Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Riding Giants - Film Review

I've never surfed in my life. I'm a terrible swimmer and don't even dig getting in water much at all. Yet, I've always been fascinated with surfing. Maybe its from dabbling with skateboarding during the '70s or listening to The Ventures and Dick Dale.

Then again, I don't think so. I think its from the culture and vibe of it all and how people who are into surfing are really into surfing. Its like an obsession or religion. And that obsession is shared among cyclists, skateboarders, musicians - or whatever your thing is.

Surfing is also a beautiful sport. I occasionally flip through surfing magazines, in awe of the freeze frame photos of surfers in action. The water, sun, splashes of color via the board and wetsuits. The expression on surfers faces while they're doing their thing. Great stuff.

I also see similarities between surfboard makers and frame builders. Surfboard dude shaping a board with a sander in a small shop. Frame builder guy manning a torch, partially constructed frame in a jig. Both are soul tools designed for the committed.

This film documents the beginning of surfing hundreds of years ago, up to the modern form of big wave surfing. Not being a surfer, I don't recognize any of the people interviewed, except for Laird Hamilton - who has spilled over into mainstream culture. If science could create the ultimate surfer, looks and all, it would be Hamilton. Laird and everyone else interviewed comes across as very cool, likable, and totally live what they do - surf.

I got a big kick out of the clips and stories of surfing in the late '50s and early '60s. Surfing was still a secret subculture, yet to get big. The pioneers of modern surfing basically thumbed their noses at society, lived on the beach in tents and shacks, and surfed daily. They needed little money, lived off the land and perfected their craft. As mentioned in the film, maybe 5000 surfers in the world existed at the time. After the Hollywood exploitation of surfing via movies like Gidget during the '60s, surfing exploded in popularity with now millions taking part. Innocence now lost.

As the film progresses through the years, what's considered a big wave continues to grow. Waves and areas once thought unrideable become rideable - and exponentially more dangerous. I find it incredible these guys (and some girls) paddle miles out into the ocean to ride these monster waves. You're way out there with just a board and your talent and ability to keep it all together.

The Jeff Clark story was amazing. He basically surfed this dangerous area in Northern California by himself for 15 years, before other surfers discovered it was in fact ridable. Ridable for extremely talented surfers that is - for non surfers like myself - the place looks like instant death. Huge waves crashing into a rocky shoreline. I have utter respect for people who can call something like this their playground. How they get pummeled underwater after wiping out is incredible.

This lifestyle is not without risk, people do die - as noted in the film - including Mark Foo, a world famous surfer who died on his first visit to very area Jeff Clark surfed solo for 15 years. Then a year later, another surfer died there during a ceremonial tribute to Foo.

The film ends with spectacular shots of Laird Hamilton and other surfers hitting monster waves, 80+ feet tall. To surf these waves, the surfers travel by boat and Jetski further out in the ocean, where these monsters live. The waves are so fast and big, they must be towed by Jetski to slingshot themselves into position. Dropping into one of these waves is like falling off a skyscraper, with a mountain of water right behind you. Surfers with this ability are the chosen few, and for mere mortals watching them do this, is almost beyond comprehension. They literally risk death with each session. It is awesome to witness however.

Riding Giants, directed by Stacy Peralta is well worth watching. Peralta also directed Dogtown and Z Boys, another fantastic documentary, this film about '70s era skateboarding.


  1. You write great book/movie reviews. I can sure relate to the surfer's drive and desires.

  2. Sounds like a second job writting book/movie reviews for sub-cultures. Great write-up!

  3. Great review..! Some sports/interests have a connection because they have a culture built up around them- surfing and cycling have that similarity.

  4. @Davey, Bikewright, Trevor

    Thanks for the nice comments. I enjoy checking out your blogs as well.

    Happy riding in 2011 !!