A look at the evolution of surfing, from its early Polynesian roots to the development of the surf culture in Southern California and featuring interviews with some of the world's top surfers - such as Greg Knoll, Jeff Clark and Laird Hamilton. The challenge, the ecstasy, the devastation... this is the story of the big wave riders and how their quest began.
Review by Louise Keller:
The waves crash down like a tumultuous waterfall, intimidating the ocean around it, leaving behind a dazzle of aquamarine stripes and crystal-clear foam that pounds mercilessly on the sand. A miracle of nature that curves and swerves like a mystical creation, the big wave is a phenomenon. For an armchair surfer like me, Riding Giants lets my lips taste the salt, and if only in a small way, allows me to feel a tiny inkling of the exhilaration that has taken surfing to the extremes.
Directed by Stacy Peralta (Dogtown and Z Boys), this excellent documentary about surfing has appeal beyond its core market. With its compelling mix of interviews with big-name surfers, archival footage and of course, action on the waves themselves, Riding Giants puts the sport in context, from its origins when Polynesian migrants found their way to the Hawaiian islands, to the lifestyle sport it has become. We learn the difference between surfing and big wave surfing, and what it takes to ride these mountain-like waves that rise 20, 30 or even 50 feet high. What is it that makes these super-fit men of the surf live their lives around the thrill of conquering the waves? It seems that the fine line between heaven and hell lies on a surfboard, as we get a sense of the risks and the possible fatal consequences of a wipe-out.
Interviews with big-name surfers are integrated with archival footage and action shots on the waves themselves, when we come nearly close enough to feel the spray on our face.
Back in the 50s, the surfing pioneers were groupies who flocked to the beaches with nothing but their shorts and surfboard, surviving from the fish they caught and the coconuts from the trees they scaled. We meet Greg Noll, the flamboyant champion of the 50s with his trademark 'jailhouse stripe' trunks; 60s legend Jeff Clark, who mastered massive waves in California which were called Mavericks; and Laird Hamilton, the world's greatest big wave rider, who has taken the sport to a new level. Hamilton changed the sport by working as a team with two colleagues in an inflatable speedboat, allowing access to mount a wave without having to paddle out to sea for several hours. But even more importantly, this new way of surfing offers the security of assistance for search and rescue after a deadly wipe-out.
The surfers live for the big waves, and if there are none, they are grumpy and depressed. It's like being a dragon slayer, when there are no dragons, says Laird Hamilton, which perfectly encapsulates the mood of the film. Riding Giants is a compelling documentary - the die-hard surfies will lap it up, while the novices will feel the spark.
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RIDING GIANTS (M)
CAST: Documentary with Greg Noll, Jeff Clark, Darrick Doerner, Laird John Hamilton, Dave Kalama, Brian L. Keaulana, Buzzy Kerbox
PRODUCER: Jane Kachmer, Agi Orsi
DIRECTOR: Stacy Peralta
SCRIPT: Stacy Peralta, Sam George
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Not credited
EDITOR: Paul Crowder
MUSIC: Not credited
PRODUCTION DESIGN: N/a
RUNNING TIME: 105 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Columbia TriStar
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: March 10, 2005
VIDEO DISTRIBUTOR: Sony Pictures Entertainment
VIDEO RELEASE: September 21, 2005