A year’s worth of shooting, interviewing, editing, re-editing, vacillating, hemming, hawing, debating, watching, thinking, revising, talking, meeting and phone-calling later, and we have what amounts to one of the best surf movies ever made. At least that’s what I’ve been told. You see, I haven’t seen Riding Giants. But I’ve heard plenty about it, considering the fact that my prolix editor here at SURFER magazine (Sam George) has poured his heart, soul and (ahem) attention into this matter for the past year. The brainchild of documentary filmmaker and skateboarding legend Stacy Peralta, Riding Giants is the follow-up to his 2002 debut Dogtown and Z-Boys, and last week Peralta had the honor of seeing his film open up the 2004 Sundance Film Festival.
Riding Giants is a documentary film in the same vein as Dogtown and Z-Boys, this time exploring the lives and passions of big-wave surfers from around the globe, though centering primarily on three epochs of big-wave surfing as seen through the eyes of their chief proponents. These epochs being early big-wave discovery on the North Shore with Greg Noll, the discovery of Maverick’s with Jeff Clark, and the tow-in revolution with Laird Hamilton. Given the recent rash of mainstream media attention devoted to surfing (and big-wave surfing in particular), it’s nice to have a surfer’s story told by surfers themselves. For their part, George and Peralta took painstaking effort not to sensationalize or dramatize the already dramatic act of riding big surf, opting instead to allow the surfers to tell the story. “We’ve tried to infuse the story with the freedom of surfing,” says my editor and soon-to-be Hollywood bigwig Sam George. “Big-wave riding is the backdrop against which the story of surfing is told in this movie,” he says, adding that the greatest compliment he received at Sundance ’04 was that most attending surfers said that the movie made them proud to be surfers.
An impressively thorough history results from this film, one that maddened George in the writing as he struggled to punctuate such an exhaustive history in the confining space of a one-and-a-half hour film. But from lost footage of Greg Noll’s epic day at Makaha, through Clark’s pioneering at Maverick’s to the most cutting-edge views of Hamilton and towing at Peahi, the film is said to be as representative a surf film as possible.
And you may be stoked to find that Riding Giants is going to be available well beyond the confines of your local surf shop. No, after opening the Sundance Film Festival, the film’s producers set about selling the film for a handsome sum to Sony Pictures Classics, which means that you’ll get the chance to scope it on the big screen soon enough, with possible theater release in late 2004.
As for the premiere, Sam George, Stacy Peralta, Laird Hamilton and Co. were rubbing elbows with Hollywood elite for a night and the better part of a week, and it’s hopefuls that the success of Riding Giants will inspire other documentary films of the same ilk.
And as for the staff at SURFER, we have our editor back, and a film to look forward to, which is, well, a giant accomplishment of its own. –Brad Melekian