Life can seem pretty bleak at times, especially if you’re recently divorced and your two best friends just died of cancer. That’s what happened to Chloe Webb in 1997.
A move at that time brought Chloe to Venice, where she discovered the healing power of the ocean and she started to surf.
“It was just so magical,” she says.
This new interest brought Chloe in contact with the Malibu Boardriders Surf Club and she produced a short promotional film for their Camp Good Times Day, when young cancer patients from Camp Ronald McDonald are treated to a day of outdoor fun in Malibu.
While making the film ,Chloe met a woman with very short hair and no breasts, causing her to suspect she might have cancer. Chloe overheard a conversation that the woman, Robin Janiszeufski Hesson, better known by her surfing name Zeuf, had with the children while helping them put on their wet suits. Chloe thought to herself that Zeuf really knew what she was talking about.
Chloe was reminded of her friends who had cancer when she took Zeuf aside to find out more about her, because she, like them, was so matter-of-fact.
“They weren’t weepy-sad” she says. “They would say the darkest things in a funny way.”
The seed for a film was planted by Zeuf’s accepting spirit — I’m not going to conquer it, but I’m going to surf through it. I’m going to have some fun riding this big wave that I cannot control.
A while after that meeting, Deb Fox was standing on the sidewalk near the UCLA Medical Center in Santa Monica waiting for a red light to turn green when she spotted Chloe in her car.
“I see this bald women waving this hairy thing at me and going ‘Chloe, it’s me Deb,'” Chloe says. Chloe knew Deb socially and had always seen her with a wig and never realized that she was sick. “I found out that she had cancer and that she was a surfer,” she says. “I already knew of her spirit because I thought she was so funny. Then I had two” people for a project.
Next, Chloe had another unexpected experience. Someone she didn’t know very well called her in “this psychic way that people do in California” and said she had a friend who just started surfing and wanted Chloe to meet her. At the same time, she added that her friend Fran had cancer.
“There’s something about the priest, the rabbi and the minister,” says Chloe. “It’s always about three and that was just ‘wow!’ I met them all in a week. Then it took four years to make the film.”
In one scene of the film, called Surfing Thru, the three women are at the Malibu surf contest. They’ve all been given six months to live and Chloe asks tongue-in-cheek, “So, do you still wear sunscreen?” One responds, “Of course we wear sun screen. We don’t want melanoma. That’s scary cancer.”
The women face their cancer with humor and a lack of self-pity. They’ve lost breasts. Finger nails are turning black and falling off. Their hair is falling out. They’re in premature menopause.
“They’re cracking each other up”, says Chloe. “I’ve never really seen that kind of take-it-on without the tears. One of them says, ‘I don’t want sympathy. I don’t want any pity.’ The other goes, ‘Well, sometimes I’ll take a little of that.'”
The film is an attempt to celebrate the spirit of “surfing through” so you don’t get stuck in despair. “If you get caught in a riptide, someone is going to try to get you out,” Chloe says. “That’s what we do for each other as humans.”
The message of Surfing Thru is to live while you’re alive.
“That’s what all of us are doing,” says Chloe. “Some of us are a little more conscious of a deadline.”
The film initially was made for cancer patients to view while they were having chemotherapy. After showing it to the Wellness Center, it became apparent that the film was also useful for family members.
Chloe’s dream is for a corporate sponsor to make thousands of copies with a distribution to cancer centers for patients and families.
“Most always in cancer films the person with cancer dies,” says Chloe. “This film is about people really living while they are supposedly dying. When all of a sudden all this little crap just slides off the table and what’s left is what matters.”
The film has changed Chloe’s outlook and attitude. She lost her best friends. She lost the man she thought was the love of her life. Would she ever be able to replace these people?
“The women in the film really helped me because my heart was starting to close down,” she says. “What I’ve learned from them is that you can open your heart even wider when it’s breaking. It’s important to not just live, but live large. Get hurt. Take risks. Fall on your face, get up and do it again. Just be out there.”
Because Chloe is from New York, she calls Venice “the East Village with waves.” She lives in an area near the beach and considers the ocean her “big, wide, healing friend at the end of my street.”
The film is a present from her heart back to the ocean because of its therapeutic qualities and is a tribute to the spirit of the women featured.
Chloe, an actress, who produced and directed, called on friends and colleagues in the business to help on the film.
The executive producers were Venice residents Patricia Foulkrod, who produced and directed The Ground Truth – The Human Cost of War, and Drew Carolan, who co-produced Rise and Krumped.
Several cinematographers and musicians were used.
Everyone worked on the film to honor someone they had lost to this devastating disease which, according to the American Cancer Society, accounts for one out of every four deaths in the United States.
Surfing Thru is competing in The Other Venice Film Festival and is to be shown between 5 and 6:50 p.m. Saturday, October 11th, at The Electric Lodge, 1416 Electric Ave. in Venice.
Go to www.othervenicefilm festival.com for more information on The Other Venice Film Festival, scheduled Thursday through Sunday, October 9th to 12th.