Chapman Alum’s Surfing Doc Makes Waves

Huntington Beach native Devyn Bisson’s first feature-length film was a hit at the Maui Film Festival.

The Chapman alum, 23, has enjoyed a series of serendipitous events that have thrust her into the public eye since her graduation in 2014. Now—after directing “The Wave I Ride,” her documentary about Maui’s female big-wave pioneer Paige Alms, and securing a distribution deal—Bisson sets off on her biggest journey yet.


In her final months at Chapman, the film student wanted to take on a passion project that veered from the typical action sports-centered surf film and instead focused on character. After reading about 27-year-old Alms in a Surfer magazine article about the rarity of female big-wave surfers, Bisson knew she’d found the perfect character for her film.

“She was doing what all the boys did but never got any of the limelight or rewards for it. She was just doing it as her passion, and that was the story.”

A Facebook conversation was enough to get Alms on board. Bisson and her team of fellow students launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund the project, which began filming in January of 2014 and took a year and a half to complete. What started as a 10-minute short developed into a feature-length documentary as Bisson happened upon Maui’s biggest swell in 10 years, another huge swell off the coast of Oregon, and monumental moments in Alms’ career, including her first wave after an injury.

“The biggest challenge of (filming) was the same as the biggest challenge of life, which is just that everything’s unknown. Three days before our second shoot in Oahu, this huge swell hit the coast of Oregon and all of our characters decided to fly there. We were freaking out: ‘Oh my God, we’re going to lose all of this money.’ But we went with it, and the story unraveled in front of us. It was serendipity.”

The documentary has been screened at the Maui Film Festival, the New York Women’s Surf Film Festival, Utah’s DOCUTAH film festival, as well as internationally in New Zealand and England.

“The screening on Maui was outdoors, and right before the film started there actually was a meteor shower and 2,500 people were screaming and going nuts. The second that happened I just thought ‘This is meant to be.’ And after the film, this big-wave surfer leaned over to me and said ‘I have never seen a surf film like that.’ ”

“The film is incredibly autobiographical in that it’s (about) this girl who knows her passion, knows that she is going after it no matter what. It was very empowering to make, and I want it to connect with people on a deeper level than a typical surf film. I want the audience to be like, ‘We’re going
to take risks; we’re going to go after our own wave.’ ”

Since the film’s release, Bisson has gotten offers to direct various surfing-related projects.

“Recently I was approached by this agency who said, ‘You’re so talented! We need you to work on this project for us.’ And then it ended up being on a male big wave surfer whose been profiled a zillion times. I pitched them the idea of doing it on Paige or another female athlete with a story that could actually be told originally and with a lot of heart, and they couldn’t see it. So I dropped the gig. I was almost offended they even asked me to do it, like ‘You obviously didn’t see my voice or my authenticity in my film.’ I’m not going to add to the pile of junk out there. Life is too short. I’m dedicated to making content that doesn’t add to the noise.”

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