Atascadero native makes surf doc with heart

SLO Film Fest takes its 'Time Well Spent'

MORRO BAY – “This Saturday, March 17 at 9 a.m. the Bay Theatre in Morro Bay will be showing “Time Well Spent,” as part of a surfing double feature. The documentary film will be part of the signature series of “Surf Nite” films that the San Luis Obispo International Film Fest sets aside to highlight the surf-culture and good waves, and will be shown alongside “Secrets of Desert Point.”

The film was created by Atascadero native, surfer and filmmaker James Fazio.

“This is a story of four souls whose past will not define who they will become...” the movie tagline goes. If that sounds more like a deep philosophical drama than a typical surf movie, it’s true. This is not your run-of-the-mill surf flick — it’s much more than that. Surfers will be pleased because the movie promises some unreal sets and epic surf. But even non-surfers will be hooked, as the film delivers a uniquely touching story as well.

The documentary film “Time Well Spent” [Trailer:] leads four chosen ‘groms’ from different challenging backgrounds (all coming from four completely different locations, Indonesia, Hawaii, Peru and Australia) on a surf adventure and humanitarian mission to Bocas Del Toro, Panama. While the young surfers take on perfect waves most surfers dream of, in a place that looks like the very definition of ‘paradise,’ they are given the opportunities to make an impact on those even less fortunate than themselves. The boys provide water filtration system to a local village without clean water access. Though the young men in the film are challenged with their own issues from poverty to abandonment, Fazio said they left the experience changed for the better. One of the boys in the film is homeless himself, yet builds a family a home.

“They’re worth a lot more than they believed,” said Fazio, who wanted to give some kids the chance to chase the waves of their lives, but also to give them a chance to discover their worth. “That was the biggest reward for me,” he said.

Each one of “The Boys” has had an extremely tough life so far — experiencing the kind of pain and hardships that can easily sink a person. But these young men have surfing in common, and the result of being chosen to embark on a surf trip becomes a life-changing event.

Fazio has been surfing the beaches of SLO county since he was 13.

“I grew up surfing in Morro Bay and surfing just took over the other sports,” he said.

Fazio, 28, who has two siblings: Alicia and Jason (now grown with families of their own), comes from a family Atascaderans know well. His parents, Tim and Lori Fazio, live and work in town and locals know their house as the fun place where the young kids used to hang out. He spent his whole childhood in Atascadero, went to Monterey Road Elementary School, and graduated from AHS in 2008. When he was in seventh grade, he almost lost his life to a life-threatening complication from Kawasaki disease, an inflammation of the arteries, and leading cause of acquired heart disease in children. He said the close call on his life set him in a new direction.

“That kind of changed the rest of my life, really,” Fazio said.

Doctors told his parents that their son would either have heart problems for the rest of his life or he would die, but after an experimental treatment worked Fazio recovered without any residual health effects. By the end of the year Fazio was surfing again — even surfing a stint in the World Surf League Qualifying Series.

The medical journals have him written up as an anomaly and his family calls his health a miracle. However it was that Fazio survived, he surmounted his challenge with style. His movie mirrors the charge through adversity he admires in the young men he features, those meant to survive and thrive against impossible odds.

He remembers praying in bed.

“I was like all right, well, God, if you can take this away I’m not living for myself,” he said. “So it put me on the path for everything I’ve done.”

Fazio kept that promise, leaving the U.S. at age 19 to volunteer with a Christian nonprofit called Youth With A Mission (YWAM), living all over the world in places like Chile, Peru, Mexico and Indonesia, and eventually in Hawaii where he took medical aid to Micronesians.

“Well, obviously, I love surfing,” he said. “I would usually volunteer and help at orphanages where the kids love surfing, because that’s where I had the connection with the kids, so I met all the boys [in the film] through volunteering.”

Knowing he needed to learn filmmaking skills, Fazio enrolled a three-month filmmaking program at University of the Nations in Hawaii and worked in a film studio internship for three years on Hawaii, making films and fundraiser videos that helped with his many causes, such as the orphanages he volunteered for.

“I wanted to use film so that it would give people a voice who couldn’t do so themselves,” he said, adding that he especially wanted to help nonprofit organizations that didn’t have the means to fundraise for their efforts.

Ironically, one of the most challenging things with the film was raising the funds on filmmaking crowdfunding source “Seed and Spark.” He said he kind of did things “backwards.”

“We started the project and just went for it without any funding at all,” Fazio said. “We did the whole film and then we raised $25,000. So we used it all for the post-production.”  

Having to find social security cards, identification cards and all the required paperwork for the four young men to obtain travel visas was also a big challenge. One of the boys was homeless most of the time, so he did not even own a birth certificate.

“I covered that by having grey hair now,” laughed Fazio.  

“Time Well Spent” was made with a three-person crew — just Fazio and a videographer/director of photography Elliot Gray. He said his wife Katherine was “the brains,” who dealt with the financial side of things.

After the premier there will be a 15-minute Q&A with Fazio and “grom” Kross Brodersen, a 17-year-old from Hawaii, who is featured in the film.

Fazio currently lives in Bali, Indonesia with his wife and two sons, ages one and three. He still volunteers full-time with a non-profit in Indonesia, focusing as much as he can on filmmaking and projects. 

He arrived at home to his family recently for the SLO Film Fest premiere after a stop at the Sedona International Film Festival in Arizona. Next stop will be the Newport Beach Film Festival at the end of April, where the festival is organizing an educational component to the screening.

“They have a program alongside of it because it’s kind of a good program for teens,” Fazio said. “It talks a lot about your identity and your worth. Like your past does not define your future.” Furthermore, Fazio is hoping to get some sort of distribution going after the film festivals to reach an even wider audience.

For SLO Film Fest passes, tickets and more information, visit or go to SLO Film Fest Headquarters, 1003 Osos St. (check website as our hours vary), or by phone 805-546-3456. Individual movie tickets will be sold at the venue on a first-come, first-serve basis, $15/General and $12/Students and SLO Film Society members. SLO Film Fest recommends arriving 30 minutes before the screening, as passholders are given priority seating. SLO Film Fest will run March 13 through March 18.

“Time Well Spent,” 83 minutes, and “Secrets of Desert Point,” 45 minutes, will be screened at 9 a.m. at the Bay Theater in Morro Bay, 464 Morro Bay Blvd..

You may contact Reporter Beth Giuffre at [email protected] for questions and/or feedback.

Photos courtesy of James Fazio

Filmmaker James Fazio and his oldest son, Kilian, in Panama while filming the final trip of “Time Well Spent.”

Kross Brodersen, one of “The Boys” of the film “Time Well Spent” and filmmaker James Fazio under a waterfall in Hawaii.

Kross Brodersen, one of “The Boys” of the film “Time Well Spent” and filmmaker James Fazio crossing a stream in Hawaii.

Declan Bradley of Australia, one of “The Boys” of the documentary, surfing in Panama while filming “Time Well Spent.”


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