Sunday, July 12, 2015

#1,791. Highwater (2009)

Directed By: Dana Brown

Starring: Monique Marrier, Robbie Page, David Sanderson

Tag line: "Paradise Lost. Paradise Found"

Trivia: This movie's world premiere was held at the Santa Monica Pier on May 22, 2009 in celebrations of the pier's 100th anniversary. Proceeds from the ticket sales went to help restoration of the pier

While those of us in the Northeast are preparing for the holidays and getting our winter coats down from the attic, the North Shore of Hawaii is readying itself for one of surfing’s most intense competitions: The Vans Triple Crown, where the sport’s best and brightest will encounter the year’s largest swells (some as high than 30 feet). Directed by Dana Brown (who helmed the excellent Step Into Liquid), Highwater captures the drama, the excitement, and the glory of big-wave surfing while, at the same time, revealing the natural beauty of the tropical paradise that’s hosted the contest for over three decades.

Running from the end of October to right around Christmas, The Vans Triple Crown features a trio of events in which contestants battle the humongous waves that pound Hawaii’s North Shore. Representing countries like Brazil, Australia, and the United States, these men and women pour everything they have into the competition, risking life and limb for the right to call themselves the best. Along with its nerve-racking scenes of surfers in action, Highwater also provides a little history on the Triple Crown, interviewing its organizers as well as some of its past champions to get a sense of just how addicting the sport can be.

There’s plenty of drama to be found in Highwater, from the rivalries that pit friend against friend to the awesome wipe-outs, one of which results in a tragedy that shakes the surfing community to its core. Along the way, we watch surfers like Kelly Slater, Sunny Garcia, and Pancho Sullivan do their thing, but Highwater also focuses on the women’s events, where such world-class athletes as Layne Beachley and Chelsea Georgeson show their male counterparts that they, too, have what it takes to brave these ferocious waves (as recently as 1989, women’s surfing was practically non-existent,. By the mid-2000’s, it had grown into a billion dollar industry). Even the kids get in on the action (including teenager John John Florence, considered by many the sport’s next superstar); and a scene in which Jesse Billauer, a paraplegic since the age of 17, hops onto his board and rides a wave is arguably the film’s most inspiring moment (also competing is teenager Bethany Hamilton, who, at the age of 13, lost her left arm in a shark attack).

While the footage taken at the competition is, indeed, exciting, Highwater also takes a breather now and again to gaze at the landscape, which, with its palm trees and golden beaches, looks like heaven on earth. A heart-pounding sports documentary and a travelogue rolled into one, Highwater is, along with Step Into Liquid and Riding Giants, one of the best surfing movies of the new millennium.

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