Surfers and the Vietnam War - The San Diego Union


Film explores surfers' choices during Vietnam War

By Ed Zieralski (Contact) Union-Tribune Staff Writer

2:00 a.m. March 28, 2009

They were two surfers in the prime of their wave-riding years when the Vietnam War wiped out their dreams.

One of them, Pat Farley of Santa Cruz, volunteered for service in 1968 and became an Army Ranger. For Farley, the hell that was Vietnam was way too close, became way too personal.

The other surfer, Brant Page, a former San Diegan, joined more than half a million young American men who said, “Hell no, we won’t go.” They called them draft dodgers. Page didn’t care. Like Muhammad Ali, who said, “I got nothing against no Viet Cong,” Page evaded the Vietnam War draft and escaped to paradise. He went to Hawaii, where he camped, moved often to avoid the FBI, lived off the land, swam in rivers and surfed the blue Pacific. He looked like a real-life Tarzan.

In their thought-provoking and award-winning documentary, “Between The Lines,” director and producer Ty Ponder, writer and co-director Scott Bass and director of photography Troy Page, who is Brant’s son, explore how the Vietnam War affected the West Coast’s surfing culture.

More specifically, the film weaves together these two surfer’s opposite takes on that contentious war into a wave-cresting, emotional finish that won’t be spoiled for potential viewers here.

“There are two sides to the story,” said Ponder, a San Diegan and a commercial pilot. “Our goal was to tell a balanced story and honor veterans. Very few veterans see this as an anti-war film.”

“Between The Lines” opens with narrator John Milius of “Apocalypse Now” and “Big Wednesday” fame setting the tone: “Soldiers and surfers. Two identities, seemingly opposite. But when the concepts collide, as they did during the Vietnam War, and surfers are told to become soldiers, choices have to be made.”

From there the film splashes across the screen like sets of waves, switching back and forth from Vietnam for Farley and to the Hawaiian Islands for Page. The soundtrack’s two original songs, including the title track, “Between The Lines,” by Chuck Ragan, are perfect matches for '60s tunes from Steppenwolf and others.

Background is given about the early lives of Farley and Page. The film shows how the United States became more and more involved in Vietnam, all leading to the 1965 mandatory draft.

By the war’s end, more than 58,000 Americans were killed, 10 percent of them from California.

There is real, raw footage of firefights in the jungles of Vietnam mixed, bizarre as it seems, with surfing adventures at places like China Beach. Army lifeguards such as Greg Samp patrolled the beach at those spots, and Ponder said he was a tremendous resource for the film.

Is it gnarly? Definitely.

Is it politically correct? Hardly.

Nothing is overlooked, certainly not the protests that erupted in the United States over the war.

There are emotional interviews with surfers who fought and those who didn’t. One of them, Army artilleryman Howard Fisher of Julian, fought and was critically wounded, his jaw severed. He earned a Purple Heart, but he recalls how no hero’s welcome awaited him when he returned to the U.S. No one asked to see his medal. No one offered to buy him dinner.

Fisher has seen the film several times and praised it, calling it “intellectually stimulating.” Even though he fought like Farley, he has no ill feelings for the dissenter, Page.

“Being part of it, I have a sense of honor,” Fisher said. “I relate to them both and respect them both. Both should be praised for who they are. The collective burden of the Vietnam War on our generation was huge. This generation today is facing the same issues. It makes sense to have both sides. This is America. Brant doesn’t look as patriotic as Pat, but I respect him with all my heart. He had a pure heart. He stole the movie.”

As the documentary closes, we are asked, by Rick Thomas of the Navy’s River Assault Group, who showed courage? Was it the man who fought or the man who dissented.

“Between The Lines” by Pure Frustration Productions is set for its premier and benefit showing tonight in Santa Cruz. On April 18 it will show at a benefit for the California Surf Museum in Oceanside. The DVD is available now and will be in most surf shops next week. Go to for more information.

any good archival footage of Jane Fonda?