Can’t  Stop Surfing.

Ricky Whitlock, 25, is a professional surfer from Carlsbad, CA who had been traveling to Hawaii every year since he was 13 years old without incident. While surfing before his competition heat one morning, he paddled into an averaged sized wave at the famed Banzai Pipeline and broke his back in two places. He would spend the next several days in the hospital, unsure of what his future might hold.

Luckily for Ricky, his injury was not life threatening, and he wasn’t paralyzed. If there’s a “right” way to break your back, Ricky did it ­– twice. Just seven short months after his serious injury, Ricky Whitlock was back surfing huge waves again. We became part of the mission to tell his incredible comeback story.

In everything we do, we focus on storytelling.

Our team followed Ricky during his laborious rehabilitation process, including treatments and progressions. Knowing Ricky’s sense of determination and passion for the sport, we could already predict that this story would have a happy ending. And it would be a journey built on positivity and grace, since Ricky is a natural born storyteller with perfect comic timing and an endearing, disarming way of engaging with people and with the camera.

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Ricky’s original personality set the tone for our documentary, which reflected his confident swagger, direct manner of speaking, and general ease. Rapid camera movements on stable tripods enabled modern storytelling techniques with both flair and style. Though readily appealing, it was also unconventional, creating a distinctly smart and contemporary mood.

We didn’t want our audience to watch the mood, we wanted them to feel it. Non-traditional camera movements and lighting techniques offset the audience, inviting them to look into the story in a peculiar, engaging way. In this way, we anticipated our audience, through our lens as a storyteller, delivered them directly to the story.

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Good storytellers know better than to try to appeal to every audience. We knew our audience, and we created with them in mind. Over the course of three days, we worked quickly but effectively to record all interviews and the majority of our b-roll. Although we could never have predicted that Ricky would rehabilitate so quickly, and be surfing before our production cycle concluded, but we had no complaints—the fact that he rebounded so quickly gave us the perfect ending we had been searching for all along.

We waited for the waves to get big, really big.

With our principle photography completed and a rough cut of our edit already wrapped up, we waited for the waves to get big – really big – somewhere in the world. We planned for a last-minute strike mission although we had no idea whatsoever where that might be.

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Two months later, the stars aligned and we headed to mainland Mexico for a wave called the Mexican Pipeline (aptly named after the very wave in Hawaii where Ricky broke his back) for those final shots.

Ricky Whitlock: L-1, T-12 eventually appeared in film festivals around the world, garnering critical praise and honors along the way. Our documentary also appeared in several top media outlets in the surfing community, receiving stellar critiques form industry insiders. And, to no one’s surprise, Ricky is still out there surfing.

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