The hills are there in front of us, the sun behind, and he’s getting smaller and smaller, framed by the burnishing light, the water, the sand, the hills. I remember for a moment how much beauty is still left in this world. And now here’s my wave, lifting me gently and sending me off in the direction of where he’s glided down the line, disappearing into the reflected light.
I’ll never catch him. He’s a Malloy. He goes first.
It’s a Friday afternoon, and I’m at the place that Chris Malloy and his brothers come back to when they’re done with the adventures that send them off to the rugged shores of western Ireland or the malarial jungles of Indonesia or the jagged reefs of Tahiti. They go to these places in search of things out of the reach of most of civilization: moments of purity, grace and thrills — a type of simplicity bounded by nature and determined by the sea. Spend time with these guys and you too will start to believe that civilization has its drawbacks. Sure, they are just professional surfers. But then, again, Bono is just a singer in a rock & roll band.
The place Chris Malloy has taken me will always be the best place in the world to him. Etiquette forbids me from telling you exactly where this place is, but it’s not far from where he and his younger brothers, Keith and Dan, grew up on a ranch near Ojai. It’s close to where they live now. It’s near his family and his sister, the one sibling who doesn’t surf and never will. It’s where their story began. It’s where their story continues to grow, and where it’s likely to become part of the rich local lore, before they’re done. For all their traveling, these part-Irish, part-Mexican young men are still homeboys, after all.
In late September, I drove to Laguna Beach for my first in-person encounter with the Malloys. Laguna is about 100 miles and many light-years from where they come, yet there was Chris, the oldest of the three at 32 years old, nervously addressing the packed amphitheater at the Laguna Beach Festival of Arts. More than 3,000 tickets — up from 300 last year — had been sold on Saturday alone for that day’s installment of the weekendlong Moonshine Festival, a surf-spawned art, music and film event named for the Malloy-led Moonshine Conspiracy — a collective of surfers and artists who share a certain retro sensibility. Jack Johnson, Will Oldham, the Shins and others like surfer-musician Donovan Frankenreiter would perform. Among the photographers and artists showing were John Severson, Scott Soens, Barry McGee and Alex Knost. The event’s proceeds would benefit the Surfing Heritage Foundation, dedicated to gathering, documenting and making available to the public the artifacts and history of surfing, something to which the Malloys are precociously attuned.For Dan Malloy, a wave this big is like manna from down under
I’m not sure the parade of The O.C.–minted, hypersexy girls — and boys who dogged after them — cared so much about surfing heritage as they did about just seeing and being seen at what has become the Woodstock of surfing, a pursuit that is now officially the primary cultural signifier of the young and/or the tragically hip (like 50-something Blue Crush producer Brian Grazer), but that didn’t stop Chris from trying.
"Welcome to two years of home movies," he said, by way of introducing the main attraction, the premiere of the Moonshine Conspiracy’s A Brokedown Melody. Malloy, who directed the film, was as inconspicuous in khakis and a flannel shirt as a man on a large stage with a spotlight on him could be.
About a month later, fans would be turned away from the film’s premiere at the 2,000-seat Arlington Theater in Santa Barbara. Something, it’s clear, is happening, because this film, even more than the rest of the Moonshine Conspiracy’s catalog, isn’t a typical surf film. The Malloys don’t pimp their rides, and their films are leagues apart from typical punk-adjacent contemporary surf videos. Without losing its relevance (how could it when it features Kelly Slater, Rob Machado, Tom Curren and CJ Hobgood?), Melody is thematically and aesthetically reverent to an older, more classic idea of what it means to be a surfer. It draws a direct line from pioneers like Duke Kahanamoku — the Hawaiian 1912 Olympic gold-medal swimmer who traveled the world spreading the concept of surfing — to Slater, who is the greatest surfer who ever lived, and who, like the Malloys, believes in a broader definition of surfer as waterman and steward. Those waiting throngs might not have known it going in, but when A Brokedown Melody is playing, surf church is in session and the Malloy brothers are leading a revival.