Riding Giants provides details of the sport's evolution -- from early, cumbersome boards to lightweight balsa and fiberglass ones to short, easily maneuverable boards designed for navigating 60-plus-foot monsters.
Peralta charts the great surfer migration from California to the epic swells of Hawaii's Waimea Bay. And then back again to the newly discovered frigid waters of Mavericks outside San Francisco, where sharks, jagged rocks and frigid water added new challenges to the sport. Early surf figures like '50s superstar Greg "The Bull" Noll make appearances, presiding over surfing's pre-Gidget Valhalla when dropout surfers lived on fish and coconuts on Hawaii's beaches. Riding Giants covers the new breed of big-wave superstars, too, epitomized by fearless extreme surfer Laird Hamilton, whom surfers describe in hushed and admiring tones for having caught the most extreme wave ever, off the coast of Tahiti.
The adrenaline rush of confronting and then riding Godzilla swells is a frequent talking point, alongside endless summer footage of curling vortexes of glassy waves. Surfers detail the pitfalls of the sport, from near-death experiences being rinse cycled in wipeouts to the actual deaths of surf legends like Dickie Cross and Mark Foo.
In addition to gnarly waves, Riding Giants emphasizes surfing's spiritual qualities. Surfers describe confronting their mortality with each big swell and how the brotherhood of the wave binds them together.
At times the film casts surfing as a mystical force drawing people together, as in the surfer fairy tale recounted by Hamilton of how he grew up longing for a daddy. As a child, he met renowned surfer Billy Hamilton on the beach one day. The two surfed. Billy was so enchanted by the boy he ended up becoming his father. That sequence may make Riding Giants the first two-hankie surf film. Opens July 30 at Tara Cinema. -- Felicia Feaster