Directed by Stacy Peralta
I consider surfing the most photogenic sport. It follows that a documentary about surfing, if photographed so as to do the sport justice, can give the viewer a powerful 90 minutes in front of the big screen. Riding Giants lives up to that promise by first introducing us to the history of the sport in general and then going into detail about the development of big wave surfing over the last 50 years or so. I’m no expert -- I’ve been surfing for a long time -- but have never had the inclination to go out into the kind of huge surf that these guys ride. I’m talking about waves larger than 15 feet – daredevil stuff in my opinion. I found the film not only beautiful visually but fascinating – I learned a lot about big wave surfing. For example, jet skis are used to tow the surfer along so he can match his speed to the wave’s speed – which is necessary to catch the wave. That allows the surfer to catch a bigger wave than what would be possible paddling by hand. In true documentary fashion, Riding Giants takes you along to the “breaks” – not all the best waves break anywhere near the beach – where the huge waves can be found.
Laird Hamilton, who’s also credited as executive producer, invented – along with a couple of his buddies -- the tow in surfing method which revolutionized big wave surfing. They not only came up with the idea to use a jet ski to help catch the waves but designed and built special surfboards to use with the new technique. The movie takes you through the steps in that development – with spectacular footage and commentary by Laird, who is still pretty young and active in the sport.
The movie tells several stories about individuals who, at various points since the early 1950’s, have pushed beyond what had been thought of as the limits of possibility in riding these gigantic waves. Greg Noll was a big wave pioneer in Hawaii during the 1950’s – back when only a few thousand people were surfing and only a handful were riding the big ones. The filmmakers combined old footage from that era with Greg on camera to chat about how things were. He is now in his 60s and an engaging storyteller – I enjoyed listening him talk about the younger pioneers who came after him and did things he and his peers thought impossible.
I can’t avoid comparing this to 2003’s Step Into Liquid -- a broad-based documentary about surfing as a whole. Liquid’s main theme is that different people get different things out of surfing but most people who learn to do it love it as much as life itself. While both movies are in the must-see category for surfers, I must say that I related more to the fun-loving feel of Liquid rather than to the extreme-sports story of Riding Giants.
It’s hard to predict the appeal of this film to the non-surfer – it’s not about the pop-culture spin-offs (fashion and slang primarily) that surfing has produced over the years. Riding Giants describes, with actual footage of the surfing, interviews, and voiceover, the extreme sport of big wave riding. Curiously, they don’t comment on how big wave surfing fits in with the much more recent extreme sports trend. I loved the film and consider it a must for anyone with any interest in surfing – and maybe some of you others as well.
Photographs are copyright Sony Pictures Classics.
For more information about this film including detailed cast and crew credits, check out The Internet Movie Database by clicking here.