I first heard of Riding Giants when a guy named Laird Hamilton came on The Daily Show (must have been 2004 or so) and talked about this movie that had been made about big-wave surfing. Now, I'm not a surfer. I'm not even a frequent beach-goer, but I do like to watch the ocean. I also enjoy watching most of the extreme sports that have sort have been born in the last 50 years or so. The director of Riding Giants, Stacy Peralta, did another movie I liked called Dogtown and Z-Boys. Both movies are kind of similar in that they're documentaries about the history and evolution of their respective sports. Dogtown and Z-Boys also dealt with surfers, but it was about surfers who discovered the art of skateboarding. It's not too fresh in my mind, so I'm nowhere near ready to write down my complete thoughts on it, but I think it's worth checking out.
I found Riding Giants to be a very satisfying movie experience. I felt like I learned something while being completely entertained at the same time. There is a lot of surf footage throughout to keep the eyes stimulated, and the documentary includes interviews from most of the people who were there when surfing took off. Nay, the interviews include most of the people who made surfing what it is today.
The beginning of Peralta's movie has a two minute recap of surfing history up until the 1950's. which is where the focus of this film starts. We hear first hand experiences of some of the judgments made towards these guys. One guy even mentioned that his parents considered his surfing to be like a disease, and that they didn't understand a sport without bleachers or a scoreboard. If my memory serves me right, not a single surfer in the movie refers to it as a sport. For them, it's a lifestyle. I was taken in by the descriptions of what it felt like to be out there in the ocean catching the biggest waves they could. Greg Noll, one of the pioneers of big-wave surfing, compared the ocean to a woman, and his surfing, a love affair. The stories range from fun as they talk about the joys of surfing to tragic as they discuss the dangers of this lifestyle.
As I said earlier, the surf footage is enough to keep the eyes awake. I almost feel like this is the kind of movie I could watch muted and still view attentively. Especially as the movie progresses and the waves attempted are bigger and bigger with sharper and sharper footage as cinema technology improves.
My favorite quote of the movie came from Laird Hamilton, but it was relayed through his wife. When talking about what it feels like when the ocean is calm and there are no surf opportunities, Laird Hamilton explained "It's like being a dragon slayer, but there are no more dragons." Just emphasizing that surfing is not simply a hobby to pass the time. It's who they are through and through, and I think that's pretty gnarly.