By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
The Malloys’ careers skyrocketed throughout the ’90s. Chris’ fearless big-wave charging began earning him invitations to the Eddie Aikau big-wave contests. Keith was one of the most photographed and filmed surfers of the ’90s. Dan was poised for perhaps the most glory of the three after winning the Ocean Pacific Pro Junior in 1996 and placing second in the 2000 U.S. Open. A couple of years ago, his peers selected him in Surfer magazine’s poll as one of the 10 best surfers in the world.
Then, in 2002, Dan quit the competitive circuit, having decided, like his brothers, that the circus was getting in the way of the surfing.
The feeling that something was getting away from them had been building in all three Malloys even as their dreams were being realized beyond their wildest expectations.Dan gets blow-dried in New Zealand
"Even since the time we signed those first contracts, the face of surfing has changed so much. At first, it’s ‘Hey, I can pay my rent and get to do what I love.’ It goes from having enough money to pay rent and barbecue to having your face on billboards and MTV and people in the Midwest wearing the stuff you’re hawking and you realize maybe you’ve gotten into more than you thought you were," says Chris. "After a while, about five years, it’s become apparent you’re a trained seal. It’s wear the trunks, wear the shirts, smile. Don’t say too much when you’re interviewed and everything will be fine. You’re helping surfing grow exponentially; surfing is growing like mad, but you’re helping create a bunch of loose cannons because of people who think surfing is fashionable or they are drawn to these idols that they see in surfing magazines and you step back and you start to feel like you’ve betrayed something that’s dear to you."
The first step in finding their way back was sort of a joint internal affirmation. "We wanted to surf for the reasons we started to surf; over the last four or five years, that’s how we’ve felt. We didn’t want to compete. We weren’t going out there trying to create attention with these hideously bright colors that they were using in surfing for so long," says Keith. "It wasn’t something we talked about or anything, we just moved in the same direction together. We do spend so much time together, it just rubs off. We feed off each other."
Once they had reclaimed surfing for themselves by dropping out of the competitive grind, they slowly started a process that would be dedicated to reclaiming it for those who had gone before and those who would come after.
This is where the Moonshine Conspiracy comes in. It’s a loose affiliation of like-minded surfers, musicians, artists and filmers, but it’s really a code name for Chris Malloy, his brothers, former pro surfer and now-famous musician Jack Johnson, cousins Emmett and Coley, wife Carla, other family members, and anyone else they can inspire. Lately that’s come to include even full-time surfer and part-time rock icon Eddie Vedder, who contributed a ukulele song to A Brokedown Melody.
They released their first film, Thicker Than Water, in 1999. It was a definitive step away from the prevailing mode of the day, which was to make corporate-funded, quick-cut, heavy-action and heavier-music affairs that were little more than adverts for the surfers and their sponsors. Aside from featuring the biggest waves ever ridden in Tahiti and debuting Jack Johnson’s music for most people, it is one of the few surf films ever to be shot entirely on 16mm film. The same year, the Conspiracy released Thomas Campbell’s incongruously long-board-centric The Seedling, also shot on 16mm. Then came September Sessions and Shelter.Chris prefers to spray it, not say it.
The films were so out of context with the mainstream that they were subversive. They didn’t identify riders or locations, had little of the standard (and annoying) voice-overs, and were infused with subtle messages and inside jokes. The idea was for viewers to be inspired to figure things out for themselves: who it is surfing, what they’re doing, what the references are. They depicted the Malloys and their friends as a band of adventurers, using the water in a variety of ways, living off the land, and gathering around the campfire to play music and tell stories of their predecessors. The films were independently made and distributed out of the Conspiracy’s headquarters in that renovated Victorian in Ventura. They were as much art projects as surf films, throwbacks to a bygone era that showed surfers living out an older definition of what it means to be a surfer.
"I feel like where we come from, our heritage, is better than anything I do," says Dan. "I have a whole lifetime of learning about the ocean, about what that lifestyle is. We’re trying to learn what it means to be a waterman." That sentiment has resonated, and each film has become a cult classic in the surfing community.