Surfing movies aren't very good. They just aren't. There are a few exceptions: The Endless Summer, Riding Giants, Surfing Hollow Days, and maybe even Step Into Liquid. But these are documentaries. Fictional surfing movies it would seem are almost required by law to be bad. They're hopelessly cliche and tend to do more harm than good to surfing's image. While "only a surfer knows the feeling" is also cliche, when it comes to translating the magic and mystique of surfing onto the big screen, the mantra definitely applies.
I saw tonight the premiere of Chasing Mavericks, the story of Jay Moriarity. This was a highly anticipated movie given a big Hollywood budget, Gerard Butler in a starring role, and the latest camera technology to capture huge surf at Maverick's, a break known around the world by surfers and non-surfers alike. That said, there was, at least on my part, some apprehension with how good (read: true to surfing) it was going to be. Mind you, my expectations were low as, once again, surfing movies aren't very good. In fact, they're down right terrible. Blue Crush, Ride the Wild Surf, and the grand daddy of them all, Point Break. Point Break is so bad that I think the primary objective of any fictional movie about surfing should be that it MUST be better than Point Break. Big Wednesday, North Shore, and, yes, Chasing Mavericks are better than Point Break.
Don't get me wrong, Chasing Mavericks was over the top and pretty predictable. I'm not just saying that because the Jay Moriarty story is pretty well known in the surfing community, even more so up here in Nor Cal. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the movie was actually less about Jay and more about Frosty Hesson, his mentor and father figure. Both Frosty and Jay have their fair share of inner demons but their mutual respect and admiration for one another and surfing the big waves at Maverick's make them better (and more interesting) people. In all, the story line and acting were fine but the writing, while cheesy at times, was tolerable. On the other hand, the cinematography and surfing footage were exceptional. This was a particular treat given all the years I've spent surfing and hanging out in Half Moon Bay and Santa Cruz. It was great seeing Boat Docks, Montara, Scott's Creek, the Hook, the Lane and several other local spots on the big screen. And the aerial shots of Frosty's van cruising up and down Cabrillo Highway along the San Mateo County coast made me so grateful that I get to live in such a beautiful area.
Would Jay have approved of the movie? My guess is yes. I think he would have liked seeing a lot of his friends, some big names in the Maverick's community, contribute to the making of the movie. Peter Mel, Greg Long, and Grant Washburn were just a few that I recognized. That said, I was surprised to see no sign of or even a reference to Jeff Clark (beyond a couple cameo shots of his blue 4x4). Jeff of course is the man who surfed Maverick's by himself for 15 years, introduced it to the surfing and action sports world, and is basically synonymous with the break. Without Jeff Clark there would be no Jay Moriarity story.
In all, Chasing Mavericks is a good movie about a very special surfer, his dedication to ride the giant waves at Maverick's and his relationship with a complex but compassionate man. If Jay hadn't died so prematurely this movie would likely have never been made. But the impact he had on the surfing community in the short time he was alive made the movie inevitable. I'm glad it was made and the producers, directors, actors, and everyone else involved with the film did an admirable job.
Until next time, may your waves be head high and glassy.