The natives of Hawaii had been surfing for a thousand years when nineteenth century Christian missionaries banned the practice. You have to wonder if it was the lack of modesty which offended them - and by that I don't just mean the proto-surfers' beach wear, or lack of it, but the sheer hubris which drove them to swim out and master waves ten foot tall.
There is a mystique about the sea which speaks to everyone, but to which surfers are especially attuned. Because they know it could claim them one day, and yet they cannot stay away.
Stacy Peralta's follow up to his acclaimed sk8ter doc Dogtown and Z Boys traces the history of surfing - and especially big wave surfing - in Hawaii and California through interviews with the sport's biggest names: Greg Noll, Laird Hamilton, Dave Kalama. Unlike other sports heroes, these men weren't driven to break records, win medals or gain fame... they were compelled to push the envelope for reasons entirely more personal and much harder to articulate: why does anyone put his life on the line in pursuit of a transitory thrill?
Not surprisingly Peralta's interviews don't shed much light on the question, but the exhilarating surf footage offers answers aplenty. Who wouldn't want to experience this, if you could?
Riding Giants is less focused than 'Dogtown' and more reliant on zippy editing tricks, as if Peralta wasn't entirely confident that his audience would sit for 100 minutes of surf action. And it's true; the view from the beach does begin to feel restrictive. You would think in these days of miniscule digital cameras Laird Hamilton might be persuaded to give us a boarder's eye-view, but I'm afraid we'll have to wait for that movie another day. In the meantime Riding Giants is an excellent primer.