(2004)
 

Alan:

Washington Post: Entertainment Weekly:1/2 TV Guide:1/2

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Warning, minor plot points revealed!

Every review I read for Stacy Peralta's big wave surfing masterpiece Riding Giants always compares it to his last film, the brilliant skateboard doc Dogtown and Z-Boys or last years super sweet surf film Step Into Liquid by Dana Brown.  I understand why the comparisons exist but they are not exactly akin.  Step Into Liquid is a contemporary travelogue of surf locations and multifarious surf styles.  Dogtown and Z-Boys is a comprehensive historical chronology that documents the very birth of skateboarding in great detail by a director (Peralta) who actively participated in the actual creation of the sport.  

Riding Giants does not have the intimacy of Z-Boys because Stacy Peralta is not a big wave surfing pioneer.  Riding Giants does not have the eclectic coverage of all things "surf" like Liquid because it is a documentary whose sole purpose is to present the history of a specific aspect of the sport - Big Wave Surfing.  It would only be accurate to compare Riding Giants to these films if Step into liquid only covered Laird Hamilton being towed into 70 foot waves or if DogTown and Z-Boys was a documentary specifically about Swedish freestyler/street skateboarder Per Welinder.  So if you read another review for this film keep that in mind.  The association of these three films is inaccurate.  

As it stands today, Riding Giants is THE Big Wave Surfing documentary.  It's the coolest of the cool.  It's so awesome that I can't really think of an adequate adjective to describe it's greatness.  I was so stoked after seeing this film that it took a great deal of restraint to not grab my board and run directly down to the beach in the middle of the night.  I'm no big wave rider like the guys in the movie.  In fact, I'm the opposite.  I'm a little wave rider.  But no matter what you surf, this film will inspire and awe you.  

The movie starts with a brief history of the origins of Big Wave riding in Hawaii about 1,500 years ago.  This is chronicled in ancient pictographs by the native Hawaiians and commented on in journals by witnesses like John Paul Jones (The 18th Century Naval Commander not the guy in Led Zeppelin).  We then jump to the first of three featured surfers who will guide us from the 1950's to the present.  

In the 1950's Greg Noll pioneered big wave riding in Hawaii.  He was a fearless showman and his retelling of his exploits along with tons of archival footage is the perfect way to set the stage for the Big Wave Riding phenomena.  He's also the most colorful and hilarious of the people interviewed for the film.  He is indeed a living legend and the first real showman of the sport.

While Hawaii was thought to be the premier spot for Big Waves, modest daredevil Jeff Clark spent the late 70's and 80's surfing a spot called Maverick's north of San Francisco.  Maverick's is an insane wave comparable to the North Shore in Hawaii but the water is freezing, filled with sharks, and the wave breaks 100's of yards off the coast and onto some of the most wicked jagged rock formations you have ever seen.  It is probably the scariest break on earth and Jeff Clark surfed it alone for 15 years.  Eventually others joined him and and at least one, surf legend Mark Foo, lost his life there in 1994.  (Memorial Photo Below)

Finally the film ends in places like Maui and Tahiti where we see The Living God of Surfing, Laird Hamilton who created the tow-in technique that allows him to ride 60-70 foot mountainous waves.  We saw Hamilton in Step Into Liquid and there is just no way to deny that he is a literal surfing superhero.  Almost every review I read derides Hamilton because his chiseled looks and technology enhanced surf technique but I think this stems from the fact that anyone who sees what he can do is instantly jealous of his mastery of the sport.  Even a non-surfer can see that he is no mere mortal.

Obviously there are no special effects in the film but there are a few things I thought were worth mentioning.  First the amount of archival footage that Peralta has assembled here is absolutely amazing.  It's so awesome to see photos and film footage of pioneers like Greg Noll and early Jeff Clark.  Not to mention a visual library of the entire pre-Gidget 1950's beatnik surf culture.  This older footage alone would have made for a great movie.  The other neat thing is this 3-D freeze-frame effect that they use in the film.  I've been trying to find a picture of it online but I can't.  I don't even know if it can be represented in a photo.  It's really cool though.  When you see it you'll know what I'm talking about.  Also super-terrific is the first shot of the film where they show this giant swell and then a surfer emerges from the mist riding the wave.  It's a breathtaking image.  

The last thing I will say about this film is that you must - I repeat - MUST, see it in a theatre.  The ferocity and hugeness of the waves and the deafening crush of the sound will be lost on even the biggest TV's with the best audio systems.  Trust me.  If this review has interested you in the least, then spend the $8 bucks and go see this at the theatre.  And don't be surprised if after the film you feel an uncontrollable desire to come down to visit me at the ocean and ask to borrow my board.