Words and frames by Robin Pailler
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. The Vans Duct Tape Invitational is undoubtedly my favourite event to be invited to.
And I realise as someone who doesn’t surf, that’s a weird thing to say. But ever since I was first invited to the debut in Tofino in 2017, I’ve never felt a stronger sense of community and authenticity. It’s just a vibrant melting pot of genuine human beings stoked to be together. There’s no egos. No cool-guy bullshit. And after a two year hiatus, the level of stoke felt more heightened that ever. But before I go into a full recap, lets start with my initial journey.
There are lessons to be learnt on every trip. And the first is to somehow negotiate flying in a day earlier for any future transatlantic events. Especially when you’re travelling 9,467 km. This I did not do and it was my biggest regret. Jet lag is no joke. Having caught an early connection from Amsterdam to Paris, I’m stoked to see my long-haul from Paris is via Air France and not KLM. Now I know they’re partner companies but there’s something I find deeply unsettling about those KLM uniforms. That shade of blue is not pleasing to the eye despite being renowned for being a stylish Mart Visser design. The last time anyone did anything stylish in a blue Dutch uniform, was when Robin Van Persie hit that exquisite looping header against Spain in the 2014 World Cup to spark a 5-1 come back after being 1-0 down. And to be fair, it’s not even blue, it’s navy.
Anyway, I digress, where was I? Air France, way more chic. Especially that safety video. Plus their film collection on board is top notch. They’ve got an array of Jean-Paul Belmondo films on offer. And when you’re trapped 33,000 feet in the air for eleven and a half hours, a little Cent Mille Dollars au Soleil goes a long way. Plus their cabin crew are always on good form. I find myself having a profound chat with Sandrine about the upcoming French election, in which we both express a deep fear and disdain for Marine Le Pen, whilst also sharing an uneasy acceptance that five more years of Macron isn’t that great either. The lesser of two evils of course.
I finally arrive in Mexico City and despite being in transit for 16 hours now, am feeling pretty, pretty good. I should probably mention at this point that I haven’t smoked in 17 days and have steered relatively clear of alcoholic beverages during this time too. Inspired by a friend’s recent foray in sobriety, I have decided to see what a clean lifestyle feels like. So far, so good.
Having been devoid of internet connectivity for 12 hours I find myself bombarded by a flurry of messages from the media WhatsApp group set up by my Vans point of contact and dear friend George Pedrick. It seems most people have already arrived in Puerto Vallerta and the vibes are strong. Although Andrew James Peters has been stung $100 in taxes for bringing 8 cameras. As I approach Mexican customs I decide to keep schtum about the 4 cameras in my bags and play the tourist card. The inquisition lasts 20 seconds and with my passport stamped I head to Terminal 2 for my connection.
As I make my way through security I find myself in a heavy negotiation with Mexico’s TSA equivalent about not wanting my 16mm film x-rayed. A situation involving 7 agents picking up Kodak boxes and staring inquisitively at the text, whilst I attempt to explain that it’s film in broken Spanish with hand gestures showcasing a wind up film camera from the early 20th century. They eventually agree to a hand check. The situation isn’t helped by a boisterous American behind me piping up with “that’s a shit load of film dude, you know it’s ok to go through as long as it’s under 800 iso right?”. “Yeah alright mate. No one asked your opinion”.
Following a two hour delay to my final flight, I arrive in Puerto Vallarta just after midnight. My shuttle driver looks as tired as I feel. I’m his last pickup and you can tell he’s done. He guides me across a parking lot only to realise it’s now shut off by a gate. “You ok jumping over this amigo?” he asks nonchalantly. We clamber over, suitcase et al before finally reaching the vehicle. It feels odd to be sitting in the back of a mini bus solo hurling down a winding road towards Sayulita. I would’ve tried to rest my eyes but the sheer speed of this man’s driving, along with vintage Mexican music, which clearly ‘goes up to eleven’, ensures I’ll have to wait for my hotel room before any prospect of sleep.
