Cuba's digital destination
Interview with Rod Diaz
(Producer of Havana Surf)
1.How did you originally get involved in producing this film?
I was studying at the University of Havana, Instituto Superior de Arte in the Facultad Audio-Visual, which is close to the surf spot in Playa. Thanks to Bob Samin’s website, havansurf-cuba.com, I realized there were waves, so I decided to bring my surfboard to Cuba. I was introduced to Eduardo through friends that I met surfing, and soon enough I realized I had to combine my passions and make a film about surfing in Cuba.
2.What was the most surprising thing you discovered about Cuba during the making of the film?
I realized how similar the Cuban youth is to the youth I grew up around. Growing up in Miami, Cuba was this forbidden topic, and I was given the impression that kids there were on another planet and completely brainwashed. I realized that this is not true at all. The Cuban youth knows what is going on in the outside world and want to be a part of it. I also noticed that the same was being done by the older generations on the island. When I began pre-production for Havana Surf, I asked some of my Cuban classmates to help me with the project. One of my professors pulled those classmates aside to tell them that I was one of those “Miami Kids” and not to trust me. Extremists are constantly trying to show how different we are rather than similar. The fact that there are more similarities between young Cubans and young foreigners is something that Havana Surf unintentionally reveals. Those two classmates came with me anyway because they knew I wasn’t looking for problems, and they believed in the project. My professor, whom I admired as a filmmaker, unfortunately passed away, and I ended up dedicating the film to him.
3.What was the most challenging part of making the film?
This is that project that I think every filmmaker has to go through. It’s not a film for school, or a film for profit, it’s a film for what you believe in. I produced, shot, directed and edited this documentary, and although I couldn’t have done it without those that helped me, it took major dedication and hardheadedness. It was also difficult being 18 years old when I first started the project. Some of the surfers were older than me and when you’re on a surf trip, you’re stoked to get out in the water or explore the towns you visit. It was difficult to sometimes sit the guys down and get them to do interviews. Another major challenge was post-production. Documentary making is all about post, you basically write the script in post, and that took two years. I realized I was missing important footage, such as Bob Samin’s interview, so I had to go back and film that in order to finish editing.
4.Do you have a favorite anecdote which illustrates the unique nature of making this film in Cuba and the experiences you had?
There are tons of good stories and anecdotes, but the most meaningful moment for me came after I finished the film. Eduardo gave me a gift from one of the board shapers, whom I had never met, and who had seen the film. It was a miniature replica of a surf board made “the Cuban way,” with a fiberglass coating just like the home made boards Cubans used to commonly make. Painted on it is the Cuban flag and the image of a wave. It is about the same size of an Oscar and it stays on my desk, because it is my Oscar. I think it is the most valuable thing I own.
5.How did you find / get in touch with Bob Samin? Why do you say he is the most unlikely hero you will ever meet?
When I started making the film I was very against the idea of having foreigners in it. I didn’t want this to be another surf video of California boys surfing in third world countries. I wanted it to be the Cuban Surfers’ story. But, as I was interviewing the surfers, the same name kept popping up- Bob Samin. I realized how much he helped them and how generous he had been. Bob is a humble guy who only cares about surfing. He doesn’t want credit for anything; he just wants to help. Bob doesn’t see himself as a hero, but everyone else does.
6.Cuba is not known for big swells, is there really enough waves to attract people from overseas to Cuba. Do you think one day it could be a surf destination? What time of year would be best?
Cuba will never be in the big leagues of surfing, but it does get some great waves. Triton and la Marina Hemmingway are great spots for waves in Havana. Puerto Rico Libre in Holguin and Yumuri in Guantanamo were my favorite spots outside of Havana. The best time of year for waves is from November to February, whenever a cold front comes in. The Cuban surf trip is for a different kind of surfer. It’s for those who aren’t just looking for big waves, but who like to interact with people and get a taste of Cuban culture.
7.What was the biggest wave you have ever seen in Cuba?
I saw some enormous Hurricane swell in Triton, but it was too big and choppy to surf.
8.How different was Cuban surf culture to other places?
Thanks to Bob bringing in foreign attention, more Cubans have good boards made by professional shapers. But it wasn’t always like that. Cuban surfers used to have to make their own boards with materials that were not suited for surfboards. They also have a double barrier that other places don’t. The embargo prohibits all American surf companies from selling their products in Cuba, and Cuban police would often tell surfers to get out of the water. But a lot of this has changed. Thanks to foreigners leaving surfboards and materials behind, Cubans have access to American products, and because the spot has become more popular, authorities now actually understand what surfing is and don’t bother them as much.
9.How did you find the response from the Cuban locals to both what you were filming and the Cuban surf crew?
Havana Surf premiered at the Havana Film Festival in December 2008 at Cine Infanta. Not only was the theatre packed, but also there was a line around the block of people that wanted to get in. The crowd was of all ages, from 8 to 80 year olds. It was extremely fulfilling to actually get to share it with the Cubans.
10.What has been the response to your film internationally?
The international success of Havana Surf was pretty unbelievable. I never imagined it would get so much exposure. We won an audience award at the Sydney Latino Film Festival, and an Indie Award at the Indie Film Fest. The film showed all over the world, from the Santa Barbara Film Festival to Ombak Bali Surf Film Festival to the San Sebastian Surf Film Festibal, and the LA Latino Film Festival on Hollywood Blvd. Everywhere we took the film, people loved it and had great questions. In Santa Barbara, Bruce Johnson, one of the original Beach Boys, saw it and told me it reminded him of the surf movies of his days, and that he wished they made more surf documentaries like it. The only place where it received criticism was in Miami. I showed it at the University of Miami, my alma mater, and after the screening an older Cuban exile began lecturing me about Cuban History. Havana Surf is about Cuba today. I am from Miami and many younger Cuban-Americans are longing for the day when relations are normalized and we can go to Cuba for a fun surf trip.
11.What are your next plans, any more Cuban related projects?
The last time I was in Cuba was for the film festival in December 2011, and while I was there, I shot some footage that I want to intercut with footage I shot in Miami. It is an experimental video that I am working on and I will love to share it with Cuba Absolutely when it’s finished. Thank you for your interest in Havana Surf! Viva Cuba!!