Riding Giants

The last in a trio of surfing movies (after Step Into Liquid and Billabong Odyssey) to reach theaters is the best, despite a newfound sense of surf movie fatigue. Riding Giants was written and directed by Stacy Peralta, the same person who made the wonderful Dogtown and Z-Boys. He takes the same approach, using his love for the sport, some nice visual tricks, and a huge amount of historical footage and interviews with stars current and past to present a film chronicling the past, present and future of surfing. Above all, the best reason to watch Riding Giants of the other surfing documentaries is because of the incredibly breathtaking footage. There is something hypnotic about watching a talented surfer easily working his way up and down a wave. It looks effortless, although everybody knows it is extremely hard and sometimes deadly. Surfing came of age in the era of home movies, so there is a ton of great footage from the fifties to the present.

Peralta obviously enjoys the sport. He infuses his love of it into all of the segments, trying (usually successfully) to convey the fun, danger, and grandeur of surfing to the audience. He is extremely interested at how surfing has evolved into what it is now, and even traces its ancient history in a cheeky segment at the beginning. He follows the California surfers earlier in the century as they trek towards Hawaii to find the perfect wave, and following people like Greg Noll as they created or became part of the burgeoning surf culture. Gidget and Dick Dale, according to many, brought newfound fame into surfing, but also tarnished the 'pure' image. Thousands of people crowded heretofore pristine beaches. Peralta then heads back to California, where he follows Jeff Clark, who surfed the huge waves off Mavericks for years before anybody else knew about them.

Then the spotlight goes to Laird Hamilton (Step Into Liquid), and the development of 'tow-in' surfing. This is where a jet ski tows a surfer into a wave, thus allowing surfers to catch immense waves that are upwards of fifty feet high, something they could never do before. Of course this makes the sport all the more dangerous, but it also makes it more beautiful, and only increases surfing's popularity. Hamilton goes from Hawaii to Tahiti looking for monstrous waves. There's nothing particularly deep or revealing in Riding Giants. Peralta and Sam George's screenplay gives a good background, touching upon most of the major players and major events, but that's about all. What compels these athletes to go into sometimes suicidal conditions to find the perfect wave? The compulsion is so great that people like Hamilton are depressed when there are no waves around. Worse is the habit of bestowing God-like status on some of its subjects. Yeah these guys are really cool and athletic, but Riding Giants also seems more like a love letter to these big wave surfers. A little more objectivity would go really far.

Mongoose Rates It: Not Bad.
1 hour, 45 minutes, Rated PG-13 for brief strong language.

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