Wrong. Within three minutes of checking in I’m greeted by George and Peters clutching a six pack of Modelos and clearly several margaritas deep. The no-drinking is out the window. I never stood a chance. We indulge in a beer and a brief catch up before sleep beckons. It’s 3am and I know I have to be on a European production call for an upcoming job in four and half hours.
It’s morning and with the call out the way I hit breakfast. I’m greeted by Oceanside’s finest Evan Schell, looking very hungover. Rumours are there’s a so called “red bar” in town serving some next level passionfruit margaritas. I’m assured I’ll find out in due course.
With the waves looking good the comp is on and as we walk 400 metres along the beach you can feel the good vibes flowing. Vans surf team manager and my favourite Basque native Mikel Urigoitia is handling Spanish commentary, alongside his commentator counterpart and the King of Duct Tape himself, Joel Tudor.
Peters has emerged and the suggestion of a bloody mary is mentioned. It’s too good to turn down. With the heats in full flow, media invitees start hurdling under the number of parasols available trying to escape the baking sun but with eyes firmly set on the water. One of the best things about Duct Tapes is the opportunity to meet fellow photographers, writers and print makers alike. I introduce myself to Tommy Moore, a young chap from Wisconsin I don’t recognise from previous events. Turns out he runs a mag called Daybreak and it’s his first Duct Tape invitation. Sensing that slight uneasiness at not really knowing anyone, which we’ve all experienced at some point, I immediately bring him into the fold. “Ok this is Andrew Peters from Monster Children, this is Evan, he’s just shooting for himself. This is Mariah from Emocean, who I’ve only just met myself and this my friend, is a bloody mary. Go get yourself one from that bar over there, it helps takes the edge off”. He heeds my advice and by the time he’s back, Peters is getting his hair braided by a local. It’s a joy to behold and a continuously funny sight for the rest of the trip every time he takes his hat off.
With heats wrapped up and edges shaved we find ourselves grabbing beers and lunch, rubbing shoulders with the creme de la creme of Duct Tape’s “athletes”. Namely monsieur Grant Noble, a man of many talents on all types of boards with a penchant for very dry humour. It’s also the first time we get to greet the queen of Sayulita herself, Ms Lola Mignot. The afternoon escapes us and by the time we’ve eaten it’s time to head to the infamous ‘red bar’, or as it’s formally known, Bar Le Zouave. Now let me tell you, these passionfruit margaritas are no joke. They’re like crack cocaine only sweeter. But before we get too carried away we’re whisked over to Tukari Bar for an evening of surf screenings including a preview of Alex Patrick‘s’ new film In Search of Balance featuring Miguel Sinclair, as well as a screening of his previous film Hola Lola, which despite being a year old, is a pleasure to view on a big screen. Special mention to Brennan Mercer’s score and sound design on that one, which I feel perhaps gets unfairly overlooked. After a few more Pacificos, I can feel the lack of sleep catching up with me, not to mention the mild sunstroke I’ve endured and a slight over indulgence in alcoholic beverages. Heats begin at 8:45am tomorrow so best I get some sleep.
My 8am alarm hits me like a freight truck, pulling me out of a deep slumber reminiscent of an Inception like ‘kick’. I foolishly hit stop instead of snooze, thinking I’ll just doze for ten more minutes. My next foray into consciousness is a flurry of heavy knocks on my door. and George telling me to be downstairs in ten for the finals. “The finals?” It’s 10:30am. I’ve royally fucked up and missed the semis. I stare up at my ceiling fan spinning, evoking an Apocalypse Now sense of dread. “The horror, the horror”. A cold shower jolts me back into life and I somehow carry my dishevelled self to the beach apologising profusely for my lack of professionalism. Everyone looks fresh faced and I feel like death. I peel off to the toilets and puke up the passionfruit margaritas. A feeling of quiet serenity washes over me and I instantly feel humane again. I make it to the comp as the ladies make it to the water. As expected the 4 women go all in with Karina Rozunko and Kelis Kaleopaʻa neck and neck. Personally I would’ve vouched for Karina, undoubtedly biased, but Kelis’ switch game cements victory. One dedicated to her Great-grandma Elsie. A toast to lost loved ones. I can certainly drink to that.
