Star-Bulletin Features

Monday, December 14, 1998

Associated Press
Mavericks inspired one group of videographers.

Oceans of surf
gift notions

By Greg Ambrose
Special to the Star-Bulletin


NEARLY everyone in Hawaii has a loved one who is smitten by the waves. And each year at this time the same dilemma arises: what to get that ocean lover that will convey how aware you are of their infatuation with the surf. The obvious answers are perhaps just a bit too expensive, such as a new surfboard, swim fins, bodyboard or kayak.

Try some eye candy, videos of the surf in all its glory.

The Moment: Produced by Bill Ballard; 90 minutes; $30. Available at local surf shops, or call toll-free 1-(800)-THE GOAT (843-4628)

IT's a pleasure to watch a young craftsman grow with each project until his work attains a level of sophistication and creativity where it approaches art.

Bill Ballard cleverly lets Hawaii's top professional and underground surfers put on a stunning display of contemporary wave-riding dexterity in diverse venues from Hawaii to Australia, set to music thoughtfully selected to enhance the mood the surfing images are creating.

Ballard focuses on tantalizing waves worked mercilessly by Hawaii's top surfers, who tear up big waves on Oahu's North Shore, then take over the lineup at Kirra on Australia's Gold Coast, and dominate gaping frigid barrels a continent away at the Box in Western Australia.

After presenting compelling evidence that the level of surfing has never been better, Ballard pulls out his trump card: Kelly Slater. Slater cuts loose in some fun surf sessions in Portugal shortly after winning his fifth world title, and proceeds to make all the other hot shots look like salt-covered slugs. Slater's surfing is so innovative and effortless he appears to have evolved to level of athleticism that the rest of humanity can't possibly hope to attain for generations.

When Ballard points his camera lens at something other than the surfing action, he creates a cultural context that whets the viewer's appetite for more wave riding, while reminding us all that while the ocean is vast, there is an equally exciting world that awaits on shore.

The humbling power of waves is dramatically demonstrated in Tahiti, where the violent intersection of swell and shallow coral reef results in a thing of savage, elegant beauty. The camera captures this creation with an unblinking intensity.

"The Moment" builds in intensity to the grand moment where surfing history was made on Big Wednesday last January, when Ken Bradshaw latched onto the biggest wave ever captured on film, at the North Shore.

The video's title and theme is especially appropriate, for what is surfing but a collection of sublime moments stolen from the more-mundane experiences that consume most of our life, to be treasured and get us through the slow times with anticipation.

Soul Patrol: By director/photographer Chris Bystrom; 67 minutes; $39.95. Available at local surf shops

TO most Hawaii surfers, Australia is a mythical land of world champion surfers, endless empty beaches and perfect waves. Because the surf here is so consistently satisfying, and because Australia is a long, expensive plane ride away, most local surfers will never sample those waves across the Pacific.

But "Soul Patrol" can provide a tantalizing taste of those distant, exotic waves that just might inspire local surfers to experience them in person. Chris Bystrom combines excellent archival action footage from the early '60s with last year's in-your-face water shots by Luke Sorenson to bring the land Down Under to Hawaii's wave riders.

Except for a stunning segment where former world champion Bonga Perkins shows his versatility by shredding Australian waves on a shortboard, before switching to dominate the same waves on a longboard, all the "Soul Patrol" action takes place on longboards.

Classic noserides and drop-knee turns link the decades, while vertical modern longboarding shows how far the equipment, antics and attitudes have evolved. Throughout, Bystrom's terse narration provides a historical perspective while '60s and '90s surfers ride such fabled Australian breaks as Kirra, Burleigh, Angourie, Noosa, Stradbroke Island and the Great Barrier Reef.

Hawaii surfers Sion Milosky, Perkins, Kanoa Dahlin and world champion Dino Miranda whip out floaters, whitewater rebounds, lip slams and tube rides matched by their Australian hosts. The islanders return the favor by turning their Aussie mates onto gaping barrels and booming peaks at Haleiwa, Backdoor and Pipeline.

Mavericks: Produced by Lili Schad, Grant Washburn, Clearwater Films; 40 minutes; $29.95. Available by calling (888)-444-2709

THE danger of tossing out superlatives like candy at a Mardi Gras parade is that people may fling them back at you. In an otherwise splendid documentary film, surfers blithely use words such as "biggest," "best" and "heaviest" when describing California's gnarly big-wave spot, Mavericks.

