It was 1978 when John Ritter became the first known surfer ride the now-legendary wave dubbed “Cloudbreak” off the tiny heart-shaped Fijian island Tavarua.
Now forty years later, a team of passionate environmentalists, surfers and virtual reality pioneers are working to bring that experience and John Ritter’s lifelong oceanic yacht and surfboard exploration to users in VR.
Nakuru Kuru: Awakening is the Baja California-based prologue to the 9-episode immersive 360-degree VR experience scheduled to be released next year. Ritter surfed frequently in Baja and mainland Mexico during his days as a student at UC Santa Barbara, and continued on to travel to many remote and unexplored oceanic landscapes.
This first episode in the series was launched on April 20th in honor of Earth Day at the EarthX Festival in Dallas, the Newport Beach Film Festival, the International Ocean Film Tour, and MountainFilm. The live action 360-degree experiences was simultaneously released across many VR platforms including Samsung, Facebook, Oculus Video, Jaunt, Littlstar, Within, Inception, LifeVR, and Kaleidoscope VR (who are also Executive Producers on the project).
The team is seeking funding to finish production in the South Pacific this summer to retrace John Ritter’s 1970’s journey through Samoa, Tonga and Fiji.
“The goal is to transport viewers into a bygone era of surf exploration and discovery,” Nakuru Producer Jay Henningfeld told VRScout.
He said that because of VR technology this project can “provide experiences most of us can only dream of: sailing solo in exotic, beautiful locations, connecting to these remote environments and the people that inhabit them, and of course surfing flawless waves.”
Appropriately, the idea for Nakuru was born on a surf trip in Sayulita, Mexico where the film’s future Director Steve Engman met Ritter’s son Sean.
It was months later that Sean Ritter mentioned to Engman that his Dad had been a part of surf history.
“Sean approached [John] with the idea of a film and it slowly developed from there,” Engman said.
Both Engman and Henningfeld described John Ritter as a humble man who never aspired to tell his story in such a public way, but has developed a passion for the project through his son.
“When we showed up in Maui for our first shoot with 6 pelican cases full of gear, [John] was expecting a VHS camera and just me,” Engman said.
“He is by no means trying to stake his claim or stick a flag in the sand,” Henningfeld said. “To him the journey was much, much more than that.”
Throughout the film, viewers will have access to the extensive archives of John Ritter using images that come from an extensive collection of 35mm slides he hadn’t touched in 30 years. This will be in addition to the immersive VR experience surfing the same waves and sailing to the same far-reaches of the oceans he did.
“As VR gradually came on the scene it became clear this was the perfect medium to tell the story, and possibly the ONLY medium capable of telling it right,” Henningfeld said.
As the project developed in Maui and the pair researched virtual technology, they ended up founding VR company called Jiva VR. More than two years later, they are creating the idea that inspired a larger business endeavor.
The creators of Nakuru share a passion for conservation, and hope that the result of their film gives viewers a first-hand experience that will inspire action to save the ocean.
Specifically, the team has partnered up with Scripps Institute of Oceanography, Waitt Institute, and Reef Explorer Fiji. Together, they hope to reduce plastic in the ocean and protect and restore the mangroves, coral reefs and endangered species in the Polynesian Islands.
At its core, Henningfeld said Nakuru is “really about connecting to the ocean, and we really wanted people to feel that connection and hopefully walk away inspired to join the fight in protecting it.”
Both Engman and Henningfeld, who have been friends far longer than they have been business partners, continue to be inspired by John Ritter’s sincerity and positivity.
“At this point I have to say the real driving force that has kept us going is simply the fact that we don’t want to let him down in any way,” Henningfeld said.
You can find out more about Nakuru here.