Saturday, March 1, 2014

#1,293. Riding Giants (2004)

Directed By: Stacy Peralta

Starring: Laird John Hamilton, Darrick Doerner, Greg Noll

Tag line: "It doesn't get any bigger than this"

Trivia: This movie won the 2004 A.C.E. Eddie Award for Best Edited Documentary

Those who surf say there’s no feeling in the world that can compare. “It becomes so important to you”, says Steve Pezman, editor of Surfer’s Journal, ”that it becomes the object around which you plan the rest of your life”. In 2004’s Riding Giants, director Stacy Peralta pays tribute to those who’ve dedicated their lives to catching the biggest waves.

Kicking things off with a briskly entertaining history lesson, playfully titled “1,000 Years of Surfing in Two Minutes or Less”, Riding Giants then introduces us to some of the men whose passion for the sport led them to become pioneers of big-wave surfing. Greg Noll, who in the ‘50s and ‘60s braved the humongous swells of Hawaii’s Waimea Bay, was one of the first to tackle giant waves, while Laird Hamilton, an innovator of “tow-in” surfing (where a jet ski drags the riders out to where the waves are biggest), has tackled some as tall as 70 feet (21 meters) high, reaching speeds of 50 mph (80 km/h) while doing so.

Utilizing the same rapid-fire style he employed in his award-winning 2000 documentary Dogtown and Z Boys, director Peralta manages to capture at least a portion of the excitement that goes hand-in-hand with big wave surfing. With countless examples of men and women conquering huge swells, Riding Giants also focuses on the dangers involved, showing wipeouts so severe we can’t believe anyone survived them. One surfer talks of how he fractured his neck at Waimea, though is quick to add that “every single big-wave surfer” can tell a similar story. Unfortunately, a few didn’t live to tell theirs; in 1994, Mark Foo, one of the sports brightest stars, drowned while surfing at Mavericks, a prime spot situated in Northern California’s Half Moon Bay.

Still, for guys like Greg Noll, Laird Hamilton, and scores of others, the thrill of catching a big-wave is well worth the risk. As one surfer put it: “It isn’t just a sport, it’s a statement”, a way to thumb your nose at conventional society by hanging out at the beach all day. With Riding Giants, Stacy Peralta gives us a taste of just how liberating it all can be.

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