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After keeping book fans waiting, ‘Saltwater Buddha: The Film’ rides onto the big screen

For Immediate Release

San Francisco, CA. - Five years after the critically-acclaimed book was released, “Saltwater Buddha: the film,” a feature documentary, will hit the silver screen this summer.

“It feels like we've been paddling for a long time,” laughs director Lara Popyack, who has worked on BBC and National Geographic films for years but never directed a feature documentary until “Saltwater.” “Now, thanks to the help of all our supporters, fans, and friends, we finally get to surf.”

“Saltwater Buddha” will have its first film festival screening at the San Diego Surf Film Festival before heading to the Lighthouse Film Festival on Long Beach Island (June 9-12), the Maui Film Festival(June 15-19), and then have a special screening at the Balboa Theater in San Francisco on June 30th. Other film festivals and special screenings will follow through the summer and fall.

Like the book, Saltwater Buddha: the film begins when Yogis, reeling from his parents divorce, runsaway from the suburbs to Maui at the age of sixteen to learn to surf.  The story then follows him on various enlightening misadventures: living in a zen monastery, evading angry locals while studying in Santa Cruz, and eventually going to Columbia Journalism School.

“It was a dream come true to even begin putting the story on film,” says Yogis. “To see it going to these festivals is surreal.”

Voted a Best Summer Read by E!, Saltwater Buddha the book was internationally praised. Publisher’s Weekly wrote: “Even land lovers will find Yogis's lessons resonant and entertaining, but surfers will find this a quick, surprisingly deep tribute to the quest for surf and serenity.” In structuring the film, producer Mike Madden says the crew tried to strike a similar balance - catering to both surfers and a general audience.

“Surfing is a key thread,” Madden says. “But along with beautiful water footage, we wanted to capture what fans of the book love - the emotion, humor and spiritual depth. That wasn’t easy to do in an hour. But with our musical team, Roberto’s eye and Jordan’s editing, we were able to pack a lot of story into a relatively short film.”

Director of Photography Roberto Vezzone, who also created a documentary on legendary shaper Danny Hess, says he thought a lot about symbolism while choosing how to shoot.

“The book was incredibly moving to me,” says Vezzone. “But to fit 256 pages and ten years into a doc, I knew I’d have to get creative. That was part of the fun of this project - the constant conceptual challenge.”

Editor, color corrector,  and musician Jordan Dozzi also had to think outside the box. The team had amassed terabytes of footage filming in Hawaii, San Francisco, New York, El Salvador, and Costa Rica.

“Sleep was not a big part of editing this film,” laughs Dozzi, who is also cinematographer for the forthcoming documentary, “The Most Fearless.” But the inspirational footage and music kept propelling me forward. I definitely rode those waves into the early morning.”

The music that inspired those late night edits includes an impressive list of international talents: Gregory Alan Isakov, MC Yogi, Silas Hite, Bird Courage, Christopher Sullivan, AJ Abberton, Jim Klar, Killian MacGeraghty, Wolfgang Walter Fellbaum, and Hawaiian stars John Kameaaloha and The Bee Sisters.

“We had to bootstrap this film with Kickstarter and the kindness of friends,” says Madden. “So to get musicians of such an A-list caliber was real validation of the quality of the footage. We can't wait to put a soundtrack together.”

Saltwater Buddha also includes guest appearances from star surfers Holly Beck, Logan Landry, Andy Olive, Jay Nelson, and Danny Hess. Executive Producer Urijah Faber, who has been racking up film credits alongside his UFC fighting career, also has a couple of cameos. And the most featured musician in the film is Christopher Sullivan, who, along with being a rising star on Broadway, has a big role in the upcoming “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.”

“We never expected to have both a superhero and a champion cage fighter in a story about zen,” says Popyack. “But mysterious things happen when you make a film called Saltwater Buddha. We hope people have as much fun watching it as we’ve had making it.”

Below, just a few of the confirmed showings to date. More will be posted soon at


Wednesday, May 18, 2016 9:00pm – 10:00pm

Asilomar Conference Center, Monterey, California

This screening at the Asilomar Chapel is open to all Bluemind Summit attendees and Asilomar guests. Here is a brief description of the summit.

“Join us for our sixth annual Blue Mind Summit where interdisciplinary professionals work at the intersection of brain science and conservation. This year's summit will speak to the deep emotional connection we have with water and how the interplay directly impacts our lives.

World renown writers, scientists, artists, athletes and academia will dive deep into the exploration of your brain (and lives) on water while tackling subjects rarely discussed in the world of conservation.”


Tuesday, May 24th, 8:00 - 9:00 PM

Misfit Pictures HQ

565 Pearl St #100

La Jolla, CA 92037

“The SDSFF 2016 will highlight over 40 international films, dozens of filmmakers and producers in attendance, intimate Q&As, filmmaker panel and workshops, an amazing surf art gallery, surf legends and shaping demos, beach clean-ups and expression sessions, incredible live music, serendipitous live art, book-signings, rad folks and raging after-parties and an invitational winner take all Wompfest.”


June 10th, 6:00 p.m.

Surf City Volunteer Fire Station

713 North Long Beach Blvd, Surf City, NJ 08008

The Lighthouse International Film Festival was founded by a collection of filmmakers, film critics and film industry professionals who share a passion for film and wanted to create an event aimed first and foremost at film enthusiasts. The 2015 festival will present feature films, shorts, documentaries and family films, as well as panel discussions with leading film industry professionals. Taking place on Long Beach Island, NJ -- one of the East Coast's most popular surfing destinations -- the festival celebrates three days of new, exciting and challenging films in honor of Long Beach Island's historic Barnegat Lighthouse.


June 16th, 8:00 p.m.

Celestial Cinema, Wailea

With many films screened outdoors under the stars, the Los Angeles Times has written that the Maui Film Festival is “star-studded theater like no other” and “the perfect place to watch a movie.”


June 30th, 7-10 p.m. (with music and after party)

Details TBA