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Riding Giants

For love of the ocean

It doesn't take long to sense director Stacy Peralta's (Dogtown and Z-Boys) love for surfing. And because of his passion, we are quickly drawn into the quirky little world of surfing, where its followers routinely forsake the luxuries that society values- money, food, shelter- in exchange for an endless summer of trying to catch a dozen, on the best days, waves. This is the forte of the surfing documentary Riding Giants. Unlike other sports, surfing consumes the entire existence of its true followers, causing them to flock to the water as if it were their holy city.

After a brief history, Peralta introduces us to the eccentric pioneers of the sport, lead by the loquacious and charismatic Greg Noll. On the beaches of Makaha, Hawaii, a few dozen men founded big wave surfing. They spent years eating, sleeping and living on the beach, with their sole goal being ready any time a venerable swell arose. For ten or twelve hours out of every day, they sat on their boards in the saline water of the ocean catching as many waves as could be squeezed into a day.

Unchained by responsibility, these free-spirits chose to pursue happiness, which they found on the shores of the fiftieth state. Armed with boards twice as tall as they were, the equipment looks nothing like the polished creations seen floating along the lips of waves today. Yet, on those "guns" they would paddle fearlessly into swells that topped 30 and 40 feet, then turn around and ride the enormous power of the ocean back to shore.

Much of surfing's charm lies in its simplicity. Unlike its cousins, no special equipment is needed; snowboarders need chairlifts to transport them to the top of the mountain; skateboarders require special parks designed with ramps, half-pipes and rails. The ocean, however, provides more than any surfer could ever imagine. The size, shape and break of the upcoming wave are never the same as the wave that preceded it, and this infinite variety means the sport's devotees never grow tired of it.

As we move to the more modern times however, some of its pristine charm seems to have eroded. In the effort to ride bigger waves, surfers have turned to technology to aid them in their efforts. The big wave riders of today have pawned the "guns" of yesteryear for gas-powered jet skis that tow them into the wave. It seems to violate the simple pact that surfers always had with the ocean.

Today's King of Waves is Laird Hamilton, and the footage of his surfing exploits is certainly awe-inspiring. It is here where Peralta forgets that the intriguing aspect of the sport is the love affair, not the accomplishments. So regardless of the skill of today's riders, there isn't the sense of pioneering that was exuded from the original big wave riders. Perhaps, their love equals that of their predecessors, but it doesn't exceed it. And the second time around, it's not nearly as interesting.

Stars: 3.5 out of 5