenant colonel played by Robert Duvall, spearheads a dawn attack on Charlie’s Point.

Guided by the film’s only clue — the Yater Surfboards logo stenciled on the surfboard’s topside — Katz soon found himself in the Santa Barbara shaping room of legendary waterman Reynolds “Renny” Yater, now 73, who’s been building top-of-the-line surfboards for five decades. Katz explained to Yater that he wasn’t looking for a fiberglass ride to escape from his nine-to-five as an intellectual-property lawyer in Los Angeles. Rather, Katz was inspired by Kilgore’s inviolable objective — to surf that break, even in the midst of war. The lawyer sought a memento that resembled Kilgore’s determination, which for Katz would symbolize the battles he often fights in the war-like theater of practicing law.

Sure, Yater said, he could shape Katz a one-off custom board. But when the two got down to details, Yater mentioned that Coppola had never asked his permission to display the Yater logo in the original film, nor in Redux, which features several minutes of additional surf-scene footage resurrected from the editing-room floor. The lawyer in Katz pointed out that Yater could wield a strong case if he wanted to face Coppola in court. Yater wasn’t interested in stepping into a legal battle but he did listen when Katz suggested that he reissue a collectors-edition limited run of the famed war board and donate a few to a Vietnam veterans charity.

So, Katz traded his legal work for one board, trudging through the paperwork minefields of securing permissions from Coppola’s law team to produce 90 boards. (Yes, the director had poached the Yater logo, but the board’s graphics were his own creative work.) Katz also arranged freebie boards for Coppola, Apocalypse screenwriter John Milius (who also wrote famed surf flick Big Wednesday), and Santa Barbara Surfing Museum curator James O’ Mahoney, who owns one of the film’s original surfboards, which Yater used as a template.

Katz recently arranged for two boards to be signed by Martin Sheen (the film’s Captain Willard, who steals Kilgore’s board after the napalm blitz on Charlie’s Point) that will hit the auction block on May 14 in Los Angeles. The auction’s proceeds — collectors speculate that each board will fetch upwards of $20,000 — will go to Denver-based Outward Bound, which treats Vietnam veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. Founded in 1983, this rehabilitation program is the brainchild of retired Green Beret Colonel Robert Renault, whose military background served as a building block when Milius wrote the film’s Colonel Walter E. Kurtz character, played with dark genius by Marlon Brando.

So far, Yater’s hit the halfway mark; the first 40 or so boards have left the shop. The process of crafting exact replicas has been a “nightmare,” he said, but even the perfectionist in him is pleased with the boards. Modeled after O’Mahoney’s original, each surfboard is a standard nine-footer with a rounded pintail, though in the film Kilgore calls for his eight-six “spoon” (a Yater trademark developed in the early 1960s and still popular today). Once out of the shaping room, Yater sends them to Tony Channin’s Precision Fiberglass in Encinitas for the tedious and expensive task of matching the original board’s colors and artwork.

For a closer look, check out at the Beach House on lower State Street. They’re going for $2,850 a pop but their value is expected to double within a year. Beach House owner Roger Nance said that many of the 90 are spoken for, but he is still taking orders from war buffs and collectors who want to invest in these sleek conversation pieces. Nance added that a few diehard surfers have dropped a pretty penny on these original and fully functional Yater boards, even if only to admire them high and dry.

“I doubt you’ll ever see one in the water,” Nance said.

The horror.

i was thinking about doing my next board with that exact same design.

…You must make friends with horror…

…Because if you donot make friends with Horror …and Mortal Terror…

…They are,TRULY enemies to fear…Herb