Synopsis: Depressed and frustrated with his life, Dr. John Kitchin abandons his career as a neurologist and moves to the beach. There, he undergoes a radical transformation into SLOMO, trading his lab coat for a pair of rollerblades and his IRA for a taste of divinity.
Slomo came into my life at an opportune moment. As an aspiring documentary filmmaker, having just rolled into my thirties, I was looking for both a film subject and for some wisdom on how to approach the rapidly encroaching “middle third” of my life.
Around this time, after returning from a conference in San Diego, my father recounted the experience of running into an old med school buddy on the boardwalk at Pacific Beach. His name was John Kitchin.
John had left his career as a prominent San Diego neurologist and was now spending his days rollerblading up and down the boardwalk, blasting classical music from a speaker kept under his shirt. Beachgoers just knew him as “Slomo,” knowing nothing of his past life.
Slomo’s story stirred my curiosity. I was intrigued by his website, which presented his manifesto on “The Zone,” a realm of pure subjectivity and spiritual connectedness that he accessed through his skating. So I decided to call him and see if he was interested in sharing his story through film. Which, thankfully, he was.
From our very first interview, I found Slomo fascinating. His charisma and eloquence made some aspects of the filmmaking simple; he was a natural on camera with a captivating voice, and his background as a neurologist legitimized some of his more esoteric theories on rollerblading, balance, and spirituality.
That said, his story raised questions: At times, I thought, is he crazy or is he really onto something? As joyous as his current life appeared, what sacrifices had he made to get there? What (and who) had he behind? And was his mantra, “Do what you want to,” easier for a retired doctor to adhere to than for the rest of us? Regardless, it was amazing to see just how many people in Pacific Beach recognized and loved Slomo, cheering every time he skated by. He was definitely a phenomenon.
On a practical level, shooting smooth shots of Slomo rollerblading through crowds at the beach proved difficult. We wanted to recreate the experience of watching his unique and graceful “beach ballet.” Luckily, it turned out that our cinematographer, Wynn Padula, was pretty serviceable on rollerblades himself — a fact I was completely unaware of going into production. So Wynn followed behind Slomo with the camera, and I rolled behind them on my skateboard with the sound equipment. For a while there, our weird caravan became a standard sight on the Pacific Beach boardwalk, especially when we tried to go backwards!
In the end, we were thrilled to be able to create a window into the ecstatic experience that Slomo has, everyday, as he skates the boardwalk in his own profound search for a door into the zone. For my part, I continue to be intrigued by both the particular joys and setbacks that define a person’s life once he decides to do exactly what he wants to.
Josh Izenberg is a director, producer, and writer based in Oakland, California. He directed his first low-budget feature in the mountains of Appalachia and has since worked on documentary projects covering surfing veterans and Peruvian drug rehab. His short documentary, SLOMO, won over a dozen awards, including best short documentary at SXSW and the IDA award. It premiered as a New York Times Op-Doc. Josh hails from Michigan and is proud to have been, at different times, a cab driver, a carpenter, and a fishmonger.