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Surfin’ USA

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Recently I watched two films about surfing: Last year’s Riding Giants and 2003’s Step into liquid, both of which have only been released in Germany recently. My brother got into surfing while he was in California, so I we went to see the latter film during his recent visit. From watching him surf in California, I got the opinion that while surfing might be fun for those who do it, it’s not a spectator sport: a number of people all dressed very similarly, carrying similar boards go into the water, paddle out far enough to make it almost impossible to recognise anyone, then nothing happens and when finally a suitable wave comes, a lot of action starts, everybody moves to catch the wave and the fraction of people who manage to do so enjoy a great ride… of a few seconds. Now rinse and repeat many times. Presumably fun for those who do it but boring to watch.

Shot from Step into Liquid

And now there are two films on the topic. Of course their roles as spectators have certain advantages over mine. They don’t see a group of random surfers at the beach but some of the very best. They cut together the best waves and specifically go to places with the best waves you can get. So we get a lot to see. And while – because! – it’s not what you see at the beach, it’s worth watching. You can be right there when lots of experience and money are thrown at riding the biggest waves you can find. And it looks cool.

Both films are similar insofar as they deal with the same topic and even have quite a bit of overlap in the people they interview. But they try to tell different stories and do different filming and cutting.

Step Into Liquid, directed by Dana Brown – who is apparently a guy despite the only person called Dana I’ve ever met being a girl – and who is the son of Bruce Brown, the director of The Endless Summer, which apparently is the most influential surfing film ever, is the more beautiful of the two films. It gives plenty of time to showing the waves and letting you enjoy what you’re seeing.

Shot from Step Into Liquid

On the other hand, it’s ‘story’ is a bit dull. The film shows us surfing in all its forms and shapes – from California, to tanker waves in Texas, to the big lakes to the Irish coast and is never short of some surfer giving us a blurp on the topic. Too many of those blurps try to convince us that surfing isn’t just a cool thing to do but also suggest that it will be the foundation for world peace and other niceties. Which is overdoing it. It’s fun to see people surf in places where you wouldn’t have expected them. But that’s about it. People can enjoy surfing. If they’re good and lucky enough to even earn a living with it, that’s great for them as well… but that’s as far as I’ll go.

Shot from Step Into Liquid

I saw a subtitled version of the film and thought the subtitles were quite good. Nicely working around the titles that were on screen at many times. Did I mention some of the big waves they show are stunning? Even without the people surfing on them – which apparently is as dangerous as it is fun. A fact that’s glossed over a bit in this film.

Riding Giants takes a different approach. It shows a history of surfing, including great new discoveries but also the dangers. This felt a bit more real. We are taken from big wooden boards to high-tech plastic things and jet skis. And while the scientist lurking inside me would have liked seeing more stuff about how these things work, how waves work and so on, I can see that those points wouldn’t fit into a movie of this genre. What drove me crazy, though, were the cuts in the film. Of which there are too many and which are irritating. Just like in music videos a great number of cuts mean you can’t really look at each of the shots properly and appreciate it. I often felt that I should have been given time to take a better look in this film.

Shot from Riding Giants

So Step Into Liquid wins for the shots they made and for the excellent name, while Riding Giants wins for a slightly more plausible effort at getting a story into a film which probably is nothing but an excuse to show the surfers’ good times anyway.

Shot from Riding Giants

Be sure to check out the online trailers for Step Into Liquid. They’re quite good… and get the song

[Buy at amazon .com, .uk, .de]

September 1, 2005, 1:19

Tagged as endless summer, film, riding giants, step into liquid, surf.

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