Jordan Tappis has had a busy year. After shooting season one of The First in New Orleans, he returned home to Los Angeles and plunged into a brutal editing/post-production schedule to meet the show’s September 14 premiere.
“I like setting big challenges for myself and really stretching my bandwidth,” he told me.
We were walking along the shoreline of Surfrider Beach in Malibu. Under a bright midday sun surfers streaked across long waves and seagulls danced along shiny sand. Tanned, muscled, handsome, Jordan is a supreme hyphenate—he writes, directs, and produces film and television. He owns a record company and music management firm. He’s a principle of American NGO Waves for Water. He is a husband and father of two young girls. He still surfs like a motherf—ker. He astonishes me with his consistently cool and relaxed demeanor. He pointed towards the waves.
“It all started out there. Right there in the white wash at Third Point. I was eight years old. A friend pushed me into my first wave and proclaimed, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, the new Tom Curren!’ Total eureka moment. That was it for me, I was barely in third grade and yet suddenly I knew exactly who I was going to be for the rest of my life. The majority of my formative life lessons happened, continue to happen really, in that ocean.”
I first met Jordan not long after this. A pipsqueak regular foot with a flurry of zip and zap, he seemed destined for the surfing big leagues. But it didn’t go that way.
“When I was 17 I was faced with the brutal reality that I would never be a world champion surfer,” he told me. “There were myriad reasons behind that realization but they all seemed to dance around the fact that I lacked singular focus. My entire life up until that point was extremely goal oriented—turn pro, join the QS, qualify for the CT, top 10, world title. But after four years on the QS and increasing curiosity about the world around me—the kiss of death for a competitive athlete—I hung it up (as a career) and turned my attention toward the only other thing I ever loved: art.”
Jordan picked up a flat rock, threw it in the sparkling water. It skipped once, twice, three times.
“In 2002, with the help of my former sponsors Bob Hurley and Paul Gomez, I started a record label and music management firm. Over time that business expanded to music video production and eventually music documentaries. By 2008 storytelling was beginning to take over my life and it’s been my principal focus ever since.”
Written by Jordan’s producing partner Beau Willimon (creator of House of Cards) and starring two-time Academy Award winner Sean Penn, The First portrays members of a team of astronauts as they become the first humans to visit Mars. I asked Jordan what drew him to the story.
“I’ve always been drawn to stories about human exploration, about people challenging the outer limits of their physical and mental capabilities. Journeys of all kinds—be it someone crossing an ocean or a desert or climbing a mountain—always seem to draw my attention. Space is a natural extension of that lifelong curiosity and Mars is the ultimate challenge. And it’s happening in real life! Within the next 15-20 years a group of astronauts will travel around 40 million miles across the galaxy and set foot on the Martian surface. It will instantly become the greatest pioneering achievement in history and just like that humanity will become an interplanetary species. This is not science fiction; it’s science fact.”
Hell-bent on creating a technically accurate depiction of our future world, Jordan told me all about his nearly three-year odyssey consulting with real life astronauts, scientists, engineers, mathematicians, and futurists. He waxed knowledgeably about the two-and-a-half-year voyage to Mars and back, the shopping mall-like habitats where people might live, and the no-turning-backness of it all. For a moment I was seeing less the blue Pacific Ocean and more the cold red Martian desert. He talked about the power of teamwork and how executive producing The First was its own intergalactic undertaking, but that it all came together in the end.
“I’ve always had the same playbook: follow my passions; surround myself with honest, talented people; be rigorous and finish what I start. Doesn’t matter if I’m working with a musician, directing a film, or producing a TV show, the approach stays the same.”
I asked what he liked most about his work.
With bright eyes that reminded me of the little kid who slashed across the Malibu waves he said, “Every day I get to make art with some of my favorite artists.”
JAMIE BRISICK IS A WRITER, PHOTOGRAPHER, AND DIRECTOR. HE SURFED ON THE ASP WORLD TOUR FROM 1986 TO 1991. HE HAS SINCE DOCUMENTED SURF CULTURE EXTENSIVELY. HIS BOOKS INCLUDE BECOMING WESTERLY: SURF CHAMPION PETER DROUYN’S TRANSFORMATION INTO WESTERLY WINDINA, ROMAN & WILLIAMS: THINGS WE MADE, WE APPROACH OUR MARTINIS WITH SUCH HIGH EXPECTATIONS, HAVE BOARD, WILL TRAVEL: THE DEFINITIVE HISTORY OF SURF, SKATE, AND SNOW, AND THE EIGHTIES AT ECHO BEACH. HIS WRITINGS AND PHOTOGRAPHS HAVE APPEARED IN THE SURFER’S JOURNAL, THE NEW YORK TIMES, AND THE GUARDIAN. HE WAS THE EDITOR OF SURFING MAGAZINE FROM 1998-2000, AND IS PRESENTLY THE GLOBAL EDITOR OF HUCK. IN 2008 HE WAS AWARDED A FULBRIGHT FELLOWSHIP. HE LIVES IN LOS ANGELES. FOR MORE OF HIS WORK CHECK OUT JAMIEBRISICK.COM & @JAMIEBRISICK