June 28, 2005
Stacy Peralta, ,
Starring: Greg Noll, Jeff Clark, Laird Hamilton, Mike Stang, Evan Slater, Gerry Lopez, Brian L. Keaulana, Buzzy Kerbox, Titus Kinimaka, Mickey Munoz, Kelly Slater, John Milius, ,
While the Billabong Odyssey (2003) tried to recreate The Endless Summer (1966) for the big wave surfing set, Riding Giants (2004) is much more ambitious. Fresh from the success of his documentary on ‘70s skateboarding, Dogtown and the Z Boys (2001), Stacy Peralta takes the next logical step and tackles the history of big wave surfing. What makes these men and women ride such huge waves and run the risk, in some cases, of almost certain death? This doc attempts to answer that question.
Peralta kicks things off by cheekily condensing the history of surfing in less than two minutes and quickly establishes the playful tone of this doc. Riding Giants is as much concerned with entertaining as it is with educating the audience about surfing. It presents the history of big wave surfing in an easy-to-understand way, laying out the terminology and briefly explaining it layman’s terms. The doc traces the sport’s development from an obscure sport to the movie Gidget (1959) that popularized it—much to the chagrin of die hard surfers.
Peralta breaks things down into three acts, each one dominated by three legends of the sport from different eras. Greg Noll is a renowned surfer who rode the biggest wave ever. Jeff Clark tamed the wild surf 20 miles from San Francisco known as Mavericks. Laird Hamilton, the greatest big wave surfer of his generation, pioneered a new method for riding big waves further from the shore than had been previous attempted.
Noll was one of the earliest big wave surfers and made it more than just a hobby, for him it was a way of life. Surfing has its own culture, lingo, way of dress, music and so on. Like Jack Kerouac and the other members of the Beat Generation, the surfing culture flew in the face of straight, 9-to-5 society with its counter-culture attitude. That is part of its appeal. What’s refreshing about this doc is that goes beyond the stereotype of the spaced-out Jeff Spicoli type. For the top surfers there is nothing else that comes close to successfully riding a huge wave. It’s hard not to get caught up in this attitude and Riding Giants successfully transports the viewer to these sun-swept beaches and deep blue seas.
Peralta mixes vintage footage of the pioneers of big wave surfing from a bygone era with contemporary footage of more recent surfers that dominate the culture now. Interviews with Noll and several other legendary surfers are included amongst this footage and they recount fascinating stories about their surfing exploits. The doc also features a rockin’ soundtrack with the likes of the Stray Cats, Alice in Chains and Propellerheads who give the breathtaking surfing footage a boost. These songs help capture the energy and excitement of wild rides and insane wipe-outs.
There is an audio commentary by Stacy Peralta and his editor Paul Crowder. They talk about how sound is used to effectively convey the power and ferocity of these big waves. They talk at length about the film was put together in terms of editing. This is an engaging, informative track.
Surfing fans are in for a real treat with the second commentary track that features surfers, Sam George, Greg Noll, Jeff Clark and Laird Hamilton. It’s great to hear these guys, especially Noll, tell old stories and cut loose with surf lingo. They joke and have fun watching the movie. It is also interesting to hear them talk about the technique of various surfers.
“The Making of Riding Giants” is a 28-minute look at how Peralta made this doc. Noll was the first guy he talked to and asked the legend if anyone had done a film about big wave surfing. The surfer pointed out that it was time to do one before many of the pioneers died. Peralta even talks about how he did his research and organized his doc.
“Fuel TV’s Blue Carpet Special” is a 20-minute look at the premiere of the film at the Egyptian Theater with stars like John Cusack in attendance. There are interviews with Peralta and some of the surfers in the doc along with many clips from it.
Also included are five deleted scenes that include some of the surfers who were interviewed goofing around and spouting cliché surfer speak. There are plenty of surfing sequences that were cut for time and a slightly different ending that would have utilized a Coldplay song.
There are also promos for the soundtrack and surf gear company Quiksilver.
Riding Giants presents an engaging look at the history of big wave surfing and the men and women who seek the ultimate wave: one that is bigger and larger than anyone has experienced before. This is a fantastic documentary, quite possibly the best one on surfing since The Endless Summer. It is easy for the newcomer to understand and enjoy and yet it also treats its subject with respect as well.