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"Surfing the Break" by Winona Bechtle

I thought I was drowning for a second in Maui. At the top of the Hana Highway on a black-sand beach I tried to body surf in what must have been 5-foot waves pushing against my 5-foot frame. I took a breath and tumbled a few times underneath the water until I oriented myself again and looked back to shore to see my father watching and laughing, my brother by his side.

We had watched Kathryn Bigelow’s 1991 film Point Break just a few weeks before what would be our last vacation together. I had just turned 12 years old. Sandwiched between cinematic selections that most likely consisted of Nora Ephron’s saccharine and sassy Michael and, perhaps, something like Face/Off, my cinematic education was off to an unctuous start. But, brah, Point Break had followed me like the desire for the perfect wave.

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For the uninitiated and unfortunate who haven’t seen PB (as I will occasionally refer to it), you can describe the film in the time it would take you to come up for a breath of air- rookie agent/ex-football star Johnny Utah (Keanu Reeves) goes undercover as a surfer to catch a painfully stereotypical band of SoCal surfers (most important of this bunch is Patrick Swayze’s character Bodhi). I can’t say it’s the story, or even the truly exceptional cinematography of this film that hooked me so thoroughly and quickly, but rather the earnestness with which everyone approaches everything in the film. From Keanu’s pleading with Swayze (“Bodhi, this is your fucking wake-up call, man. I am an F-B-I Agent!”) to the truly timeless moment in which his partner, played by Gary Busey, demands a meatball sandwich (“I’m so hungry I could eat the ass end out of a dead rhino, I should have had you get me three of these things!”), PB is on the nose about what it wants. And what it wants is to catch an endless ride on the crushing wave of life.

I first watched Point Break on a 6th grade school night in the one bedroom apartment I shared with my father, his girlfriend, and my brother. We didn’t have a dining room table so we were eating pizza off of plates balanced on an old tool chest and I could not have been happier. Sitting on the bed that doubled as our couch, the room felt like it was exploding with people and waves and FBI agents. In the same tenuous way Bodhi and Johnny Utah were friends by the end of the film I felt like I too could put them in my back pocket and use Bodhi’s sun-bleached ‘do as a great reason not to brush my own hair, an excuse I still use.

I have probably only watched PB in full two or three times. Like a good friend, I don’t need to hear its life story each time I want to come back and talk to it. I can stay away for a year or so but we still pick up exactly where we left off, jumping out of a plane or making love or getting ready to be punched in the face (by life or fellow surfers). Point Break is one of those great films in the canon of American pop culture that you can find on one channel or another a few times a month. It always seemed to know what I need to see, and when I need for it to shut up. During a particularly tumultuous summer at work, I would leave the movie playing all day on my desktop, silently, and between emails catch a glimpse of the perfect wave or a smoky bonfire. I’ve fallen in love with Point Break playing in the background, I’ve giggled when anyone orders a meatball sub, and I’ve snorted at my own father’s funeral when the words “Vaya con Dios” barreled into my brain when my grandmother put her hand on my shoulder. Point Break isn’t my favorite movie so much as it is my best friend, one who comes in and out of my life in ways and at times I cannot understand.

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Ridiculously, “Bodhi” is a word in Buddhism that refers to the knowledge of the casual mechanism by which beings incarnate into a physical form and experience suffering. I laughed a few years ago when I first learned about that, and how ludicrous it seemed to invoke such a concept in a schmaltzy movie about surfing. And it is totally ludicrous. The whole movie is completely insane, and grand, and might go on a bit too long, and makes no sense… but neither do many things, or lovers, or friends. Sometimes when I’m watching the sky diving scene for the 13th time or insisting that we skip ahead to the shot of Keanu’s arm wrapped around Lori Petty’s naked torso I hear Utah saying “I gotta be fucking crazy!” But, just a beat later, Bodhi always responds, “But are you crazy enough?”

To see what Winona is watching find her here:



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