Hawaii surfers have a few choice words to throw back at the film's producers, words that describe island waves in similarly superlative terms.

Island wave riders will no doubt be astounded to hear producer Grant Washburn describe his film project as chronicling the most exciting development in the history of big-wave riding.

Washburn, a major player in the lineup when the waves at Mavericks start macking, might be excused for his enthusiasm, as he put his heart and soul and nearly a decade of his life into this film about his favorite surf spot.

But at roughly the same time that Mavericks was being discovered by the surfing community, a band of intrepid wave riders was pioneering an isolated reef off Maui with fearsomely huge waves: Peahi, or Jaws. And that certainly qualifies as one of the more exciting developments in the history of big-wave riding.

And what about Ken Bradshaw's heroic session that fulfilled his 20-year dream by riding awe-inspiring waves breaking on a distant reef on the North Shore during the epic swell of Big Wednesday, Jan. 28 of this past year? Certainly a milestone.

"What they're doing at Mavericks, it's a big-wave surfing spot, but it seems that 90 percent of the rides are just gnarly wipeouts on giant boards," says Maui's Buzzy Kerbox, who pioneered the sport of towing surfers into giant waves behind personal watercraft.

"If they do make the waves, they are just making it to the bottom and surviving it. At Peahi, we're riding these monsters and ripping them, doing incredible maneuvers on maneuverable boards."

In defense of her film, co-producer Lili Schad said that in documentaries, "You focus on something and really go into it. Once you bring in other elements, you can't explore the one topic as much, it becomes more superficial."

As a microcosmic look at a special place in the surfing world, "Mavericks" is a splendid bit of filmmaking. The images are stunning in their raw power, even though there is absolutely no good camera angle from which to shoot Mavericks, and much of the action footage has been shot by Washburn with a lot of aloha, but not much expertise and limited equipment.

Stop the Wave I Want to Get Off: Produced by Jim Wilhoite; 90 minutes; $29.95. Available at Haleiwa Strong Current

IN a fortuitous sequence of events, North Shore surfer Bernie Baker discovered and resurrected a gem of a surf film that was created in the early '60s and shown to a limited audience, before fading into oblivion.

When Baker and his wife, Marie, joined a Rocky Point potluck party hosted by longtime friends from his hometown of Carpinteria, he found them watching a surf video that Baker quickly placed in the '60s.

Baker was intrigued. The sound track was professional, cool jazz, the narration was witty, and he absolutely could not recognize the footage from any of the many surf movies he has memorized.

But when Baker saw footage of a young George Downing surfing perfect Laniakea and other Hawaii late greats, still-living greats and California surfing legends ripping up the North Shore on old longboards, he had to know what he was looking at.

It turns out his friends Stan and Wendy Cowan, had found a film that Wendy's father, Jim Wilhoite, had made on a trip to Hawaii in the early '60s, and had converted it to VHS videotape format.

Wilhoite had shown it commercially in California, but it was buried by the megahit "Endless Summer." So he shelved the film.

"It was such a gold mine find," says Baker. "I wouldn't let Wendy leave Hawaii with the tape ... when I showed it to my friends, they said it was like finding King Tut's treasure."

Wilhoite, now retired and living in Palm Springs. gave Baker permission to market the video and send him the profits. "I promised Wendy that her father would never have to buy golf balls or gasoline again," he says.

Now anyone can rediscover the lost footage. "It's time traveling at its best," says Baker.

Siestas & Olas: A Surfing Journey Through Mexico: Produced by Dan Wozniak; 90 minutes; $29.95. Available by calling (877)-787-3456; or e-mailing

SIESTAS & Olas ("Naps & Waves") is a sparkling sunlit session in a stormy sea of surf videos that harkens to a more-innocent era of "surfari" films that had no message beyond the joy of discovering new surf zones while exploring other cultures.

Dan Wozniak rounded up an interesting crew of wave riders and fled South of the Border for a three-month excursion into Mexico's wave-rich Pacific coast.

The video is splendidly filmed, and equally pleasing to the ears through the use of carefully selected Mexican music. Anyone seeking a spark to ignite their wanderlust need look no further.

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