An Interview with Great Lakes Surf Filmmaker, Andrew Wyton

On Monday, November 11, we will be gathering at Patagonia Pittsburgh to celebrate the waves and personalities that comprise Pittsburgh’s inland surf culture.  We will be talking story and showcasing films from local filmmakers, including Ontario’s, Andrew Wyton.  Wyton’s films include Boom Lagoon, Lake Lyfe, Hot Toddy and Sweet Water.  We had a chance to chat with Andrew to learn more about his foray into the wild world of Great Lakes Surf filmmaking….

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Hi Andrew!  Introduce yourself to us with a brief background/history….

My name's Andrew Wyton. I got into film making when I was a semi professional snowboarder, riding for Forum, Special Blend & Skull Candy. I had a brutal wipeout and broke the Pars Facet Joints between my L4/L5 and they heeled poorly, or not at all, resulting in an 11mm separation in my spine called Spondylolisthesis.  The intense constant impact and shock absorption from snowboarding was too much for my back to continue, so I picked up the camera and chased the boys around making video parts and eventually full snowboard films for all my sponsored pals. Long story short, that skill set that I became super passionate about became a source of income, and slowly but surely became my full-blown career.

How did you get started surfing the Great Lakes?

My pal Kirby took me out one day and gave me the ol' 30-second surf lesson and said get after it. So without a wettie I paddled out there and wasn't in pain in my attempt. I realized surfing was more paddling and a core work out than actually surfing and was relatively minimal on the impact side of things. It became a great strengthening technique for my spine and a great way for me to still feel involved in board sports, and got hooked.

What aspect of Great Lakes Surfing and/or Filming do you like most or find most unique?

What I dug about surfing and filming in the great lakes was that I could standout relatively quick. Surfing in the lakes isn't crazy popular like snowboarding in Ontario, and filming the experience even less-so, so once I didn't totally suck I would twist my friends arms to get behind my tripod and get a couple clips amidst the windy weather. I ended up convincing (maybe not even consciously) most my best pals to take up lake surfing too so I had people to go with. It was a fairly smooth transition from snowboarding to lake surfing since the weather typically sucks for both options, and spots can be hard to get right the first, 2nd, or 3rd time. I was a street snowboarder, so setting up for hours then firing on the generator only to get kicked out was common. Kind of reminds me of driving 2 hours to a surf spot and having the wind be off a few degrees and blowing it out.

What inspired you to create films like Bloom Lagoon?

I thought Bloom lagoon was a fun idea. It's my 4th lake film after Lake Lyfe, Hot Toddy and Sweet Water, so I wanted to take a unique approach. We had a few really bad algae blooms in Lake Erie (my local) since I had started 8 years ago, so I thought some kind of dystopian fiction could be a fun concept. There were lots of news stories about the blooms so it was pretty easy to pull clips off YouTube and build a fake narrative to spin it as if all the fresh water in the world is being consumed by the bloom. It's all for fun I just want people to be entertained enough that they keep watching.

What challenges do the Great Lakes pose from a filmmaking standpoint and how did you overcome those?

Rain, wind, and temperature are definitely the film-issues. And not being able to surf and film simultaneously. Since I am a filmmaker by profession I mostly set my own hours and hardly ever have to miss a swell, unlike most people who have jobs to maintain. Because of that I was able to get pretty comfortable out there more rapidly than most of my pals, but it was hard to find other surfers near me with the same drive and developing skillset, so I didn't really have anyone to film. That's when I started recruiting people who didn't surf to come and film me for a session. So vain, I know... But that's just what it is when you've got to be the surfer, the film guy and the editor. That's when I met Noel Sargeant. He loved filming, using my gear and the exciting weather showing him a new perspective, and I loved him for loving it. We developed a great relationship as we spent dozens of hours together driving and searching spots, and he had a bit of a film background so we meshed really well. Bloom Lagoon was filmed as much by Noel as myself.

What’s your quiver look like?  Favorite sled (if you had to choose only one!)?

Now I have 7 boards but mostly use my 6'1 Von Sol (The red board in Bloom Lagoon) and my 9'6 Kona, which I actually received from Surf the Greats as sponsorship on this film. I'm loving getting into logging and you will see more videos catered to that coming soon, but if I had to pick just one it would be my Von Sol all day.

What do you want people to take away from watching Bloom Lagoon?

I just want people to be amused for a few minutes. I mean the Algae Blooms suck so if this motivates you to come up with a solution to that problem that would be incredible too, but I don't think a fictional dystopian surf film is going to inspire a cure to our lakes problems. Just watch it and have fun.

Any projects on the horizon we should look forward to? 

I've been spending most of my creative juices on a Clean Drinking Water project in South Sudan for the past 2 years. Right now I have a live GoFundMe campaign *Clean Water for South Sudan; by CEDASS* helping to raise 100 G's for this project. Long story short I have partnered with the Canadian Economical Development Assistance for South Sudan (CEDASS for short) to build a clean water pipeline for a few thousand people in rural South Sudan. I've been twice amidst the civil war and had to travel with heavily armed special agents to create the films around this campaign. It's definitely my top priority these days. If you guys could help me blast this GoFundMe I'd be incredibly grateful. I would love to see a world where Great Lake surfers act as stewards for clean water around the world, since we are so damn fortunate. Not sure how I could tie this project into lake surfing. Maybe doing film premiers at places like Patagonia and charging a small donation, which goes directly to the project.

Bonus round:  if you have a favorite Great Lakes surf story about an epic day, epic fail, unique situation, etc. – we’d love to hear about it to share at the film festival and in a blog!

One day during the filming of Bloom Lagoon, my pal Ian Morris came out with his RED Epic-W (crazy cool camera). It was the last day of the season and a balmy -13C +wind-chill. It was a 2+KM walk into the spot and the camera gear weighed about 40 pounds, so we loaded it onto a toboggan and dragged it in. I walked in in my dry wetsuit n booties with a coat on, but I was so excited to shoot I forgot to bring in a dry change of clothes, so when we were totally frozen after about 2 hours of surfing we got out and I realized I had to walk to the cars through knee deep snow wearing nothing but a soaking wetsuit n booties. It was actually so messed up. The footage from this session can be seen in the second half of Bloom Lagoon, where it's noticeably shot on a different camera and obviously freezing.