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Highwater (Blu-ray Review)

5 Apr, 2011 By: Ashley Ratcliff

Street 4/12/11
Sports Documentary
$27.97 DVD, $29.97 Blu-ray
Not rated.

One need not look further than Hawaii to find the surf haven of the world. And writer-director Dana Brown, son of sports documentarian Bruce Brown (The Endless Summer), superbly captures the mystique of the island state’s surf culture in Highwater.

In 2005, Brown spent several weeks filming the Super Bowl of surf: the Vans Triple Crown, held on the North Shore of Oahu. In addition to visually stunning waves and the awe-inspiring skills of the watermen riding them, Highwater is enhanced with interviews with the sport’s elite — old-timers such as Mark Cunningham, who reminisce about surf’s glory days in the ’70s, veterans such as Kelly Slater and Tom Curren still living the dream, and a slew of newcomers vying for their place in surf history.

Surf, for these athletes, isn’t just a hobby, but rather a way of life. Vincent “Sunny” Garcia, a six-time Triple Crown winner and Hawaii native, has been known to fight to defend his territory. Mark Healey and Kalani Chapman grew up admiring North Shore waves and were late to class countless times because they were fixed on the surf.

Highwater’s most intriguing subject is Eric Haas, an eccentric, mythical surfer known to turn heads in the water with his unmatched technique. Surfers trade “Eric Haas” stories — the most memorable coming from Slater and Keith Malloy, who recall seeing the oddball hit the waves in football gear.

Though lighthearted in tone, the documentary turns tragic when Tahitian surfer Malik Joyeux, then 25 years old, dies in a surf accident at Pipeline, which has the reputation for being the deadliest of venues. Dozens of surfers and onlookers helped to find Joyeux in the water, and formed a prayer circle on the beach to honor their fallen friend. That somber incident embodies the camaraderie that defines the surfing community.

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