Surf's up? Here! network's "Shelter" offers great date-movie action for any gender or preference. (Photo courtesy Regent Releasing)


Dennis Harvey March 24, 2008

I’ve no idea how many gay surfers there are—does anyone?—but for sure a whole lot of gay men have long fantasied about shootin’ the curl (ahem) with a surfie. What’s not to like? Laird Hamilton, for example, is a world-class sex object by any standard. Just ‘cuz he’s married with kids doesn’t mean a dude can’t dream.

While gay porn flicks have dubiously mined the surfer fantasy since their inception—at the least exploiting the stereotype of athletic California blonds—non-X-rated films have been much more hesitant. You sure didn’t see gay characters in Hollywood’s takes on surf culture (from Frankie & Annette to Point Break), nor in the never-ending documentaries that flowed from 1966 landmark The Endless Summer to the latest DIY effort at SF’s Red Vic Movie House.

So it’s odd that last year’s S.F. International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Film Festival premiered not one but two accomplished fiction films on the subject. One was Aussie indie Tan Lines, a delightfully quirky teen coming-out tale which sadly went direct to DVD here. Another was Shelter, a more conventional (except for the gay part) drama produced by homo-cable honcho Here! network.

Thus far Here! hasn’t been a bulwark of intelligent quality entertainment—as opposed to the simply cheesy and cheesecaked (or rather beefcake-y) kind. But its first theatrical feature is sensitive and sweet as well as sexy. Writer-director Jonah Markowitz’s Shelter is the story of twentysomething Zach (Trevor Wright), who lives with a sluttish sister (Tina Holmes) and her adored 5-year-old son (Jackson Wurth), supporting both via his San Pedro line-cook job. That leaves precious little time for him to pursue passions as both surfer and talented graphic artist.

Briefly back in town amidst world travel, longtime surfing buddy Gabe (Ross Thomas) suggests Zach get his wetsuit on at the beachfront Orange County home of temporarily absent parents. Zach does so—and thus re-counters Gabe’s older brother Shaun (Brad Rowe), a thirtysomething writer who’s back here in retreat from a failed relationship. He surfs, too. They hit the beach together—then a lot more. But both have baggage to deal with, most notably Zach’s obligations to his family and ostensible girlfriend (Katie Walder).

How these various connections get severed and/or strengthened comprises the ultimately powerful heart of *Shelter.” There’s a certain amount of scripted contrivance here—and cable-TV directorial blandness—but finally the emotions signaled feel hard-won as well as nicely played.

Shelter is a romantic gay surfer fantasy that more than earns its spurs in terms of credible real-world psychology. It’s a great date movie, for gays and bi’s as well as open-minded straights.