Rideable is a new film from Steven Mortinson that follows two friends on cheap bikes hauling a surfboard 250-miles around Oregon in search of idyllic surf spots. Check out the online premier here. Plus, find a Q&A and some behind the scenes photos from the filming…
Take two talented friends, two cheap bikes, a surfboard, and endless curiosity and you get Rideable, a new short film from Steven Mortinson. We caught up with filmmaker Steven and his subject Brian Donnelly to ask a few questions about the experience of making the film and how their trip came to be. Find the 15-minute film below along with our Q&A and lots of photos from their 250-mile ride in search of quiet surf spots and empty beaches. It’s all rideable!
You allude to it in the film, but where exactly did the inspiration for this trip come from?
Brian: For me, inspiration mostly comes from all the cool stuff around me. Within a 50-mile radius of Portland, there are world class mountains, rivers, national and state forests, and, of course, the ocean. It’s an endless playground. And while I love riding bikes for its own sake, I also see biking as a way to pursue interests beyond just biking. Bikepacking is such a practical tool for all kinds of local adventure. It turns simple things, like a long run in the Cascade mountains, or a paddle down the Columbia river, into a fun multi-day trip. It makes getting there and getting around a big part of the experience. When I started to get back into surfing after a long hiatus, biking with a surfboard was just another way to explore something else I enjoy.
Steven: When Brian told me he was planning to do this trip – back in January, I believe – I jumped on board right away. I’ve never really surfed before, or filmed much in water, so those new experiences were definitely calling out to me. I was also intrigued with the idea of trying to take part in an adventure, be a character in it, and also film it. More often than not, as a filmmaker, I’m the unseen entity that captures all of the goodness, instead of being a part of it. So, I was looking forward to the challenge of doing the full ride and filming it, rather than just following along in a van or something.
It looks like you took an interesting and at times challenging route. Did you plan it in advance or on the fly?
Brian: The route was generally planned out ahead of time. I had ridden sections of it before, but there was also a big unknown section that I knew would be risky and challenging given our heavily loaded bikes. We had a general line to follow, but mostly just made up the details as we went. We let the waves and the need for sleep dictate where we spent time and where we camped. There were plenty of places to resupply along the coast, so it was easy to grab what we needed along the way. Overall, I think it was a great little loop. It had a perfect mix of quiet, cruisey pavement, some challenging and secluded double tracks, and the logistics were generally very simple. Riding on 101 was a bit nerve-wracking at times, but always worth it.
What kind of reactions did you get from onlookers? Any memorable interactions?
Brian: We definitely turned some heads. It’s not every day you see an eight-foot surfboard sticking off the end of a bike. We had quite a few shakas thrown our way and shouts of encouragement from passing cars. There were also plenty of curious questions wherever we stopped, especially on our way to and from the coast. Most people wanted to know about our route. We met one guy from Utah walking the beach with his wife and kids. We were just setting up camp as the sun was setting and he chatted us up for a long while and wanted to know all of the details of our trip. He confessed that he wanted to leave his family behind right then and there and join us. I think he was serious.
Steven: Riding behind Brian most of the time was quite a treat. His surfboard and trailer were bouncing and swaying all over the place, so I was able to witness all of the surprised head turns and laughs of passersby. I think the funniest was on our way back inland; Brian still had to tow the surfboard home, so it was truly an odd sight. I’m sure a lot of people were thinking, “What is this guy doing, where the heck is he going with that thing?!”
Tell us about those bikes you were riding.
I made the surfboard trailer using a trail-a-bike I bought off Craigslist for $25. For this trip, I was interested in using what I already had or what I could put together on the cheap. You don’t always have to have the perfect setup to get out there and try something. In some ways, dealing with questionable and untested gear just adds to the adventure.
Steven: I own a single speed that I converted from a 70s Schwinn Varsity, but I figured for this trip I would want something with gears to get me and my 60-pound Bob trailer over the coastal range. So I ended up looking on Amazon and buying the cheapest “adventure bike” I could find (don’t be hating…I’m a man on a budget!) which was a Mongoose Elroy that cost me $285. Sweet deal, right? I gave it a test overnight run a couple of weekends before the trip on an 80-mile route and it held tough, so I figured it could handle the 250 miles we would be tackling on this surf trip.
Unfortunately, 90 miles into our trip, as I was picking my bike and trailer up off the ground, the trailer was at an odd angle to my bike and sheared off my rear derailleur. So I was forced to “skate bike” 20 miles on logging roads into the next town where we were lucky to meet 70-year-old Les at the local bike shop. He kindly assisted in converting my bike into a single speed so I could complete the remaining 150 miles of the trip. It made for some tough stand-up climbs, but a solid quad workout!
And how about your cameras? What’d you use to film everything?
Steven: Camera-wise, I used a Sony A7sii body with three lenses: 16mm, 40mm, and 70-210mm. For all of the surfing/water shots I used an underwater housing specific for my Sony. I also had a backup GoPro in case my Sony got broken, but I luckily never ended up having to use it. In my mind, I envisioned the final look of the film to feel like a classic surf trip film of the 70s shot with 16mm film, so I didn’t bring my gimbal or fluid-head tripod because I wanted to embrace the messy handheld look. For the few shots that I am seen in, I gave Brian basic instructions on how to hit record and pull focus and I think he did a good job. Really, the film is meant to display pure, whimsical fun.
After this experience, any dreams of getting out on another bike trip with the surfboard in tow?
Brian: I definitely want to do some longer rides with a surfboard. I love cruising along the coast and surfing is a great excuse to spend time off the bike. It adds a very satisfying and unique dimension to riding.
Steven: I’d love to go again! Next time, though, I want to leave the cameras behind and just embrace the adventure for what it is, with no thoughts of needing to capture shots… and all thoughts on catching waves!
Lastly, what do you hope viewers will take away from the film?
I love that bikes are inherently DIY. They’re subverters of mainstream convenience culture. They’re about putting in a little extra effort, slowing down, and finding the richness in things on our own terms. That’s what I hope people take from the film. Just use what you have, try different things, love what’s local, and get out there and have some fun.
Steven: What Brian said. We both have families and full-time jobs, we’re not able to just jump on a plane and be away for a month on a whim. So we want to show that you can still find adventure locally, even if it means using three vacation days and two sick days to do it, or whatever! Additionally, I think some people can be intimidated by a trip like this, and 250 miles can seem like a lot to some people. But you don’t have to go out and charge hard for the whole time. In fact, I encourage you to stop and soak in your surroundings. Pull off on the side of the road and make yourself a coffee! Explore the odd buildings and forests you come across. There are times for cruising and times for chilling… the day holds time for both.
Want to see more from Steven and Brian? Check out our feature on their excellent short film, From the Doorstep, about the power of the humble overnight trip. You can also find them on Instagram @stevenmfilmphoto and @brianthedonnelly.