Searching for the big wave becomes a metaphor for life in Stacy Peralta's grandiose surfing documentary Riding Giants. Charting the history of the sport from its height in the 50s to the modern day, Peralta finds nobility in men otherwise dismissed as slackers and beach bums. Like his 2001 ode to skateboarding, Dogtown And Z-Boys, this is a wild trip filled with crazy characters. However there's an undercurrent of New Age mysticism that doesn't quite wash.
Greg 'The Bull' Noll is the fearless pioneer who leads the way to the treacherous Waimea Bay, Hawaii, during the 50s - and finds "way gnarlier" waves than any previously ridden by man. That is until Jeff Clark discovers Maverick's Beach in California. Sadly, nobody believes Jeff's battle stories in which he conquers 50-foot swells, so he surfs there alone for over a decade. Later there emerges Laird Hamilton, who revolutionises the sport with a jet-ski tow and a shorter board, allowing him to catch bigger waves and ride them for longer. Besides a wall of water, the thing that drives them all is a need to discover what they're truly made of.
"A FASCINATING WINDOW INTO A DEATH-TAUNTING MINDSET"
With a lively mix of interviews and archive footage of jaw-dropping, waterborne exploits, Peralta brings home at least some of the excitement which these men thrive on. Their individual stories are charged with emotion - sometimes funny, sometimes tragic - while painting a bigger picture of surfing subculture.
It's a fascinating window into a death-taunting mindset, but unfortunately Peralta is so concerned with glorifying his subjects that he ignores the downside of this manic obsession. (Hamilton mentions his long-suffering wife, but this leads nowhere.) Without offering fully rounded portraits, the endless catalogue of stunts and treatises on self-discovery and Mother Nature's supremacy all become a little wearing. Like an adrenaline rush, Riding Giants is fun for a while but it ends on a comedown.