First-ever 3D surfing documentary makes Los Angeles premiere at Aero Theatre
By Michael Aushenker
“Step Into Liquid.” “Thicker Than Water.” “Riding Giants.” “The Endless Summer.” Over the years, there have been numerous documentaries attempting to capture the glory and the energy of surfing, one of the most alluring and dangerous sports known to man. For the first time, a new film, currently making the specialty release circuit across the West Coast, achieves this in another dimension. The XLrator Media release, titled “Storm Surfers 3D,” will screen at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, July 20 at the Aero Theatre, 1328 Montana Ave. in Santa Monica.
With “Storm Surfers 3D,” world surfing champion Tom Carroll and big wave pioneer Ross Clarke-Jones re-team with filmmakers Justin McMillan and Chris Nelius, who have chronicled the Australian surfers on various Discovery Channel specials over the years.
Carroll, 51, the face of surfing back in the mid-1980s, jeopardized his third championship by boycotting the South Africa leg of the world tour in protest against apartheid. Clarke-Jones, 44, has rode 90-foot waves as well as up the piranha-infested Amazon River. In 2001, he became the first-ever non-Hawaiian to win the Quiksilver competition, in memory of Eddie Aikau, held at Waimea Bay.
Narrated by actress Toni Collette, with appearances from pro surfers Kelly Slater, Mark Matthews and Paul Morgan, “Storm Surfers 3D” ups the ante of McMillan’s and Nelius’ 2005 film on the pair, “The Sixth Element.”
Still groggy from jet lag somewhere in Venice, Carroll and Clarke-Jones, who will appear at the Aero screening, recently spoke to The Argonaut about “Storm Surfers 3D.”
Filmed in 2011 along the Australian coastline during the winter months, “Storm Surfers” consists of one big search, as the Aussie surfers, along with a meteorologist, embark on the hunt for the “Great Wave.”
“There’s always a better one,” Carroll said. “The swell comes and it goes. Each swell is different, each storm is different. We’re not looking for perfect waves.”
The surfers and filmmakers experienced their share of disappointments in the form of wipeouts, missed moments, and a time when “the jet skis went down pretty hard.” Even for wave cruisers as experienced as these men, the ocean remains difficult to master.
“She’s really unpredictable, that’s why we call it a ‘her,’” Carroll joked.
Along the way, the men have lost professional peers to the deep blue sea.
“For sure!” Carroll said. “Injury also does that. Keeps us in check. Make us feel really alive.”
Their profession can also take its toll on family members.
“There’s some unease at times,” Carroll said. “Especially after seeing this movie, my daughter said, ‘Dad, I didn’t realize you were doing that!’”
And yet, Carroll and Clarke-Jones do not see themselves quitting anytime soon.
“I know that when I’m away from it, I don’t feel good,” Carroll said. “It gives me a life force that I can’t get anywhere else.”
So how does one become a “storm surfer?” There’s no real formula other than “doing it as much as possible,” Carroll said, and “training in the gym, in the pool.”
With “Storm,” the surfers laud the 3D technology used to capture their quest.
“The directors are able to get the viewer closer to the action,” Carroll said, adding that the filmmakers have thrown in some nice “David Attenborough kind of stuff. Shots of birds in the air.”
Over the years, Clarke-Jones’ favorite surf movies include fiction films John Milius’ “Big Wednesday” (1978), Katheryn Bigelow’s “Point Break” (1991), and the documentary “Crystal Voyager” (1975). Growing up, the docs “Morning of the Earth” (1971) and “Free Ride” (1977) caught Carroll’s imagination.
But nothing will compare to the visceral experience of watching “Storm Surfers” in 3-D, they say.
“In the end, the product is the best we’ve put together,” Clarke-Jones said.
The surfers, who have spent 25 years making surf films, appeared diplomatic when questioned about their favorite California spots. Carroll has surfed the Northern California coast while Clarke-Jones enjoyed his experiences off Half-Moon Bay and Santa Cruz. Both surfers pinpointed Hawaii’s iconic Sunset Beach as their favorite spot on the globe to ride those giants.
Caroll, who lives near his native northern beaches of Sydney, Australia surfs daily, as does Clarke-Jones, a resident of Bell’s Beach in Victoria for the past 15 years. Clarke-Jones grew up in the Central Coast, considered a rougher part of Australia.
Amazingly, Clarke-Jones was due to hit the breakpoints in Malibu for the first time earlier this month.
“I never liked L.A. until I really got to know the Venice and Santa Monica area,” he said. “Santa Monica has got some character.”
And these two Aussies have got some courage.