Big wave surfing on the big screen

Unless you can remember your first wave or your first hundred wipe outs, unless you can imagine how sick it is that Jeff Clark surfed Mavericks alone for 15 years, unless you can remember the day Mark Foo died or the day Peahi became Jaws when tow-in surfing was born, chances are your interest in Riding Giants will wane midway through the documentary. But then again, surfing is so enshrouded in a cloak of iconic coolness that this reviewer could be as far from the truth on that prediction as Mavericks is from shore.

A documentary about big wave surfing directed by Stacy Peralta (Dogtown and Z-Boys), Riding Giants lines up like a who's who of big wave riders, starting with Greg Knoll and his haole California crew at Oahu's North Shore. After helping to stoke the fire on the surf scene in 1950s southern California, the surfers who would eventually become the pioneers of big wave riding left the Golden State for the surfers' promised land: Hawaii-nei. Once they'd mastered Makaha, they tackled break after break of the North Shore until only Waimea remained. The mother of big wave breaks, in winter swells Waimea will hit 50 feet without even trying and shore breaks sneak up to 15 feet. After Knoll and his crew found the cahones to bust Waimea wide open, a new class of surfer was born: the big wave rider.

Despite a preponderance of breaks all over the globe that boast big rides, Giants is selective and firmly places Hawaii at the foci of the documentary (appropriate, as the Pineapple State is the birthplace of surfing, big wave riding and tow-in surfing). However, it does not fail to pay homage to the discovery of California as a big wave home with the outing Mavericks in the early '90s, though the death of Hawaiian pro-surfer Mark Foo at Mavericks somewhat overshadows the break's spot in the limelight.

Most impressive about the film, as even an audience less than enthusiastic about surfing will admit, is the footage. Clips from So Cal's beach scene circa 1950, North Shore shots of Knoll and the boys dropping in on 25-footers at Waimea and, of course, Laird Hamilton's ride at Chopu. I was a landlocked Boisean still subscribing to Surfer Magazine when I saw Hamilton's Chopu ride on the glossy cover. The film footage betrays just how gnarly and beautiful and un-freaking-believable that ride really was.

Clinging to every shred of journalistic objectivity I can muster, I deem Giants time worthy. In fact, it's probably the only film since childhood that I've watched a second time within 24 hours. But as I suffer from an admitted bias, I consulted my 50-something, non-surfer co-audience member for an opinion. He dug it. And then watched it again, too.

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