Gawping at Peralta’s panting docu-pageants – and gawping seems the requisite mien in the face of his low-slung skater-boy salvo ‘Dogtown and Z-Boys’ or this equivalent salute to the frontiersmen of big-wave surfing – you might be reminded of the late Bill Shankly’s oft-quoted quip about football being more important than life and death. As we see, braving waves of the magnitude Peralta’s heroes do often risks a rumba with the infinite, but the stakes are body-breaking rather than earth-shaking: these Californian and Hawaiian founders of modern surfing begat one of the most apolitical of twentieth-century countercultures, a movement that regressed to the water and left The Man to the land. When the film’s fervent narrator and wide-eyed talking heads avow how the world was irrevocably changed by a relay of tanned adrenaline-junkies bobbing in the ocean on balsa-wood, it’s hard to hear the ferment for the froth.
Whereas, take the bombast with a fistful of sea salt and it doesn’t seem any big deal that tow-in surf legend Laird Hamilton, the film’s final and supreme genius, or kit vendor Quiksilver are credited as its producer and sponsor, respectively; everyone here agrees that making a stand inside the tunnel of a 40-foot breaker is as venerable a feat as a boy could achieve. (As in ‘Dogtown’, girls tend to be taken as irrelevant.) Peralta’s film footage makes that case eloquently; he also frames a potted history of surf fashions around three fetching character fables, from pack leader Greg Noll through solo path-finder Jeff Clark to tech-enhanced prodigy Hamilton. It’s all pretty swanky.