Director Stacy Peralta brings us this visually stunning and electrifying story about big wave surfing. Riding Giants uses its dynamic, cross-generational approach to profile the lives and times of the intrepid surfers who over the decades have dedicated themselves to finding and successfully challenging the biggest waves on earth. We meet Greg Noll, the pioneer, whose relentless push into Hawaii's big surf in the late 1950s earned him the nickname "The Bull." There's Jeff Clark, Northern California's lone frontiersman, And finally Hawaii's Laird Hamilton, the prototypical "extreme" surfer.
Stacey Peralta's Dogtown & Z-Boys (2001) was a very effective documentary about the history of Californian skateboarding. Using the same formula, he now turns his gaze to surfing, specifically on those who pioneered riding the big waves. Peralta uses his insider surf/skate status to advantage in Riding Giants, interviewing his mates – the giants of the big wave riding movement – and interweaving these with spectacular wave-riding footage and excellent home movie material, much of it shot on Super 8 in the 50s and 60s.
Like Dogtown & Z-Boys, Riding Giants is a character-driven film, another highly reverential "boys own" fest, but to its credit this is a proper film, not a piece of over-edited extreme sport TV plonked into cinemas. While the interviews are kind of predictable – though surf fans will enjoy hearing what these legends have to say – the film really takes off once the images do the talking, especially when we see the likes of Laird Hamilton cutting through massive pipelines in the middle of the ocean at superhuman pace, strapped onto a tiny fibreglass board.
On a more serious but necessary note, one can't help but think of the recent Tsunami disaster while watching Riding Giants, and asking, well, in the face of that devastation, what really is the point of watching a film about man trying to conquer nature for some banal selfish pursuit? But in a way, witnessing the enormity and power of the ocean in this film reminds us just how connected we are to it, that we should be humble and never forget we are part of collective forces around us.
Riding Giants reinforces the inextricable relationship we really do have with the world around us no matter how removed from it we in the West kid ourselves we are. Only the better surfing movies include acknowledgement and respect of those ideas and principles, as Riding Giants ultimately does.
Which in a way makes it a kind of reverential experience, and all the more relevant and powerful.