Published on December 3rd, 2004 | by Michelle Thomas0
Cast: Laird Hamilton, Jeff Clark, Greg Noll, Peter Mel. Dick Brewer, Kelly Slater, Sarah Gerhardt
The first thing to say is that not everyone is going to like or care about or be interested in seeing Riding Giants. I got the impression that quite a few of the critics at the screening I went to were determined not to like or care about or be interested in Riding Giants, as they sniggered derisively at sun-bleached surf dudes waxing lyrical about their passion.
Riding Giants is the new documentary from Stacy Peralta, the director of “Dogtown and Z-Boys”. In a statement Peralta explained that he was interested in making “a film about surfing, a film that presented surfing within a context, and a film that I hope answers one of the main questions which has always plagued surfing: why people choose to devote thir entire lives to the pursuit of riding waves.”
Now at this point I think I’ll hold up my hands and say I have been surfing. In fact I spent most weekends last summer flailing about on an ironing board in Newquay, and I fell in love with it. There’s something so entirely exhilarating about it, out of all proportion to what you’ve actually done – when you grip the rails of your board and manage to stand and ride a little 2-foot wave all the way to the beach and suddenly you’re hooting like a mad thing, grinning your head off, and it’s a rush like no other… You’re stoked. Surfing is pure, like a martial art: meditative, contemplative – you and the sea, no bullshit.
So I do understand, a teeny weeny bit, what Peralta and his subjects are trying to say.
The film begins with a potted, funny history of surfing’s Polynesian beginnings, 1500 years ago, through its repression by missionaries in the 1820s, its revival in the early 20th century, sweeping up the California coast in the 1940s and becoming part of the culture – and counter-culture – and always highlighting those surfers who, not satisfied with the fun and social aspects of the sport, searched for bigger and bigger waves, always pushing the boundaries.
Now some might agree with Tyler (Lori Petty) in “Point Break” that big wave riding is for macho assholes, but Peralta tries to show how this is less about showing off or thrill-seeking and much more about the surfers testing their own limits, pitting themsleves against the elements. So the film introduces us to Greg Noll, the pioneer, who in his stripy board shorts tamed the wild water of Hawaii’s famed North Shore. Noll and his contemporaries were a pioneering group, surfing’s equivalent of the beat poets, who left behind the expectations of 1950s California to live like bums on the beach, fishing and stealing pineapples, and surfing, always surfing. Noll was the first to ride the giant swells at Waimea Bay and he was big wave surfing’s first star.
Noll’s crown has now passed to Laird Hamilton, big-wave riding’s superstar, but Riding Giants also acknowledges the efforts of other less famous surfers: Jeff Clark, who at 17 paddled out alone to ride the freezing, deadly Maverick’s; Mark Foo, who tragically died as the result of a freak accident; Ken Bradshaw, Darrick Doerner and many others. But Peralta’s film finds its apogee – and its star – in Hamilton.
Hamilton is not an uncontroversial in surfing. Not everyone loves tow-in surfers, and some surfing purists worry that without the need to paddle out, something is lost. (There’s also the issue of the environmental destruction wreaked by jet-skis.) But the fact is that Hamilton has changed big-wave surfing forever, making it possible to ride 40, 50, even 60 foot waves. And watching him do it is truly breathtaking. See it on the biggest screen you can find.