Riding Giants (2004) / Documentary

MPAA Rated: PG-13 for  language
Running Time: 105 min.

Cast: Greg Noll, Jeff Clark, Laird John Hamilton, Mickey Munoz, Evan Slater, Kelly Slater, Darrick Doerner, Dave Kalama, Brian L. Keaulana, Buzzy Kerbox, Titus Kinimaka, Darryl Virostko
Director: Stacy Peralta
Screenplay: Stacy Peralta, Sam George
Review published January 7, 2005

After the excellent Dogtown and Z Boys, Stacy Peralta returns with the progression of surfing, from its origins in the islands of the Pacific to the styles of today, and how the surfers conquered the biggest of waves.  This time around, Peralta kicks up the production value immensely, with a visually and aurally interesting work that, unlike the usual reputation for documentaries, is far from a dry experience.  I donít generally get into surf documentaries, as many of them tend to be non-informative, merely using the format as an excuse to show slow-motion surfing footage, or in some instances, to describe surfing as a Zen-like activity that is more of a religious way of life (Step Into Liquid is one that espouses both styles).  However, Peralta takes surfing for what it is, a fun activity adopted by bored youth, who took the sport to extremes through sheer determination and building on the legends that came before.  No mystical, romanticized stuff here -- a surfing doc for people who arenít surfers themselves.

Although Riding Giants is technically better than Dogtown and Z-Boys in terms of style and craftsmanship, it doesnít quite have that unique feel.  Skateboarding is a sport that has few notable documentaries, where most of the videos are primarily to show off the skills of particular skaters, usually set to blaring punk music with little commentary.  Dogtown and Z-Boys was one of the best ones to cover the sport, showing that it is more than an annoying recreational activity engaged in my kids with nothing else to do, but rather, a fun activity made into an art form by those who dreamt of doing something more.  While Riding Giants employs a similar approach, Peralta seems to concentrate more on the size of the waves, and how surfers used technology and ingenuity to ride larger and larger waves over the decades.  It is an interesting documentary, but with so many other quality surfing documentaries that have come before, as well as the limitations of the subject matter, Riding Giants is very interesting, but just not transcendent. 

Iím not sure how much surfing aficionados will glean from this documentary, as some of it may cover similar ground that others tread before it, but I imagine that there is enough exclusive footage and interviews to make for an interesting viewing nevertheless.  I believe that passing fans will definitely find the format of Riding Giants far more accessible than your typical surfing doc, simply because the makers of it make the assumption that many will be unfamiliar with surfing, its origins, its legends, and its current stars.  It does capture the thrill of why surfers are always looking to catch the biggest of waves, and putting everything in its proper context, even those who might normally scoff at the folly of seeing someone put life and limb on the line for several seconds of adrenaline will come away with a better appreciation for the pursuit of the big thrill.

Qwipster's rating:

©2005 Vince Leo