‘Riding’ the wave just a little too far
Maybe what Jeff Spicoli really wanted, more even than the tasty waves and a cool buzz, was for Mr. Hand to take him seriously.Granted, Spicoli had some problems with Mr. Hand’s U.S. history class. And while “Riding Giants” covers surf history, not U.S. history, it strives for enough gravity to satisfy Ray Walston’s character and enough fun to keep the surfers interested. Still, while “Riding Giants” is a fun movie – I think it’d take Todd Solondz in Baja to make a downer of a surf movie – it does far better reviewing history than it does being as fun as Spicoli.Director and former skateboard magnate Stacy Peralta (who combined those disparate professions in 2001 in “Dogtown and Z-Boys”) summarizes much of surfing’s history in a clever, lighthearted way – transforming old photographs into cartoons. But “Riding Giants” never lets viewers forget surfing is an ancient, dignified sport – in spite of the antics of the 1950s proto-counterculture types who revolutionized the sport in California, then colonized Hawaii for haole surfers thereafter.Peralta takes painstaking care in establishing that, yes, surfing is an old sport, with a rich history that stretches far into the past before the 1950s (and it dawns on you that they’re “Riding Giants,” – e.g. they’re surfing giant waves – and that they’re “Riding Giants” – the surfers, not the waves). Then, the movie abruptly switches gears, throwing its efforts into convincing you that this ancient sport of kings, the bane of Puritan missionaries, has completely reinvented itself seven or eight times since 1954.In a way, “Riding Giants” offers a contrast to last year’s great surfing movie, “Step Into Liquid.” Technologically, Dana Brown had more to work with than the sometimes grainy but always compelling footage Peralta assembled into “Riding Giants.” But “Step Into Liquid” provided constant hints that surfing – whether in 100-foot waves at Cortes Bank, supertanker wakes in the Gulf of Mexico or the frigid flatwater of Lake Michigan – has endured long enough for everyone from Polynesian kings to Laird Hamilton to reinvent it because it’s fun.And “Riding Giants” is funny, fun and so educational, even Mr. Hand would probably enjoy it enough to show it during history class. I just think Spicoli would say “aloha” to the whole enterprise and go surfing long before the movie finished. And “Riding Giants” is funny, fun and so educational, even Mr. Hand would probably enjoy it enough to show it during history class. I just think Spicoli would say “aloha” to the whole enterprise and go surfing long before the movie finished.
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