Home Video Hovel: Storm Surfers: The Movie, by Mat Bradley-Tschirgi
Storm Surfers 3D is the first documentary that I wish I would have seen in a movie theater. The stunning cinematography catches the waves from a variety of perspectives. You even get to see the waves from a surfer’s point of view through the intimate use of miniature cameras. As impressive as the visuals looked in the 2D version I watched for review (confusingly titled Storm Surfers: The Movie on the packaging, but just Storm Surfers in the film itself), I could tell that watching this on the silver screen in 3D really would have made the experience that much more immersive.
Directors Justin McMillan and Christopher Nelius, who previously collaborated on the TV documentaries Storm Surfers, Dangerous Banks and Storm Surfers: New Zealand, follow Australian surf legends Tom Carroll and Ross Clarke-Jones around Australia to catch the most bodacious waves they can find. Using the technique of tow surfing, they ride their surfboards out towed by jet skis while holding onto the handles. Once they reach the colossal waves several kilometers out from the shore, they let go of the handles and surf away. Tracking down ideal conditions with help from surf forecaster Ben Matson, Tom and Ross go for the wildest conditions they can find.
In a rather unusual narrative choice, Storm Surfers: The Movie has no final goal in mind. The sparse narration by actress Toni Collette (of United States of Tara fame) gives a sense for the different locations and little else. Tom and Ross amicably travel across Australia from coast to coast to catch whatever waves lie ahead. There is no massive wave surfing competition they’re trying to win. There is no record they’re trying to set by surfing the biggest wave. Tom and Ross are surfing for the thrill of it. Their personal lives are glossed over in the brief segments wedged between the spectacular surfing sequences. Ross is the more energetic of the pair, racing cars in his spare time. Tom is the somber family man with three daughters who is recovering from a shoulder injury. I wanted to spend more time learning what they were like away from the surfboard, but Storm Surfers: The Movie is so intent on moving to the next big wave that the personalities of the surfers themselves is more of an afterthought.
The waves on display are pretty spectacular, though, and all of the surfing locations are intriguing. Cape Solander has a reputation for being dangerous. Turtledove is a remote reef that has never been surfed before. Both Tom and Ross wipe out on various waves. I thought the wipeouts would introduce a sense of danger to the surfing, but all too often they pick themselves up and are ready to tackle the next wave. The laidback tone of the film makes the whole affair pretty relaxing. Storm Surfers: The Movie is a visual marvel of a documentary that isn’t trying to change the world. As Jeff Spicoli from Fast Times at Ridgemont High put it, surfing is “a way of looking at that wave and saying, ‘Hey bud, let’s party!’”