Riding Giants (12A)

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The ViewLondon Review

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Review byMatthew Turner01/12/2004

Five out of Five stars
Running time: 105 mins

Entertaining, informative and insightful, this is a hugely enjoyable film that stands a good chance of picking up the Best Documentary award come Oscar time.

Riding Giants is director Stacy Peralta’s hugely entertaining follow-up to Dogtown and Z Boys and it seems entirely fitting that he should progress from skateboarders to surfers. Currently riding a wave of big screen documentaries, Riding Giants made a big splash with both critics and audiences when it premiered at the Edinburgh Film Festival earlier this year and it looks set to enjoy the same level of success as films such as Super Size Me and Capturing the Friedmans.

The History Of Surfing

After a light-hearted segment entitled “The History Of Surfing In Two And A Half Minutes Or Less”, the film concentrates on three surfing pioneers: Greg “The Bull” Noll, who was the first man to brave the “unsurfable” waves of Waimea Bay in 1957; Jeff Clark, who surfed “a veritable graveyard of jagged rocks” called The Mavericks alone for 15 years before the surfing world took notice (only to have big name surfer Mark Foo die there in a freak accident); and current surfing golden boy Laird Hamilton, who grew up on the beach and invented “tow-in” surfing in order to catch enormous off-shore waves at Peahi.

It’s a brilliantly assembled film. Peralta had access to a staggering amount of home movie footage (including Actual Surf Nazis, sort of) and other archive material, all of which is expertly cut together with dozens of first-hand interviews with both the surfers themselves and various surfing “historians”. In addition, the film features an eclectic soundtrack of surfing music that provides a superb complement to the frequently breath-taking onscreen footage.

Alongside the history of big wave surfing, what emerges is a fascinating portrait of single-minded obsession, tempered with bravery and skill in equal measure. The surfers are like addicts – a couple of them admit to feeling horribly depressed when there are no waves to surf and it’s immediately clear that surfing gives them a high that no drug could ever hope to match.

Barely A Single Flaw

In fact, if the film has a flaw, it’s that it doesn’t explore this intriguing aspect any further; similarly it skimps on interviews with long-suffering spouses (or “surfing widows”) and female surfers – there’s only one of each in the film and this is a shame, because you feel there’s probably enough material there for at least two more movies.

However, these are minor complaints, because the film is thoroughly entertaining throughout. It’s also very cleverly structured – each section builds to a climax that is bigger than the section before, so that just when you think you’ve seen the most amazing footage ever, it’s topped by something better.

This climaxes in the footage of Hamilton surfing a legendary wave that the film refers to as “a freak of hydroponics”, while calling his feat "the most significant ride in surfing history." (The voiceover features quite a lot of similar hyperbole, but after viewing the footage you’re inclined to let it slide).

In short, Riding Giants is an enormously entertaining film, by turns funny, informative, thrilling and flat-out jaw-to-the-floor astonishing. Highly recommended.

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Riding Giants (12A)
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