Interview – Luca Merli

Sometimes you just got to try something and follow your passion.  Luca Merli did that with his project “Onde Nostre”.  An Italian surfer and filmmaker who wanted to showcase Italy’s surf culture.  Mostly working with film he is showcasing Italy’s surf culture and the people who are involved in it, just like us trying to showcase the Taiwanese surf culture to the rest of the world.  His films are watched all around the world and people from different countries can see what the Italian surf culture is and has to offer.  Keep following your passion Luca and documenting the Italia surf culture! 中文

Who are you and where are you currently right now?

My name is Luca Merli, I’m a filmmaker and an ocean lover, at the moment I’m in Milan where I live when I’m not travelling in search of stories and swells, which happens very often…

When did you start surfing and how did you first become interested in surfing?

When I was a kid in the seventies, I used to travel throughout Europe with my family during summer holidays and we had a long and bulky windsurf. I used to go in the water in every place, most of the time without the sail, it was too big for me. I enjoyed paddling and catching foam. Sometime in France or Spain, we came across some real surfers. I always thought that I wanted be part of it. However, the first time I went in the water with a proper surfboard was actually in the early nineties. After a few experiences in photography, music and filmamaking and the arts, I was in my late twenties, and a friend of mine from the UK left me an old board as I let him stay in my place for few months, I started from there… and then I managed to combine the passion for filmmaking and surfing in 2010 with Onde Nostre.

What was it like growing up for you and surfing in Italy?

I grew up in the 70’s with the first images of surfing used in advertising, in magazines or in any kind of  clothing accessory, it was then the first boom of this sport together with skating. I remember seeing Big Wednesday at the local cinema….all these images had a great impact on my background, I immediately knew I wanted to be part of this, I had to find a way to live close to the sea… making surf movies is a way for me to be next to the sea as much as I can…

What are the conditions mostly like in Italy?

The Mediterranean Sea is an enclosed sea. In the summertime it’s completely flat for weeks, beautiful for sailing or for swimming but not so much for what we like to do…but in the winter warm air from Africa and cold air from the Atlantic clashes and creates shorts but very powerful storms… Italian surfers needs to constantly keep an eye on weather forecasts, most of them are real expert in predicting waves. But on the other hand we have beautiful coasts, so many diffrent bays, beaches, points, reefs, the Italian peninsula is absolutely unique…

Have you seen surfing scene grow more and more in Italy? How about riding alternative boards and also logs? Has there been more interest in those types of boards there?

Definitely the surf scene in Italy has grown; nowadays on an average weekday with waves even in wintertime you’ll find the most famous spots crowded since early morning. In the water there are people of every age and with a big variety of boards. When we started Onde Nostre and we were looking for sponsors I remember that most of the people we were contacting were saying that it wasn’t a good idea to mix longboarding and shortboarding… not many people were riding single fins board or anything different from the classic thruster… I think we contributed a lot on the evolution of the scene.

Tell us more about “Onde Nostre”.  Who stars in it and what message did you want to bring it in the film?

Onde Nostre firstly is a film about Italian surfers and surf culture, filmed in Sardinia, Tuscany and Liguria in the winter of 2010.  We wanted to show the peculiarity of surfing in the Mediterranean and portray a young but alive surf culture. The surfers starring in the film were chosen because they had a big variety of styles. Ale Ponzanelli, one the most famous and stylish Italian longboarder, David Pecchi, the most eclectic surfer in Italy, Thomas Cravarezza one of the most radical surfers growing up in Italy and Pito Giachero, a powerful and stylish surfer and least but not last the Sardinian Lorenzo Castagna.

The film was conceived and shot in 16mm in just a few weeks by me and Matteo Ferrari. The film had a great success, had been invited to many festival around the globe and had lots of views both in Italy and all over… after Onde Nostre we also produced a web series called Ritratti di Surf and a 50 minutes documentary on the birth of the Italian surf culture called Peninsula.

“Onde Nostre” you guys used 16mm to film it.  How come you guys decided to choose 16mm other than using digital?

Nowadays film is almost extinct, digital technology has made huge steps in the last few years. Today’s best high definition cameras can track a drop of water at 300 frames per second and cost a fraction of the price of the outdated film technology but film is something that has a special and unique look… It resembles memories, the way we dream…I like the idea of sacrificing details for style. I believe analogue films have a special romantic and nostalgia feeling to it.
When Kodak in 1965 introduced super8 film they changed the way average people could document their lives. In surfing, it opened up a whole new world of amateur surf movies. It was the birth of the homemade surf movies, and it wasn’t a formal endeavor with subject shot from a distance like some sterile movie set. It was more intimate. That’s what I like with analogue technology is that it feels like old home movies. I believe film and the spontaneous way we shoot has a great emotional feel.

