Step Into Liquid (2002)
Rolling Stone:1/2 TV Guide:1/2
Step Into Liquid is one of the best surfing films I've ever seen. Peter Travers of Rolling Stone calls it "drop-dead dazzlingly knockout beautiful." That is probably the most accurate description so far. Besides skateboarding and miscellaneous X-Games footage, the only reason I ever watch sports TV, like ESPN, is to see surfing competitions and documentaries.
I can watch surfing for hours. Every wave and every ride is different. Unlike most sports, surfing has no inherent redundancy of action.
Dana Brown, son of Endless Summer and Endless Summer II director Bruce Brown, has taken his father's surf documentary to the next level. The film features a global view of surfing as well as it's competitors and enthusiasts. We see The Malloy brothers and their seemingly insane surf adventures off the coast of Ireland. Quadriplegic surfer Jesse Billauer, who has returned to the waves after a surfing accident, now rides on a special modified body board. Dale Webster is a school janitor who decided over 25 years ago that he would surf every single day of his life - and has thus far not missed a single day. We get to see some of the next generation of extreme surfer girls like Rochelle Ballard and Layne Beachley who ride Pipeline in Hawaii (quite possibly the most dangerous wave in the world.) A father and son's quest for a ride-able wave in Vietnam. Other surf masters like six-time world champion Kelly Slater, Robert "Wingnut" Weaver, Dave Kalama, and veteran Rabbit Kekai all chime in with their praise for the wave. Also seen is the obscure Great Lakes surf culture of Sheboygan, Wisconsin and a really neat spot that shows Texas boarders riding the wake of supertankers in the Galveston Shipping Lane for miles, literally. And in the finale we get to see the Superman of Surf Laird Hamilton. Dana takes Laird and some of the other experienced tow-surfers (surfers who ride wave so big that they have to be towed into them with jet ski's and rescued immediately after the ride) 100 miles out to sea to ride 60-70 foot walls of water. This footage is so scary and insane you have to keep reminding yourself that it's not some sort of special effect.
Like another great documentary of the summer Winged Migration, Step Into Liquid displays some of the most incredible real-life camera work ever seen. Using helicopters, jet ski's, boats, divers, and all sorts of special recoding devices created specifically to film surfers in action, Brown has provided a view of surfing that is second only to firsthand experience atop the board itself. After a while you take the cinematography for granted but periodically throughout the film I was reminded by an amazing camera shot or angle that this film was something truly unique.
As I head down to Cape Hatteras every weekend to satiate my own wave riding obsession I know I will never be like Laird or Kelly or any of the other guys and girls who dominate the sport. But the best part about surfing, as displayed beautifully in Step Into Liquid, is that surfing is a very personal experience. People of all ages and abilities are drawn to the waves for a unique encounter with nature and thrill that compares to nothing else.