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HBO GOES SURFING | THE SURFERS

Riding the TV tide

June 03, 2007|Lynn Smith

TIRED of fluffy television shows set on the beach, some Southern California surfers are looking forward to "John From Cincinnati." "If anybody could grab surfing in its teeth and shake something real from it, it would be David Milch and Kem Nunn," said Scott Hulet, editor of "The Surfer's Journal."

But Dibi Fletcher, who along with her husband, Herb, had pitched HBO an idea for a series set in Hawaii's surfing underworld, said they shouldn't hold their collective breath.

"It's not really about surf," she said. Neither is it about the colorful Fletcher family, nearly everyone associated with the show is careful to say.

Herb Fletcher, 58, and Dibi Fletcher, 55, of San Clemente are known as brash, outspoken and flamboyant characters on the local surf scene. The mere mention of their names usually brings a chuckle from those who recall the early hippie days of the sport. They were once knighted as the champion family of "weird surfdom" by Esquire magazine, said Hulet, who described the couple as "intense, ego-driven personalities" and devoted to each other.

Today, Herb makes art of salvage surfboards (www.herbiefletcher.com) and runs a surf accessories company, Astrodeck. Dibi pursues ballroom dancing.

While Herb helped bring back the longboards, their pro surfer sons, Christian and Nathan, popularized aerial maneuvers. Christian -- tattooed and pierced, and having put a drug problem behind him -- is a "wild child from central casting," Hulet said.

Unreachable for this story, neither Christian nor Nathan was interested in participating in the show, their mother said. Grandson Greyson, who plays the youngest Yost in "John," lives with his mother, Jennifer, who is divorced from his father, Christian, in Anaheim Hills. He has traveled around the world to surf contests with his father. Herb doubles for Bruce Greenwood, the senior Yost, in surfing scenes.

HBO denied any parallels between the Fletchers and the fictional Yosts. According to a prepared statement: "The fact that our story includes a multigenerational surfing family was simply a creative choice used to develop the story of 'John'; any perceived similarities between the surfing Yosts and the Fletcher family is coincidental."

After HBO called in Milch and Nunn to develop the show, the Fletchers became consultants. "There wasn't a lot to consult about," Dibi said. "David is a great storyteller. I told him things about surf and he made his own decision. He's very charismatic and he really tells great stories."

Dibi said from what she has seen, the show "seems terrific. Herb and I are happy with it."

Co-creator Nunn said the Yosts are amalgams of surfing families he has known or known about. "Lots of surfers have crashed and burned," he said. "The character of Butchie Yost is not a sketch of any particular person, but an archetypal character I've met in a variety of shapes and forms. There's been a Butchie kind of character in every book I've written."

In a recent interview, freelance sportswriter Chris Smith, who wrote a 2002 ESPN magazine article titled "Toxic Surf" about the Fletchers, said, "This family has a series and a couple of movies in them."

The Fletchers told Smith that their friend painter-writer-producer Julian Schnabel ("Basquiat," "Before Night Falls") was going to shoot a film on their family saga, based on a story Dibi had written. But a few weeks ago, she said, "We haven't talked about that in a long time."

If such a movie ever materializes, Smith said, it would "probably be a surreal tragic comedy."

-- L.S.

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