It’s now the mens turn and again, a biased choice, but I would be awarding first prize to Jules Lepecheux all day long. That stoner, nonchalant steez is a joy to watch and it’s incredible to see how much progression he’s made in the two years since we released La Jeunesse Éternelle.
Andy Nieblas is another who just takes things to a whole new level, or in the words of Joel “is just a freak!”. Nevertheless it’s hard to fault Justin Quintal’s consistency. When it’s your tenth Duct Tape victory, you know it’s no fluke.
With the comp wrapped early doors, the remainder of the afternoon is spent rehydrating trying to shake off my hangover/jet lag. This coincides with a one hour beach massage recommended by Peters. Probably the best 400 pesos I will ever spend in my life. At one point I found myself drooling ala Partridge.
With my muscles both nourished and hydrated it’s time to make our way to the DIY skatepark. Another lesson learnt here is to always jump in the first shuttle. I foolishly got caught up in conversation and missed the first two. Before we knew it an hour had passed and Instagram was already being lit up with tricks via Grant and Rowan (Zorilla). In the end we take a taxi and make it just in time for last light. Both Grant and Rowan are done but hit the bowl one last time for yours truly. Despite missing Grant’s beast backside air he nails the backside disaster and Rowan shreds the bowl like only Rowan can. Having missed the first shuttle there I make sure to be on the first shuttle back. An experience I wholeheartedly regret thanks to whoever was in charge of DJing. 30 minutes of the worst music I’ve ever heard.
Once back in Sayulita the red bar beckons. Passionfruit margaritas are in full flow before we make our way over to Karaoke. It’s here I bump into the legend that is Dean Petty. A man who is the definition of good vibes. He introduces me to menthol fruit cigarettes. “You ever tried these? It’s an old classic with a new twist. They’re illegal in the U.S.”. At first I’m confused but he then explains you need to pop the two balls in the filter “like the best zit you’ve ever popped” to activate the sweet taste of blackcurrant and mint. “It’s like brushing your teeth dude! Me and my friends smoke these in the morning before we go surf, it’s so fucked up!”. There goes the no smoking.
At this point the karaoke is in full flow and Tosh Tudor is being elevated to the heavens with his rendition of Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing”. A trait Joel assures us is inherited from his Mother. But as good as Tosh’s karaoke skills are, Alex Knost is awarded performance of the night for his swooning version of Sinatra’s “That’s Life”.
The following two days are a blur in all honesty. With the competition wrapped, the pressure is off for media and athletes alike and everyone takes advantage of everything Sayulita has to offer. Guac on tap. Golf carts gone rouge. Mexilogfest. Red bar forever. Modelos in the pool, I have the pleasure of meeting the Lop Rap guys Ryan Cannon and Cole Walton, two of the nicest humans you could meet and genuine work horses judging from their recap on offer here. I realise Cole’s one of my favourite up and coming filmmakers having shared both his Knost Twonzer clip and Ryan Burch’s Speeding Motorcycle in recent times. He also introduces us to Summer Richley, a charming Costa Mesa native who is equally adapt at riding logs as she is cruising on roller skates. If you’re unfamiliar then check out Cole’s clip Tea Party. You’re bound to hear more from this girl in the future. Just tell her to stop opening bottle caps with her teeth.
I could go on but that’s enough rambling from my jet lagged scrambled mind. In summary for all the joy the competition itself brings, the real highlight of any Duct Tape is the social camaraderie it generates . No other event is able to effortlessly bring people together whilst pushing forward the culture in such genuine and humble fashion. It’s a beacon of humility in a world full of divisiveness and ego. And for that I take my hat off to Vans. Just fly me in a day early next time and I promise I won’t butcher my media duties. One love Sayulita.