Wild Goat Surf movie film Caitlyn Sponheimer

Caitlyn Sponheimer’s film Wild Goat Surf exposes B.C.’s paradoxical beauty and poverty

This coming of age skateboarding movie was inspired by the filmmaker’s childhood in B.C. in the early 2000s.

Whether you’re from British Columbia or have only passed through, the disparity between the poor quality of life of many of its residents and the opulence of its landscapes and natural resources is shockingly bleak and harrowing. Caitlyn Sponheimer, the director, writer and co-producer behind of Wild Goat Surf, seems to be grappling with this duality: The Canadian province that brims with beauty, wealth and promise also has destruction, suffering and hopelessness. It would be hard to disagree with anyone who claims that the sheer natural beauty of B.C. is unlike anywhere else in the world, but at the same time, this province fosters some of the most hostile living conditions in the country. In the year this film was made, over 26,000 B.C. residents reported experiencing homelessness in the relatively unpopulated province of approximately 5 million people. 

Sponheimer’s feature directorial debut, Wild Goat Surf, finds itself right in the middle of such statistics. Goat (Shayelin Martin) a young teenager and her single, widowed mother Jane (played by Sponheimer), are temporarily living at an RV campsite by the lake in Penticton. They camp out for the summer so that Jane can sublet their rental home and generate some extra income in the busy tourist months. While they both struggle to ground themselves in stable housing, the small Okanagan city of Penticton prevails as their home.

If you’re not familiar with Penticton, or the Okanagan Valley, this area is known for its dry, arid climate; facilitating fruit crops like wine grapes and peaches. Driving through the valley, you are surrounded by wineries, lakes, fruit farms and dry hills filled with sagebrush. Seasonal work and tourism make the area bustling in the summer, while the lack of this work in the off-seasons can make the Okanagan Valley feel more like a ghost town than a thriving city. Driving into Penticton, even into the late spring, you’ll find yourself passing countless empty fruit stands and fields lined with grape vines as far as you can see.

Caitlyn sponheimer wild goat surf
Wild Goat Surf

The empty roads leading into the city make you feel like you’re on the set of a Western, expecting a tumbleweed to blow by, juxtaposed by the lake on either side of the city, characterising the area for swimming or kayaking or anything you’re supposed to do outside in the summer. Being a bit familiar with Penticton, or at least B.C., helps to recognize the nuances of this film. By understanding the balance of living in B.C., where the outdoors are bountiful and yet, the conditions of living are incredibly hostile can help to explain the actions of the characters and the endless struggle they seem to be met with.

Inspired by Caitlyn Sponheimer’s childhood, the film primarily takes place at a local RV park by the lake or inside the RV that Goat and her mom live in — which is actually Caitlyn’s family’s RV. Throughout the film, Penticton serves as its own character, providing a home base for the family to rely on despite how unstable its living conditions may be. Before the hometown Penticton premiere of Wild Goat Surf, I spoke with Sponheimer about her film and the significance of Penticton to this movie. Since Wild Goat Surf was filmed, Sponheimer says that the second home of the RV park has been demolished and turned into condos, and the Peach ice cream stand, so iconic of Penticton, has been shut down by the city. Depicting this kind of childhood and summer experience was incredibly important to Sponheimer, to capture and savour the nostalgia of the early 2000s. 

As well, Sponheimer is interested in these kinds of summer towns that boom and then die out in their off-seasons. Wild Goat Surf is about the people who stay all year round, who are just getting by, struggling to work and taking on multiple tourist jobs and increased costs in the summer — only to find themselves trapped in the same cycle each year. Despite the beauty and vitality of the Okanagan Valley in the summer, the rates of poverty are incredibly high. Sponheimer spoke about the impact of such statistics on her film — in 2020, 1 in 5 kids grew up in poverty in the Okanagan valley. 

Goat represents such a child, as we follow her around skateboarding, stealing to get by and grappling with being a bored and sometimes lost young person. All the while, her mom tirelessly works to support their family and to manage the massive expense of living in B.C. Goat is alone in Penticton — a lot — but it’s a relatively safe small town where the locals keep tabs on her and report back to her mother about her daily rambunctious behaviour. Goat finds herself entertained by skateboarding, hanging out with friends and committing mostly harmless crimes — a quintessential early 2000s B.C. summer.

As Sponheimer is not from Penticton and has historically been a visiting tourist, having a crew that represents the local community was integral to this production. She emphasized that for this film to succeed, the intersectional nature of the story had to also be reflected in the crew. Wild Goat Surf is a conventional coming of age story, but one that is refreshingly well executed, focusing on the challenges of intersectional identity as young people. ■

Wild Goat Surf (directed by Caitlyn Sponheimer)

Wild Goat Surf is now available on VOD.

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