South Beach Shark Club Image

South Beach Shark Club

By Alan Ng | June 1, 2023

Have you ever been invited to a casual party at a stranger’s house, and when you arrive, everyone is sitting around telling stories that are too incredible to believe? The story of legends, if you will. This is how I felt after seeing Robert Requejo Ramos’ documentary, South Beach Shark Club.

The film is the story of a group of friends living in the South Beach section of Miami. In 1970, the city was divided into a senior retirement community and the poor and impoverished youth living along Miami’s southernmost point. Then known as the South Beach Pier Rats, Rene De Dios, J.D. Hammer, and Shannon Bustamante were born out of the surf and skater communities before they chose to find fame as the greatest shark fishermen in the world.

South Beach Shark Club surrounds the life and death of the club’s leader Rene De Dios. To say that he loved shark fishing is an understatement. He was passionate about it and strove to be the best in the world. However, de Dios didn’t take too kindly to competition. According to the club’s historian/storyteller, Hammer, his exploits were legendary. De Dios looked danger straight in the face until his death when a great white shark dragged his boat underwater. The rest is a story of legend.

“…born out of the surf and skater communities before they chose to find fame as the greatest shark fishermen in the world…”

As a no-frills documentary, it primarily consists of talking-head interviews, archival news footage, and camcorder video repurposed to tell a particular part of the subject’s life. That said, I could sit back and listen for hours to Hammer and Bustamante’s captivating stories about their friend’s life, along with their not-so-tall tales and adventures. In addition, the film includes other members who came in and out of the club over the years, along with several of the youth that the three mentored, including William Fundora, Albert Poledri, Jorge Ramos, and an up-and-coming rival named Kevin Pagan.

The stories told throughout South Beach Shark Club are not just about De Dios or his shark fishing adventures but also about living in South Beach in the early days. As poor kids, they struggled to stay out of trouble, and shark fishing was how this group did that. Then, as De Dios and the others began finding fame, they never left South Beach because, for better or worse, it was home.

We also get a glimpse into how shark fishing shaped everyone’s personalities and gave them purpose in life. Competition spurred them on as the story of “I caught one this big” becomes the anecdote of the day. To this day, Hammer and Bustamante have taken their lifelong passion and passed it on to at-risk teens, who themselves are in need of focus, discipline, and direction. In case you’re wondering, their exploits are a conservation-minded, catch-and-release style of fishing.

In South Beach Shark Club, “legend” is a relative term and can be applied to a specific region of the world, even Miami. As stated in the documentary, legendary is defined by the tales being told, and documentarian Robert Requejo Ramos has found a treasure trove of stories suitable for your Shark Week pleasure.

For screening information, visit the South Beach Shark Club official website.

South Beach Shark Club (2023)

Directed and Written: Robert Requejo Ramos

Starring: Rene De Dios, James “JD Hammer” Fuqua, Shannon Bustamante, etc.

Movie score: 7/10

South Beach Shark Club Image

"…a treasure trove of stories..."

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