Some Very American Rebels

I’ve just been to see Riding Giants and I feel like I need a towel – the giants that get ridden in this documentary are, by the way, waves. I thought from the title it might be about something else entirely. It’s the new film from Stacey – he’s a man by the way – Peralta, who won awards for his skateboarding doc Dogtown And Z-boys, which from the title I thought was about something else entirely.

Now, Peralta turns his attention to surfing, specifically surfing massive waves. Riding Giants – see? If, like me, you’re a fan of Point Break, and let’s face it who isn’t, you’ll remember Patrick Swayze going to Australia to surf the mythical hundred-year wave at Bell’s Beach. Ah, Swayze – forty-nine years old this week. Anyway, this is the story of the real hundred-year wave seekers, although these guys would never go to Australia. This is an all-American story.

Surfing was invented in Hawaii a thousand years ago, stamped out by Christians five hundred years or so later, then invented again by Americans a hundred years ago. For me this gave a bit of a sour taste to the whole fifties beatnik scene this documentary loves so much – yeah, these guys lived on the beach and didn’t wear suits, but they were surviving on food nicked off people whose culture they had also nicked. Nice. Early surfers wearing Nazi uniforms ‘for a laugh’ was, frankly, a bit sinister, as was the use of tiny tiny ukeleles.

The first hero of the movie is Greg Noll who, as Shania Twain might have it, doesn’t impress me much – great surfer, but this is a bloke who wore a pair of ‘wacky’ striped shorts, clearly still thinks swearing is about the coolest thing you can do and crucially, although he goes on almost religiously about how surfing is like a relationship with, like, a woman, was still perfectly happy to make a shedload of money out of it.

Meanwhile, a bloke who looks like Aragorn keeps going on about how fantastic everything about surfing is. He begins to tire me. A couple of other guys say things like ‘the wave’s like a mountain you’ve got to run away from, but also, use its power’ and ‘it’s like a cliff, but a cliff that’s trying to eat you’. Simile is not a strong suit for these simple men.

Things turn sad when a top surfer wipes out permanently, giving the documentary a bit of depth – but it’s hard to mourn someone who swam into a giant wave for a laugh, in the same way it’s hard to sympathize with someone who sprints out into a busy road. We’re also given an insight into how depressed the surfers get when they can’t find a wave, at which point I couldn’t help but think get a proper job.

The second hero is top-surfer-in-the-world Laird Hamilton, who had a hard time being a white kid in Hawaii. Boo-hoo. He reminds me of the Hitler Youth boyfriend in the sound of music. Laird invents a kind of surfing where a jetski gives you a lift half way up the wave, then scoops you up if you fall off – I might be being churlish, but isn’t that cheating? Incredible surfer that he is, Laird Hamilton also executive-produced this film. Hmmm.

In short, this film looks great, particularly when its star, the massive wave, is on screen. But I think ultimately I’d rather see Point Break again. Swayze is my god.