“Dolphins, seals and Pelicans are the best surfers. Humans by comparison suck.” So sayeth Dana Brown, director of “Step Into Liquid” and heir to the surfing documentary dynasty (his dad did “Endless Summer” the seminal surfing flick). For a sport that’s 2000 years old, not only has it not lost it’s appeal, it has continued to gain converts with millions of practitioners worldwide. And it shows no signs of slowing anytime soon.
The film’s Canadian debut played to a packed house, composed largely of surfers (I’ve never heard “dude” that many times in my life and I work at a university). Brown - a funny guy who has a bright future in stand-up if he ever tires of the documentary gig – knew about BC’s surfing history (he’d read Grant Shilling’s “The Cedar Surf”), but was clearly floored by the turnout. When the applause slowly faded after his intro, he remarked “Thanks. I’m going to get a real big head and not talk to anyone anymore after this.” Brown had two simple goals: dispel the “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” style surfer stereotypes and answer the question “why do surfers risk continually risk their lives?” The answer? The Stoke.
Whether it’s Packers fans plowing through whitecaps on Lake Michigan, or Supertanker surfers riding unbroken bow waves, they have one thing in common – they’re always sporting big silly grins. And it’s not hard to see why: when they’re out on the water, everything else just disappears - the only thing on their mind is the rush of getting that next wave.. And once you’re hooked, it’s all downhill (or up wave?).
It doesn’t matter whether you’re male, female, young or old, the boards are open to everyone To prove this point, Brown revisits surfers who debuted in “Endless Summer” in 1964 and now, in their fifties (and older) still answer the siren call of the waves. At an age when they wouldn’t contemplated most sports, they can still hang ten. As Brown points out “ How many people do you know over 50 that gaze at a tennis court?” This love for the sport is personified by Jesse Brad: though only in his 20’s his burgeoning career as a pro was ended by a rogue wave (he was paralyzed from the waist down). Yet Jesse is out on a board every chance he gets.
With such gorgeous locales as Chile’s isolated Rapa Nui or Maui’s beautiful North Shore it’s hard not to slip into travelogue mode thinking “my what a pretty postcard”. Lest you get too comfortable, you will feel a tad uneasy as surfers carve the huge walls of water of Peahi (aka Jaws) off Maui’s Northshore. Even more daunting are the waves at Cortez: 100 miles out to sea they are formed when water crashes onto a sea mount producing ginormous waves once a decade.(think “The Perfect Storm” and you’ll get an idea of the scope). I asked Brown what it was like and he said that it was eerie – with no horizon to judge the waves, they looked like mere bumps until they got close. Some got closer than they’d like – while filming, a wave came behind the second boat and had it not been for the Captain’s vigilance they ‘d have “…gone back in one boat without the footage.”
The film features gorgeous cinematography, and takes you onto, beneath and inside the waves, immersing you in the experience. The action sequences take on an ethereal quality, an aerial/aquatic ballet that is mesmerizing. Balancing these gorgeous visuals is the auditory experience – the sound of the breaking waves is reminiscent of thunder yet more ominous (not a sound I wan to experience firsthand).
As Brown explained it to me (sorry I have to paraphrase as I didn’t have my pen out at the time) “I’m sure if you look hard enough you can find some philosophical message, or symbolism, but that’s not what I set out to do. I wanted to capture the fun.” He succeeded. If you want to experience what it’s like to hang ten without getting your feet wet, this is the film for you. But don’t blame me if you catch the bug.