Birdwell Blog

What I’ve Learned with Jack McCoy
Dazzling Blue #111

Jack McCoy taught me things. His early films—“Stormriders,” “Kong’s Island”—gave me a glimpse into the Neverland that is the Australian surf scene. “The Performers” romanticized the pro surfer. Rabbit was like David Bowie. Richard Cram had the fiercest cutback in the business. Marvin Foster was pigdogging before we even knew of it as pigdogging.


Jack and I became friends in the early ’90s when he was editing “The Green Iguana” at a rented house in Palm Beach, Australia, not far from where I was living at the time. In the editing bay, over muesli chocolate chip cookies bought from a local café, he taught me about pacing, the slow dissolve, the time lapse, the setup and payoff.




Years later, on the North Shore, I spilled a full glass of red wine on a white sofa at the beachfront home he was renting. He immediately called a friend: “How do you get red wine out of a white sofa?” Sparkling water and salt, we learned. And it worked. What stood out to me was Jack’s calm, his sense of humor about it all.

For a time in the early ’00s he used to stay with my wife and me in Santa Monica when he did business trips through So Cal. His knock on the front door was mighty. His smile was huge. “Never show up empty handed, “ he’d say, bottle of wine in hand. (I’ve been trying to stay true to that rule ever since.) When my wife complimented him on the way he always made the bed and did the dishes he’d say, “I’m housetrained.” And years later, not long after my wife passed away suddenly and I was in the lowest low I’d ever known, Jack placed his hands on my shoulders, looked me square in the eye, and said, “Your job now is to go and live an extraordinary life.” I’ll never forget that.


On a recent trip to Sydney, I caught up with Jack and his family at their home in Avalon, NSW. Upon arrival, as I went to give him a hug, he repositioned his body. “Heart to heart, brother,” he said, our left rather than right chests touching. We talked a lot about surf history. He showed me epic photos from the Val Valentine archive. He told me about his latest venture, “Talk Story with Jack McCoy,” a tour that mixes storytelling, film clips, and photograph’s from Jack’s illustrious career. My first thought was, Of course! Jack’s whole life has been leading to this. While film is his primary medium, he is a fabulous raconteur.




On that note, and impromptu, halfway through lunch in fact, I thought I’d hit him with a big, broad question: What have you learned? Through all of your travels and experiences, what is your big takeaway at this point in your life? Jack did not take long to think about it. “The reward of patience is patience,” he said. “When dealing with nature, and in what I do as a surf filmmaker, you often have objectives that conflict with what nature is doing. And I’m not a very patient person—I’m trying to get the shot, I’m trying to get the show underway, I’m trying to get the job done. And it took me a little while to figure out that you can’t push the stream, and that the reward of patience is patience, and if you can do that you’ll be rewarded.”



Check out more from Jack McCoy HERE.

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