NOBODY LISTENS TO TURTLE
The John Philbin Interview

by
Ben Marcus
Surfermag.com Correspondent

Click here to watch Turtle and Jamie O'Brien recreate the magic in Jamie's film "Freakside."

The boys of 1987's North Shore; John Philbin (Turtle) is on the far right.

Courtesy John Philbin



"Nobody listens to Turtle." Well, Turtle, we're all ears. Anyone who's seen the 1987 film, North Shore, can almost certainly spew a quote from Hawaii's most lovable surfboard glasser, Turtle. It appears his pidgen-laden lines have survived the last 20 years and cemented his character as an iconic figure within popular surf culture.

Now, Turtle goes by his real name, John Philbin. Behind the camera, Philbin has taught actors how to walk the walk, talk the talk, and wax the top of a board. Most notably, he transformed Kate Bosworth from an East Coast equestrienne into a believable surfer girl for Blue Crush.

"When the wave breaks here, don't be there or you're gonna get drilled." Click to watch Turtle and Jamie O'Brien spoof on North Shore in Jamie's film, "Freakside."

 

I have been that strung out before. I watch him do his strung out stuff and I think, “God, that’s me.”

Philbin has had a full career, as both a surfer who acts and an actor who surfs, but he wouldn’t mind a little more. After teaching a surf lesson in Malibu, Philbin stopped at the Cross Creek "Starstrucks" (the Starbucks nicknamed for celebrity sightings) for a chat about what's happening where Hollywood meets the surf.

 

You were in North Shore? What role?

I was Turtle, the surfboard sander who…

You were Turtle? I love Entourage!

Hardy har har. Truthfully, I cringe when I watch Entourage, because in another lifetime, I was hanging around in Hollywood, living off my rich and famous friends, and so I was part of an entourage with Eric Stolz and George Clooney. These were great, generous guys and then one day I woke up and realized I had to work for a living. That's when I started teaching surfing.

You think the writers of Entourage stole your name?

No. Turtle on Entourage is nothing like Turtle on North Shore, and Turtle was not my name. Turtle was based on this kid, Brian King, who lived on the North Shore and still lives there. He is Turtle.

Philbin with the real inspiration for the character Turtle.


That was his real nickname?

Yeah. He goes by Turtle. That was his name and his character, and I just kind of played him. Now that name and character have taken on an existence beyond me and him or anybody. He makes cool boards on the North Shore; a real artist and surfer and craftsman.

So you were Turtle in North Shore and the bank robber in the Jimmy Carter mask in Point Break.

Yes, in Point Break, Turtle got shot and killed by Gary “The Masochist” Busey, from Big Wednesday.

The Coconut Wireless is humming with rumors of sequels.

Yes they are flitting around on the Internet. I am working on the sequel to North Shore with Randall Kleiser. Peter Iliff, is writing and going to direct a sequel to Point Break. He’s going to get as many people from the original as he can.

What do you know about North Shore 2?

I just want the sequel to be a guy from a wave park, just like the original, but wave parks are much better now, as you know. This guy is incredibly talented and skilled. He meets the Pipeline Posse at a wave park and beats them and wins a trip to the North Shore and a wild card into the Pipe Masters - which is the typical sports drama: He would fall in love with a local girl, get in a fight, he would have to learn how to handle big waves and get hassled by the locals. Makua Rothman was in the original North Shore as a baby in the arms of Chandler’s wife. Now he is a big-wave charging gnarly prince of the North Shore. There is a Wolfpack, a Pipeline Posse, a Hui that still exists and is still doing similar activities. I just think it’s ripe for drama. Same story, but it’s just nowadays.

 

John turned Kate Bosworth into a believable surfer girl for Blue Crush

Courtesy John Philbin


Between Point Break 2 and North Shore 2, which one is more likely to be made?

I think Point Break is farther along in the process. Peter Iliff wrote the original and wants to direct this one. It’s set in Indonesia.


Bodhi is still alive?

Maybe, because his body never turned up. Non habeas corpus. He might be alive, and maybe he is hiding out in Southeast Asia and running a crew of pirates who pull heists on huge cargo ships.

Think Johnny Utah will be in it? An older FBI agent, still mourning Angelo.

Pappas! Speaking of Pappas, that is how I got connected to Chasing the Dream.

Nice segue. You set me up!

Thank you. Because I worked on Point Break with Gary Busey I was able to attach him as a narrator. The director, Angelo Mei, wanted Gary Busey to narrate Chasing the Dream and I think his narration came out great.

What is Chasing the Dream and how did you get involved?

The director, Angelo Mei, and I had worked on a TransWorld/Billabong movie called Learn to Surf. So he came to me when he got another job to direct this documentary for Quiksilver and MetalStorm Entertainment. Josh Williams became the Executive Producer and really funded this amazing, full-length documentary about a team of Huntington Beach High School kids who travel to Australia and learn to surf and come back and compete. Chasing the Dream follows classic structures and that is why I think the film really works. Chasing the Dream won Outstanding Achievement in Film at the Newport Beach Film Festival. And it’s going to be released… we’re four-walling it up and down the California coast and then the East Coast. I just want everyone to see this movie.

After meeting Kelly he says that: “I’ve prayed to that guy.”

John and Jamie O'Brien spoofing North Shore in Jamie's film, "Freakside."


You re-created your Turtle character for a Jamie O’Brien video. I saw it at one of the trade shows.

Yes, Jamie O’Brien, Pipe Master extraordinaire. He’s one talented guy. I love watching him surf. I go into Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf just to watch little snippets of him surfing on their web thing. I guess he was a fan of the movie North Shore and so we played out a skit from the movie right on the beach in front of his house at Pipeline. Chad Thurman directed it. He watched the original and had Jamie and I acting out the parts and Jamie did great. It’s almost identical to the movie. We even went out and surfed Pipeline. Jamie got me into some beautiful waves from the peak. He’s so funny: “I’ll go to paddle and I’ll look at you and you’re going to go but you better go!”

As a surf instructor, who is the fastest learner you have ever seen?

Well Kate was fantastic, but Viggo Mortensen was the freakiest, super John From Cincinnati learning novice I have ever gone surfing with. Big movie stars are usually fantastic athletes: just say action.

I’ve been watching John From Cincinnati , and was wondering who do you think John is? Do you think John is an alien, or is he Jesus? He’s always talking about "My father" and he does all the Jesus miracles. He hasn’t changed water into wine yet, but he heals people.

It’s not just unique to Jesus. It’s any realized being who has transcended and has a direct line to God.

Like Kelly Slater.

Yes, someone who can perform miracles. “I’ve prayed to that guy” is one of my favorite lines from Chasing the Dream.

Philbin can actually rip offscreen too.

Who says that?

The son of Sean Collins. After meeting Kelly he says that: “I’ve prayed to that guy.”

I think the show mis-cast Butchie Yost. I think that’s the John Philbin role. You can go over the top when called upon.

I think Butchie Yost is doing a good job of playing me. I’m a fan. I think he plays me great!

Butchie is you?

No he’s not playing me. Butchie is a guy who's a drug addict, in recovery and was a surfer. I relate to his character a lot. I was never a pro surfer who innovated the sport, like the Fletchers. They changed our sport forever. Butchie Yost is a fictitious creation by David Milch.

Have you ever known someone as strung out as that?

Yes. I have been that strung out before. I watch him do his strung out stuff and I think, “God, that’s me.”

I have my eye on you Turtle.

I have my eye on you.

If you want a lesson or an autograph or an audition, check out ProSurfInstruction.com