Riding Giants

Stacy Peralta’s high-energy surfing documentary manages to be the ultimate tribute to its subject thanks to a combination of engaging interviews with wave-riding legends, spectacular cinematography, and an editing style that honors the striking visuals while maintaining a pace as breathless as the sport in question. Just short of dropping you into the ocean with a surfboard, Riding Giants serves as the definitive (and immersive) guide to the essence of all that is surfing. Peralta employs a pictorially dynamic appoach to the sport’s history (though, I would argue, it’s too pandering to the attention-deficit crowd, as evidenced by its overly effect-y montage sequences), focusing most of its time and energy, rightfully so, on the sport’s formative post-WW2 years. That’s when a ragtag bunch of American kids — beatnik-surfer daredevils with a thing for waves — took up residence in seaside shacks in Hawaii and California. Surviving on papayas and coconuts, these guys spent their days perfecting technique, ever on the roam for more adventurous waves. Their search, taken up by their successors, yields — as we see — discoveries around the globe of walls of water that would cause lesser men to lose control of their bowels. As Peralta interviews his gallery of subjects — including the delightfully profane Greg Noll and the superman of surfers, Laird Hamilton — he brings into relief the enormous and widespread impact of surfing culture on the post-WW2 American identity and psyche. Peralta’s documentary vividly tells us that, as much as baseball (or anything else you might characterize as uniquely American), surfing, for its freewheeling, frontier spirit, is an extension of the American soul. Riding Giants is a must-see for fans of the sport, of course, but also surveyors of American pop history, of big-screen virtuosity, and, like me, for those who stare slack-jawed in amazement watching great athletes do their thing, in their element.

Grade: A-

Directed by: Stacy Peralta
Written by: Stacy Peralta, Sam George
Cast: Jeff Clark, Darrick Doerner, Laird John Hamilton, Dave Kalama, David H. Kalama Jr., Brian L. Keaulana, Buzzy Kerbox, Titus Kinimaka, Gerry Lopez, Mickey Munoz, Greg Noll, Gabrielle Reece

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