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Ray Routhier

Portland Press Herald staff writer Ray Routhier will try anything. Once. During 20 years at the Press Herald he’s been equally attracted to stories that are unusually quirky and seemingly mundane. He’s taken rides on garbage trucks, sought out the mother of two rock stars, dug clams, raked blueberries, and spent time with the family of bedridden man who finds strength in music. Nothing too dangerous mind you, just adventurous enough to find the stories of real Mainers doing real cool things.

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Posted: September 12, 2017

Traveling Save the Waves Film Festival rides into Portland

Written by: Ray Routhier
"Under an Arctic Sky," a documentary film about six surfers in Iceland, will be shown as part of the Save the Waves Film Festival Sunday in Portland. Photos courtesy of Save the Waves Coalition

“Under an Arctic Sky,” a documentary film about six surfers in Iceland, will be shown as part of the Save the Waves Film Festival Sunday in Portland. Photos courtesy of Save the Waves Coalition

When people think of movies about surfing, they think of humongous waves and surfers clinging to their boards with every toe.

“Usually a surf film festival is geared towards high-performance surfing, eye candy, the wow factor,” said Trey Highton, director of the Save the Waves Film Festival. “But our aim is different, we do have some of that eye candy, but I think of the films we show as hiding the medicine in peanut butter.”

The medicine, in this case, is environmentalism. The films shown at a Save the Waves festival include themes of conservation and the protection of ocean ecosystems, with a focus on surfers and surfing. The festival has been traveling to venues around the country for nine years and will make its first Maine stop Sunday at O’Maine Studios in Portland.

"PangeaSeed," a documentary film about a project to create murals focusing on ocean issues.

“PangeaSeed,” a documentary film about a project to create murals focusing on ocean issues.

The Portland stop will include about a dozen films shown over four hours or so, with topics ranging from the potential harm of sunscreen chemicals on coral reefs to a Maine program that helps people with developmental disabilities discover surfing. Another film focuses on people who’ve dedicated their lives to the sea in some way, including a long-distance swimmer and a spear fisherman. Another film explores the challenges of surfing in Iceland.

Watch the trailer:

The festival is organized by the California-based Save the Waves Coalition, which works to protect ocean waters. But the idea to bring the festival to Portland came from Charlie Fox, owner of Maine Surfers Union, a surf shop and lessons hub on Free Street in Portland.

“Surfers want to protect the ocean, because that’s where we play,” said Fox. “There’s an old idea that surfers aren’t doing much with their lives, but today when you line up with other surfers you meet doctors and lawyers.”

One of the short films being shown at the festival is “Immersion,” by Scarborough filmmaker Ben Keller. The film focuses on Special Surfers, a nonprofit group in Kennebunk that takes special needs kids and young adults surfing. Keller said the program is not just about giving the kids a fun time, it’s more about letting them experience things they normally don’t do, and the impact those experiences have on their development.

Keller said he found that for the people in the program, being in the ocean provides new experiences for their senses which help them in the long run. Keller has a doctor in the film talking about how surfing specifically impacts the people in the program.

“It’s showing that health is among the reasons we need to protect the oceans,” said Keller.

Most of the films are made by independent filmmakers with an interest in surfing or ocean-related issues. Keller works as a film and video producer, doing projects for various businesses. He found the subject for his film when he was helping the Special Surfers program put together a video to spread the word of their mission.

Some of the other films to be shown Sunday include:

“Fish People,” about several people who show their passions for the ocean in various ways, including a surfer, a spear fisherman, a former coal miner and at-risk youth in San Francisco. The common theme among them is the transformative power of their time in the ocean.

“Island Earth” is a film about a young Hawaiian scientist who struggles with traditional values of his homeland as he goes to work for a chemical company.

“Under an Arctic Sky” follows six surfers who set sail along the coast of Iceland as the worst storm to hit that country in 25 years is looming, in hopes of finding perfect waves to surf under the Northern Lights.

“Floater” is about a group of surfers in California perfecting their ability to ride big waves without boards.

“Max Wave” is about the controversy over plans to develop a man-made wave on the Clark Fork River in the landlocked town of Missoula, Montana.

“Reefs at Risk” explores the effects of some sunscreen chemicals on coral reefs and marine life, and efforts in Hawaii to ban the commonly used sun protection chemical, oxybenzone.

Save the Waves Film Festival

WHEN: 4 to 8:30 p.m. Sunday
WHERE: O’Maine Studios, 54 Danforth St., Portland
HOW MUCH: $15 in advance, $20 at the door

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