The Australian surf documentary Storm Surfers (2012) took out the Best Feature Doco category at the most recent AACTA Awards. It was also, I believe, the first Aussie doco to be filmed in 3D. Whilst I was unable to see the film in 3D, it was definitely one of the most visually arresting films that I have seen in quite some time.
The film starts off with a massive wipe-out to emphasise the rather dangerous nature of big wave surfing as a pursuit. From there, we meet the two surfers whose big wave odyssey the film follows. Both are Australian and in their younger days surfed on the pro-tour – Tom Carroll was the golden boy of the tour, winning two world titles and garnering big money sponsorship; whilst his mate Ross Clarke-Jones, also an incredible surfer, enjoyed the tour mainly for the partying. Unless you are in the (presumably vast) minority of my readers who are professional big-wave surfers, Storm Surfers will repeatedly boggle your mind. To me, it is insane that you can surf utterly huge waves, 75 kilometres from the coast. The fact that in this day and age, there are still top-secret surf breaks that people inside that world have never heard of. Other questions will arise for you too, like who in the world first thought it would be a good idea to combine jet skis and surfing? In addition to these kinds of facts and questions, the sheer beauty of much of the photography in the water is truly something to behold. Shots from inside barrels and attached to surf boards only add to the exhilaration. The success of these innovations is that they help convey the kinetic intensity and activity of what these people are undertaking. Indeed if the film was just a collection of images with this kind of beauty, it would still be well worth checking out.
Perhaps the area where Storm Surfers succeeds most though is in bringing a ‘human’ side to the incredible power of the images onscreen. Tom and Ross are not young men, 51 and 47 respectively. And the film shows the impact that ageing is having on these two blokes, however young at heart they may be. Tom especially struggles with the physical and mental strains of throwing yourself headlong at waves that strike sheer terror into everyone else. His role as a diligent father only adds to the conflicts that surfing big waves bring to his perspective on life. With their pranks and manner of speaking, Tom and Ross are really just two teenagers that have never grown up. Which sounds terrible and makes them sound like two blokes it would be mind numbing to spend a 90 minute film with. But in reality, it makes these two men endearing, their fun loving pursuit of just doing what they feel like, is in a way strangely inspiring. As is their ability to break down the philosophy behind surfing and convey that to a wide audience. In addition, to dismiss them as just fun-loving guys is to do them a disservice. In addition to Tom’s aforementioned parenthood, in his younger days he jeopardised his chances of winning his third world title in 1985 by refusing to take part in the South African leg of the world tour, as a protest against that country’s apartheid policies. I guess it is this bringing to life of two complex men that separates the film from a traditional surf flick.
I really recommend this film, even if you do not have a particular interest in surfing (I don’t). For starters it looks incredible, but more than that, these two men and the lifestyle they represent are truly interesting. The film is also, in its own way, a look at how ageing affects people and the best way to approach that part of our lives.
Verdict Pint of Kilkenny