Can you tell us about your latest project “Peninsula”? Who stars in it and what message did you want to bring with the film?

Peninsula is the tale of a journey to discover and describe where surfing in Italy comes from. It’s a freedom collage about surfing and surfers about friendship and rivalries, about environmental issues and a bit of history…

We’ve been shooting Peninsula for almost three years with lots of different surfers, almost the same cast from Onde nostre but also we interviewed lots of Italian surfing pioneers like the Fracas Brothers and Alessandro Dini to name a few and also we had many guest from US (Oliver Parker) and France (Clovis Donizzetti) and many new and talented surfers.

The film is a tribute to the Italian surfer for their passion and dedication and also a tribute to the Mediterranean Sea.

Unlike “Onde Nostre” where you filmed all in 16mm, “Peninsula” you guys used 35mm, 16mm, and Super8.  Why did you chose to uses more different types of equipment other than just 16mm?

We wanted to create a collage of different formats, I’ve always been fascinated by the look of film, of course 35mm looks more defined, so we played with definition, leaving some parts a bit blurred and some other more vivid, like in painting we used different brushes.

Why do you like to use 16mm, 35mm, and Super8 over digital?

As I said before, film creates a dream like effect and also I think there’s something special about carrying an old camera around that makes people curios and interested and more at ease with it.

If you could chose film or digital to use for the rest of your life which one would you choose and why?

I’m not against digital, I use digital cameras very often and I like them, but to me film either 16mm, super8 or 35mm are just like a tool and sometimes it’s nice to mix or to choose a look or feel of a particular camera… I’m in love with the analogue grain, it’s rounded, it’s not square like a pixel, I like the color resolution, the little imperfections…

Who are some of the surfers in Italy that you feel are having an impact on the surf community there and also worldwide?

I think that my friend Ale Ponzanelli is one of the best longboarders in Europe and I also like what Leo Fioravanti is doing and I see a lot of the younger Italian surfers pushing a lot…

What meaning does surfing hold for you and how has it changed your life?

To me surfing is a way to get close to nature, it is the only time where I feel totally free and alive, I needed it because it takes me back to a more simple and primordial status that our city life takes it away.

For someone who wants to go to Italy to surf when is the best time to go and what spot would you recommend?

Best time is fall and spring time when the temperatures start to change, best places are Tuscany, Liguria and Sardinia…

There has been more and more footage coming out of Italy from you guys and also Jason Baffa’s film “Bella Vita”.  What message do you want to tell the world about Italian surfing?

It’s just a coincidence, Italy is a nice and varied country and lots of people like it, our laid back style and at the same time sophisticated life style attracts lots of people around the world…

What is “Ritratti Di Surf” and whom have you guys documented so far?

Ritratti di Surf (surfer’s portrait) was born as a web series which then became a 68 minute movie about surfers, shapers, artists and other characters connected to the Italian surf culture.

The episodes produced are:

– Alessandro Ponzanelli, 4 times Italian Longboarding Champion

– David Pecchi, underground hero of Tuscan surf

– Oliver Parker, longboard rising star and friend of Onde Nostre, who lived in Florence and often visits Italy

– Ricky Brotini, surfer and artist, born in Tuscany with California in his soul

– Amanda Chinchelli, Elisabetta Dal Bello and Natalia Resmini, three friends separated by life but united by their love of surfing

– Tales of trips and adventures of italian surfers in their constant search for waves from Sardinia to Africa to California to France

The videos have been shot between 2011 and 2013 by the authors of Onde Nostre, the first Italian surf movie shot in 16mm film, that has been selected by numerous international film festivals.
Some episodes, were also selected by several film festivals around the world, recently we’ve been producing few more episodes.


Taiwan is a growing surf culture and growing at a super fast pace since most of the top brands have the money to come in and advertise.  There is still a group of local Taiwanese who are doing their own thing and trying to bring more of Taiwanese culture into surfing.  Since you experience the same in Italy, what advice would you have for the Taiwanese surfers who want to surf but also want to preserve their culture in surfing?

I believe that it’s important that local communities maintain their identity; diversity and originality must be preserved.

What is your current surfboard quiver and which board have you been riding the most recently?

Recently I’m into mid length boards, at the moment I’m riding a 7 feet pintai.

What can we expect to see from you in the future?

I have few projects in preproduction…but nothing sure yet 😉

Any last words for the Taiwanese reading this interview?

Aloha which in the Hawaiian language means  “Joyfully share life”.



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