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Riding Giants
IMDB Rating: 7.9/10 from PG-13 votes
Release: 21 July 2004 (France) /

Riding Giants

Genre: Documentary, History, Sport
Director: Stacy Peralta,
Stars: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Synopsis: A semiserious, often rollicking, multigenerational insider's look at the origins of surfing, the colorful and subversive birth of surf culture, and the mythology and lure of the big wave. This passionate and fluid film is without question the first authentic history of surfing from its humble Hawaiian beginnings to the big business it became to the still-rebellious universe it inhabits today. Riding Giants is a study in individuality and freedom, the pursuit and techniques of pure kinetic pleasure, and the risk taking and attitudes that characterize its leading figures. For some viewers, this is perhaps more than they ever wanted to know. But Peralta's detailed knowledge of the surfing lifestyle, its icons and locations, its boom and exploitation by the media, and the fascination it has held for young men for more than five decades is unparalleled and fuels this expedition for the expert and initiate alike. Closely chronicling the sometimes-life-and-death drama that big-wave riding ... Written by Sujit R. Varma

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Critic Reviews

I've never touched a surfboard in my life. But I did grow up swimming competitively and am a certified scuba diver, so I have a understanding of and respect for the ocean's power and allure. That's how a Kansas guy ended up seeing the surfing documentary "Riding Giants" in the middle of November. (Why exactly a Kansas theater was one of the five screens it was on this week is an entirely different question that I can't answer.)

The title "Riding Giants" has a two-pronged meaning, referring to both the act of harnessing huge waves and the larger than life people who are obsessed with doing just that. Featuring mood-setting music ranging from ukuleles to modern California rock, this 105-minute documentary serves as a history of the sport, shaming tripe like "Gidget" and even making "Endless Summer" look like something straight out of the kiddie pool.

"Riding Giants" opens with a brief, animated, two-minute look at the first 1000 years of surfing, which ends about 1950, when the first big-name surfers began to work their magic. Using remarkable half-century old footage, the doc then follows their path to Hawaii, where surfing became not just a hobby, but a culture that was far more than the onslaught of bad surfing movies in the '50s and '60s led many to believe. The big wave surfers gradually progressed to bigger and better waves around the Hawaiian coast, where most of the surfing community was concentrated until the discovery of The Mavericks, a dangerous but glorious surfing mecca in Northern California. Eventually that locale triggered surfing's stateside explosion in popularity. But one man from Hawaii, Laird Hamilton, has sent the sport as mainstream as possible in recent years. Using teams and jet skis, Hamilton's vision and drive radically changed the mindset of what was possible as surfing entered the 21st century.

That is the documentary in a nutshell, and although it may not seem all that interesting, the suitable laid-back intensity of "Riding Giants" will engross anyone who has much interest in any aspect of surfing, whether it be the water, the culture, or the sport. Writer/director/narrator Stacey Peralta ("Dogtown and Z-Boys") knows something about counterculture himself, having been among the first professional skateboarders, so he does not tell the story in the condescending tones sometimes used in describing surfing. He instead treats his subjects much like NFL Films treats the National Football League. The athlete are borderline deities, and the tone is frequently reverential. He is aided in this tone by the interviewees, who run the gamut of surfing history from the original Hawaiian crew to the Northern California ground breakers to the current crop of competitive surfers. Virtually every relevant person mentioned is interviewed, which lends credence, particularly since many viewers will have little idea who most of the people are beforehand.

Set up like a traditional documentary, Peralta's film lets the surfers themselves tell most of the stories, and he narrates when necessary to provide pertinent details. But the personalities and passion of the interviewees are what drive the picture. These guys are wired differently than most of us; there's no question about that. Their slightly irreverent but still respectful tone lets them get away with comparing the discovery of Hawaii's North Shore to Columbus stumbling upon America. An exaggeration? Of course, but the genuine emotion in their voices and faces make the words fully believable, much like a football player comparing his sport to a war.

Perfectly complementing the almost mythic personalities are the ridiculously massive and powerful waves themselves. From the surprisingly good old-school 8mm footage shot from the shore to the digital in-your-face shots from a jet ski, the photography in Riding Giants is nothing short of stunning. The waves are simply huge, and even though you may have seen quality shots in "Blue Crush", you haven't seen them on this grand and wild a scale. I guarantee your jaw will drop multiple times.

The fact that the history of the sport can be encapsulated in less than two hours gives the film a complete and satisfying feel, as opposed to something like Baseball, for which even ten hours was not enough. Those who don't have an interest in any aspect of surfing won't care for it, but even if you can't relate to the surfing directly, you will walk out of "Riding Giants" with a greater appreciation for the sport and a better understanding of what drives those who do it.

Bottom Line: "Riding Giants" effectively and absorbingly encapsulates surfing culture and history. 8 of 10.

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