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A house rolling down the sidewalk

Co-director and producer, and surfer, Elizabeth Pepin, explains why we need to care about surf pioneer Sarah Gerhardt



New Times Describe One Winter Story in one word.


Pepin Inspiring. Instead of one word, the central theme of the film, that Sarah sums up at the end,Üis that everyone has limitations, but the way to have an amazing life is to choose to ignore those limitations and follow your dreams.

New Times How and why did you choose Sarah Gerhardt as your subject for One Winter Story.

Pepin Sally [Lundberg], my co-director and producer,Üstarted this project. She made a short film as an experiment, ten minutes, about a woman long boarder ... and wanted to make a film about a woman who was a totally different kind of surfer. And Sally had known Sarah she lived on the big island, where Sarah’s dad lives. She quickly found out that Sarah’s story was so much bigger then just surfing: [Sarah was] the first woman to surf Mavericks. The first woman to tow-in surf. It was her childhood and her need to really escape the extreme challenges she faced as a child ... by another extreme, which was big wave surfing.

New Times How did you get involved in the filmmaking process?

Pepin After that first meeting with Sarah, Sally called me and said ‘You will not believe this story.’ She thought it should be a longer film and I totally agreed. Sally wanted to shoot this on 16-mm and super-eightÜfilm and play with the film stock and make it a more artful film. We did all of the filming and audio ourselves and I wroteÜthe script andÜSally edited.

New Times The film is very stylized. The muted and black-and-white scenes are powerful then you’re in Hawaii and it’s a pop of color.

Pepin One of the challenges of doing Sarah’s story is that she was extremely poor, so she had hardly any images of herself as a child. Sally and I both hate reenactments, they’re usually so cheesy. But we knew we were going to have to do them, but in a way that didn’t stick out from the rest of the film. That is one of the reasons we filmed it the way we did—it feels like home movies in a way. We both see Hawaii in color. It’s very beautiful. Mavericks is not like that. It’s cold, it’s dark, it’s Northern California. It breaks a half-mile off shore. But surf films about Mavericks only show those bright sunny days. But that is not the reality for most of the surfers there. That grainy black and white footage, the noise. We wanted our viewers to understand what it’s like to be out there. It’s intense.

 New Times You use narrations, talking to many people over the course of the film, but the audience never sees their faces, only Sarah’s. Why?

Pepin We wanted viewers to get inside Sarah’s head. The feeling that this is Sarah reflecting back on her life and she hears voices of other people ... other voices come in throughout the film, but we wanted to focus on Sarah and have people understand what she went through. Also, it’s a nod to early surf movies. This is a film about someone’s life who happens to be a big wave surf pioneer, but it’s not a surf film.



Sarah Gerhardt has had one hell of a ride, in life and in the water. The film One Winter Story, which was filmed from 2001 to 2006, documents her journey as surf pioneer and scientist. A screening will take place at La Perla del Mar Chapel Oct. 9-10. Ticket sales and an outdoor exhibit begin at 7 p.m. with the film starting at 8 p.m. followed by a Q&A session at 9 p.m. on both evenings. Gerhardt and co-director Elizabeth Pepin will be in attendance. One Winter Story shows Gerhardt’s journey from poverty and despair to faith and forgiveness. Gerhardt attended Cal Poly, earning her Ph.D. She gained notoriety by becoming the first woman to surf Mavericks, the giant waves of Northern California. The event will benefit the SLO Women's Shelter.La Perla is located at 205 Windward Ave. in Shell Beach. Info: or 748-5547.


Christy Heron can be reached at


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