Shaper: Reynolds Yater
Length: 9 feet
Weight: 15 lbs
Surfboard Photos: Surfing Heritage Foundation
The Apocalypse Now Board
The 86" "Yater Spoon" from the Film "Apocalypse Now"
It’s hardly surprising that Francis Ford Coppola’s 1979 epic Vietnam War movie “Apocalypse Now” contains a reference to surfing, since the original script was written by John Milius of “Big Wednesday” fame. The Hollywood writer and director became enthralled with surfing as a gremmie on the beach at Malibu in the early ’60s.
Milius nailed the surfing soul of 9th Cavalry/Airborne’s swaggering Lt. Col. Bill Kilgore (Robert Duvall) in the memorable “Apocalypse Now" scene where he and Captain Benjamin Willard (Charlie Sheen) are discussing the best way to get Willards patrol boat onto the Nung River. One of the 9th Cavalry soldiers, a surfer known as "Mike from San Diego", informs Kilgore – clad in a “Yater” surfing tee shirt - that theres a fantastic pointbreak at a potential drop off point for the PT boat. But the village in front of the surf spot is a Viet Cong stronghold. Kilgore vows to take out the village so he and his men can ride some waves. "It`s pretty hairy in there," Mike says. "Its Charlies Point."
“Charlie don’t surf!” Kilgore famously scoffs, as he calls for his Yater Spoon model surfboard. And then he orders all hell to rain down from a fleet of Huey helicopters while ordering a pair of his men to paddle out. “God,” sighs Kilgore, sniffing the air as if it were a salty breeze off the sea, “I love the smell of napalm in the morning.”
One minor problem: neither of the two boards that appear in the movie are in fact Yater Spoons, but rather nondescript stock longboards that Yater believes were bought off the rack at his Santa Barbara Surf Shop sometime around 1970 and dressed up with artwork by the moviemakers.
Yater had no idea that either he or is boards would even be mentioned in the film. When it first came out: “A bunch of guys said, you’ve gotta see this movie. When I did I was kind of blown away.”
The Surfing Scenes from Apocalypse Now:
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In a recent interview with Surfer magazine, John Milius, who also wrote, "Magnum Force", "Conan the Barbarian" and "Red Dawn", said the surfboard and surfing scenes in the film were integral to "Apocalypse Now" because in many ways, the Vietnam War was "A California war."
"It was a clash of cultures between the United States and this far off Asian land," he said. "But even more than that it was a clash between California culture and Asian culture. There was California music, and Hells Angels flames on Huey gunships. It was a California war. I guess the surfer is a cliché for the Vietnam War in the same way that the kid from Brooklyn stuck in the B-29 tail-gunner position was the World War II cliché."
This particular surfboard gained even more of the spotlight when "Apocalypse Now" was re-released in 2004 as "Apocalypse Now Redux" -- with five minutes of added scenes that included the tale of how Capt. Willard steals the 86" from alongside Lt. Kilgore’s helicopter. With Willard and his men later hidden under an overhanging tree, Kilgore implores over his helicopter loudspeakers. "I will not harm or hurt you. Just give me back the board, Lance. It was a good board and I like it. You know how hard it is to find a board that you like."
Long after "Apocalypse Now," collector James Mahoney found the board mounted atop a Santa Barbara bar called Joe’s Tavern. The board was property of the bar’s owner Jim Hughes. Hughes’ bar closed down in the early 1990’s, and about a year later, Mahoney approached Hughes about selling it. “He had a barnful of boards,” Mahoney said. “I said, ‘look, I’ve got a surf museum, that would be a really cool board to have there’. I asked him what he wanted for it, and he said, $1000. I gave him $1500.”
In 2005, Jimmy Buffett visited James OMahoney at the Santa Barbara Surfing Museum and was blown away at the collection - which then included the "Apocalypse Now" surfboard. Several of Jimmy Buffetts business partners gave him the board as a present for his 60th birthday, on Christmas Day, 2006. The gift was part of what motivated Jimmys idea of opening the Honolulu Surfing Museum. "I had this incredible surfboard, but I was the only one getting to appreciate it," he says. "I thought, this thing needs to be somewhere that people can see it."
The board is featured in Surfer’s Journal Vol. 11 number 4. The brief story says that the most famous surfboard in the world “wasn’t a Yater spoon at all, but a faux-logoed anonymous semi-log.”
The program to auction off the 90 commemorative boards that Yater shaped was dreamed up by Green Beret Colonel Robert B. Rhealt, whose military exploits in part inspired "Apocalypse Now’s" Colonel Kurtz (Marlon Brando).
The other surfboard – only shown featured in the film - is said to reside at the home of "Apocalypse Now" director, Francis Ford Coppola.