Derek Dunfee is a surfer from La Jolla, CA, who enjoys paddling into monstrous waves at places like Mavs and Todos Santos. The 27 year old just released a new film, Down with the Ship, which follows his exploits leading up to winning the 08/09 XXL Big Wave Challenge by paddling into the largest wave of the year at Mavericks. We caught up with Derek recently and asked him a few questions about his film, big waves, and the broken leg that he suffered a mere 5 1/2 months before winning the XXL award.
How did you get interested in big wave surfing?
I grew up surfing a few reefs and Blacks in La Jolla ca, so I really think that fueled my desire to find bigger and heavier waves. When I was young, I didn’t know anyone in my hometown who chased big swells and surfed big waves. That meant I had to network a lot to find out everything from the right people to travel with, to learning about the weather and the surf forecasting tools. I was going to Hawaii and Puerto Escondido for a few years when I was younger and that forced me to want to surf something bigger.
Todos Santos party wave
Around 2004, both big wave surfers Zach Wormhoudt and Evan Slater took me out in some big surf. I met Zach while I was working as a boatman in Tavarua in June 2004 and he took me out to surf Mavericks for my first time the next winter. Evan also took me out to Todos Santos for one of my first big wave session’s. Those two guys were a big influence on me at the time. Since then, I’ve been training a lot and focusing solely on paddling in.
Tell us about your injury. How did change you?
When I broke my leg (fibula and tibia), I had to get 8 screws and a titanium plate installed in my leg. That surgery was a huge wakeup call to start living a healthier lifestyle. For a few years I felt like I was going crazy trying to chase every swell everywhere. Mentally, I think I needed a break from surfing. When I broke my leg I had a few months off, so I think it helped me alot mentally. When I was injured, I wanted to do more and take advantage of all my incredible opportunities. Ive been writing a lot and shooting photos for a few years so I wanted to push my creative side and put away with any mental boundaries.
What inspired you to make a surf film about your experiences?
After I won the Billabong XXL paddle in award, I wanted to share my story in hopes of inspiring other people to follow they’re dreams. 5 or 10 years ago I would have never imagined that I would win that XXL award because that award seemed like this impossible goal of mine. I accomplished my biggest life dream by catching that wave and winning that award. But it didn’t come easy. I wanted to show the kids that if you work really hard in a healthy and honest way that you can do anything you put your mind to. That was the attitude that I had going into making this film. Why not? Why shouldn’t I be able to make a film? Luckily, I have a big group of talented friends that worked with me for pretty much no money.
XXL wave from land
Also, I have a big group of friends that are incredible tube riders and big wave surfers, so I was stoked to showcase they’re talent as well. A few of them aren’t sponsored and have no outlet for video footage. There is enough room for everyone to be successful, so im was stoked to include a bunch of my friends in my film. A lot of films that have big waves and big tubes are focused on towing-in and step offs. In my film, there are no tow-ins and no step offs.
What were the challenges of making a film starring yourself?
Haha, good question!! I didn’t want my story to come off as egotistical or bragging, so it was real hard for me to make sure I was coming across as honest and sincere. I put myself in scary big wave situations alot so I’m always grounded and humbled by the ocean and big waves.
Another challenge was deciding whether or not to put an interview of myself in the film. I spoke with my friend and filmmaker Ryan Thomas because I hate seeing myself on film. Ryan explained the reasons why I should put an interview in, and he helped me understand different parts of filmmaking that made it easier for me to make my film flow better.
Where do want to take your surfing and your filmmaking in the near future?
I would love to push both my surfing and my filmmaking. I’m at a point where I feel like I can do anything, and I want to do everything. Its really exciting. I know I have a lot to learn about filmmaking, so I would love to learn more about the technical aspects of it.
For my surfing, I love to get tubed almost more than surf tall waves. I have a big list of new places I want to go to. This next year I have a lot of stuff I want to do. I want to write more and make a few webisodes, and I have a few film/photography projects that im eager to get started on.