Urban Cinefile
"My parents just love to laugh, and my mum would laugh at ANYTHING, so I had the perfect audience."  -Cameron Diaz
 The World of Film in Australia - on the Internet Updated Thursday July 19, 2018 

Printable page PRINTABLE PAGE



Developments in technology have enabled surfers to ride giant waves once thought impossible. The Billabong Odyssey centres on the first year of a three-year competition to determine the world's leading exponent of riding waves frequently measuring 50 and 60 feet. Covering the first year of this three-year event, Billabong Odyssey details the extensive training and safety preparations required for this dangerous sport and examines the highly sophisticated methods of locating the largest waves on earth. As competition gets underway, participants including Mike Parsons, Brad Gerlach and the Santa Cruz Boys reveal their reasons for conquering these walls of water.

Review by Richard Kuipers:
Much less appealing to a general audience than the recently released surfing doco Step Into Liquid, The Billabong Odyssey will be chiefly of interest to surfing and extreme sport enthusiasts. Featuring many of the big wave riders who also appeared in segments of Step Into Liquid, this is awesome to watch but non-converted audiences will find it hard to maintain interest for the full 83 minutes.

What's indisputable about The Billabong Odyssey is incredible footage of daredevils riding the biggest waves you've ever seen. Right from the brilliant opening shot of a surfer gradually being engulfed by a building-sized wave, this succeeds in delivering some of the most astounding surf footage ever captured. What drives these participants to ride such monstrous masses of water doesn't deviate much from the testimony we've heard in just about every surfing doco made since The Endless Summer (1966). According to the contestants interviewed (most of whom are far from the brain-dead "hey-dude" types you might expect) it's still about freedom, adrenaline rush, conquering mountains and simply having fun.

What separates this crew from the rest of the surfing pack is the danger of their specialised pursuit and the degree of technology involved. "We're the Delta Squad of surfing" is how one contestant explains it. One look at the hydrofoil attachments used to lift boards above the surface of choppy water (again, seen also in Step Into Liquid) and the sophisticated electronic gear employed to locate the biggest swells is proof that this is not an understatement.

Just how compelling you find such detail and the extended early scenes of safety training with jet-skis used to tow riders out to the big waves will determine how you respond to the film as a whole. For aficionados it's likely to be heaven on a surfboard; for casual observers like me it became a little ho-hum in between big ride highlights. The same applies to the characters we meet. Surf legends Mike Parsons, Brad Gerlach, 49 year-old Ken Bradshaw and "Skindog" and "Flea" from the Santa Cruz boys have interesting stories to tell but there's rather too much padding once we've learnt the basics.

A major disappointment for Aussie surf fans is the all-too brief appearance of 6 times women's world champ Layne Beachley. Despite her prominence in the credits, Beachley's only on screen for about three minutes. After running out of puff somewhat at the 50 minute mark, The Billabong Odyssey finishes with a dynamic flourish of real drama as the showdown for honours hots up. If surfing's your bag, The Billabong Odyssey is essential viewing on the biggest screen possible. If not it's a little one-note but worth a look just for Jack McCoy's eye popping camerawork.

Special Features reviewed by Louise Keller:
It's like snowboarding off a mountain with someone setting off avalanches behind you, says one of the surfers in the DVD feature, which canvasses how the rules of surfing have been written over the past few years.

At the Santa Cruz film premiere, Jodie Nelson introduces us to project director Bill Sharp, and surfers Mike Parsons and Brad Gerlach who talk about their two year experiences making the film. They also talk about their relationship: how they began as rivals and have become close friends. This 20 minute bonus feature is strictly for the fans.

Published August 19, 2004

Email this article


CAST: Documentary with Shawn Barron, Layne Beachley, Ken Bradshaw, Ken Collins, Brad Gerlach

DIRECTOR: Philip Boston

RUNNING TIME: 87 minutes



DVD DISTRIBUTOR: Warner Home Video

DVD RELEASE: August 18, 2004

Urban Cinefile 1997 - 2018