The ocean is a distant thought for most TCU students, but for Jimmy McGrath, surfing is a dynamic part of living. His life has lived on the waves.
However, surfing has not always been an integral part of McGrath’s life. When he began surfing at 11, he had no idea how big of an impact it would eventually have on him.
McGrath’s hometown in Menifee, Calif., is about an hour from the ocean, and he grew up spending a lot of time at the beach.
However, ear problems prevented him from devoting much time in and under the water. McGrath said he wanted something interesting to do, so one day he decided to try surfing.
“It was boredom more than anything,” he said.
McGrath spent a day attempting to ride the waves on his own using his father’s board. His father then taught him to surf. That same summer McGrath started getting into surfing, and after that, he was addicted, he said.
This summer McGrath will be sporting a 100 percent custom-built TCU surfboard in a surfing documentary. McGrath will be participating as a surfer in the documentary, and he is also assisting in the organization of the production, he said.
McGrath said he offered the idea for a surf documentary to a close friend and film-student, Jeremy Boling, who currently studies film at the Art Institute of North Hollywood. Boling does not surf but was inspired by the idea.
Boling is in charge of the production and cinematography of the documentary, McGrath said. He has already begun to film introduction scenes for the film, he said.
McGrath is playing a big role in the film by taking charge of writing the script for the entire documentary, Boling said.
McGrath said he intends to use the documentary “to explore surfing with the spirit."
There is something about the experience that keeps pulling people back to it. For many, surfing can feel like a numinous encounter, he said.
“When you are out there in the water sitting, something really takes hold of you. Something you can’t describe,” he said.
Last summer, McGrath said he took on a project to refurbish and completely rebuild an old surfboard. He said that he was excited to take part in the actual building process.
“That was a cool feat. I put stuff on my Facebook and Twitter like, ‘Hey, look at me. I’m rocking and rolling making surfboards,’” McGrath said.
Over Christmas break, McGrath said his cousin had a custom surfboard created. Impressed, McGrath said he asked to get in contact with Kelly Boards, the company of the board’s craftsman. He wanted to have two surfboards custom-made for the surf documentary, he said.
The first board McGrath requested is going to have his family coat of arms on it, he said. McGrath said he then thought to get a TCU-themed board to represent the university because of what it meant to him.
“If this was just your ordinary school, I wouldn’t have come from paradise to be here,” he said.
McGrath said the documentary will contain footage of surfers on the Pacific coast. The images, dialogue and interviews will help to illustrate the indescribable experience shared by surfers all over the globe, he said.
A California native himself, McGrath got in contact with other surfers from across the state for the documentary, he said. Each of the surfers has different amounts of experience to broaden the scope of the film, he said.
McGrath said the documentary asks “Why surf?” to people who have been surfing their whole life and to surfers who have only been doing it for a couple of years.
One of McGrath’s friends, Emilee Holgate, will be surfing in the movie. She has been surfing her whole life and said she is excited to be able to share the experience through the documentary.
“I love the feeling I get when I am out in the water just getting away from everything. It is really nice to go out there and just forget about everything, just have fun and clear your mind,” Holgate said.
One of McGrath’s inspirations for the documentary is Bruce Brown’s "The Endless Summer" (1966), a movie that explores a search for the perfect wave, he said. McGrath said he hopes to create a balance between the movie’s surf focus and the cinematic style of a rock-and-roll documentary.
McGrath said the documentary will be filmed entirely in California over summer break. McGrath and Boling said they hope to have it released in mid-August,he said.
Outside of surfing, McGrath said faith, spirituality, family and education are his top priorities. He said he is a member of the Beta Upsilon Chi fraternity as well as the National Residence Hall Honorary. Making music is McGrath’s other passion, he said. He has been in bands and helped produce several CDs, he said.
McGrath said he hopes to move to Kauai or California and work for a surf company after he graduates. He wants to live close to the Pacific, away from “no-ocean Texas,” so he can surf in the mornings before work, he said.
McGrath’s friends affectionately refer to him as “Jimmy Joe," Todd Youngblood, McGrath's roommate said. Youngblood and Holgate described him as outgoing and sociable while maintaining a laid-back personality.
“The thing about Jimmy Joe which really sticks out to me is he’s all about fun. That’s a big thing for him. He has a good charisma,” Youngblood said.
McGrath said he likes to maintain a lighthearted and genuinely cheerful character.
“That carefree attitude that I’m always happy with what life is throwing at me is the legacy I want to leave behind,” he said.
McGrath compares life to surfing because life comes in waves. McGrath said each wave represents a course of action or a lifestyle. When he sees a “wave,” he has to choose whether he wants to actively paddle for that part of life, he said.
“If it’s a lifestyle you like, then you’re going to ride that sucker all the way to the shore. And if it's not, you get to bail off, paddle out and try again,” he said.
McGrath said his average surf day starts at 6 a.m. Driving to the beach with his friends, he said they talk about life, politics, school and religion. As they get closer to the water, there becomes less real-life talk and more discussion about the surf and wave conditions, he said.
While surfing provides McGrath with an outlet to meet friends, he said it is not like a group sport. McGrath said once he is out on the water, he doesn’t talk. It is just him and the ocean.
McGrath has a spiritual connection to nature, Charlie Gober, McGrath's fraternity pledge brother, said.
“There is a lot of beauty out there that people don’t always recognize, but he’s the type of guy who does. He really appreciates the natural beauty in the world and God’s creation. He is really in tune with that more than most people are,” he said.
McGrath said his favorite part of surfing is the inexpressible feeling he gets out on the ocean. He loves the way everything else in life disappears, he said.
“It’s almost spiritual. There is no other feeling like it because life has a lot of things it throws at you. And then when you get out there, it clears your mind,” he said.
With the documentary on the horizon and the Pacific so far away, summer could not be here fast enough, McGrath said. After all, life is a wave.