Hang Tension

Photo by Anthony FriedkinIn Riding Giants, world-famous skateboarder/surfer/filmmaker Stacy Peralta takes the template he forged in 2001's street-edged skateboarding documentary Dogtown and Z-boys a giant step farther to frame the ancient sport of big-wave surfing. Armed only with a Super 16mm camera, Peralta has made quite possibly the best surfing documentary ever. (A full review appears in next week's Weekly.) Says Peralta, “I wanted to do something on surfing for both surfers and non-surfers alike.”

Riding Giants finds its pace when it locks into the stories of a dozen or more Southern California surfers led by Greg Noll, the first to surf Hawaii's North Shore and challenge the big waves. The sport's turning point is shouldered on the seemingly innocuous Gidget movies, which unleashed the obesely decadent Frankie Avalon/Annette Funicello beach flicks of the 1960s. (In fact, Noll was a surf stunt double for James Mitchum in Ride the Wild Surf.) Giants then takes a dark turn as it moves to the legendary Maverick's near Santa Cruz, where renowned Hawaiian surfer Mark Foo perished after being swallowed up by a monster wave in 1994. Then it's on to Hawaii to focus on hugely successful surfer/Giants executive producer Laird Hamilton, conspicuously dubbed “world's greatest surfer” by a number of interviewees. It was Hamilton (who was working on his own film at the time) who eventually put Peralta in touch with the film's backers, never asking for creative control of any kind. OC Weekly: Were you trying to make the antidote to Gidget?Stacy Peralta: I was trying to make the antidote to so many surf films that have been out there, not only in Hollywood, but also the films that are produced in the (surf) industry. It seems they are so polar opposite, and aside from a few films like The Endless Summer and Big Wednesday, for the most part, it seems Hollywood has produced kind of a comic-book archetype of surfers who just hang out at the beach all day and have nothing better to do but surf. And then you have the other side, the surf industry, which shows nothing but surfing without any context of who the people are or what surfing is about. I just felt that there was middle ground somewhere, to tell a story that has a richer meaning, a deeper history. The interviews with [big-wave surf pioneer and board maker] Greg Noll were fascinating.

Well, he was the inspiration for me doing this film. I had met him and found him to be so entertaining and such a great storyteller and so open he made me realize I could make this film. And then the more I got into it, the more I realized big-wave surfing is filled with adventure, exciting moments, the history of surfing in this country, and also there's life and death and huge accomplishments. So it seemed to have what I needed to make a film.

Did you get the sense you were capturing history just by talking to him?

Oh, God, when I do interviews, secretly in my head, there's this thing going “ch-ching.” When I hear these sound bites that I know are going to make it into the film, which are what I'm looking for, literally, I'm just overjoyed when I'm in the middle of the process.

You must have been kicking yourself.

Oh, he was just killing me, making me laugh. I have to tell you, Greg has been with us on the PR tour, looking at me, going, “Man, I just can't believe what's going on. This is my final last wave.” He just appreciates what's going on so much. Greg and Laird Hamilton were the two pillars of the film.

Riding Giants was directed by Stacy Peralta; and written by Peralta and Sam George. Opens July 9. Gala premiere benefit for The Surfrider Foundation and the Ocean of Hope at the Regency Lido, Newport Beach; www.ridinggiantspremiere.com. Thurs., July 8, 7 p.m. $50 for the screening and after-party; $100 for VIP seating.

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