Documentaries are, for me, one of the best uses of and examples of TV and film. Sit me down in front of the History Channel or the Discovery Channel and I can watch TV for hours. Better yet, show me a feature length documentary on some people with whom I have nothing in common or a slice of life I have never experienced and you’ll hold me rapt.
The past couple of decades have been especially fortuitous in that there have been so many excellent documentaries produced. From the recent “Super Size Me” and the immediate “An Inconvenient Truth” (Which I haven’t seen yet, but from the reviews I feel safe in saying that it is well made.) and the award winning films of the past twenty years, like “Hoop Dreams”.
But none of them, no matter how compelling, grab me the way surfing documentaries do.
It started when I was in high school and when, one night, wishing to avoid doing my homework I rented “The Endless Summer” and “The Endless Summer II”. For the three hours I sat there watching these films, I wanted nothing more from life than to be able to become a surf kid. The whole atmosphere of the films just seemed magical. The easy camaraderie, the banter, the beautiful locations and, more than anything else, the glory of the way they slid down the waves, making a difficult task look so easy.
The movies ended and I went back to my real life, deep in the desert and later up in the mountains, and that was that as far as surfing docs. went.
When I ended in Japan, years later, a friend recommended that I go see “Step Into Liquid”. So I talked M into making the two hour trip into Shibuya, down to Spain Zaka, to a tiny, basement, art-house type theater to watch this film, and, boom, I wanted to be a surfer again.
From there I began gathering as many of the other documentaries as I could. Well, that’s not exactly true, I avoided the ones produced by competitive surf companies. I did not want to watch the equivalent of ESPN SportsCenter, the Surfing Edition. I wanted to see glimpses into the lives of the people who had turned this sport into a lifestyle. I wanted to fantasize that I was one of them, even if just for a couple of hours.
I do have limited experience surfing. In other words, I tried it a few times in high school, but never had, excuse me, never made, the opportunities to become good at it. Instead I concentrated on other ocean sports, like SCUBA diving and a bit of ocean kayaking. I thought about surfing but never did anything about it.
And, honestly, I do not know that I really want to be a surfer. I mean, some of those waves are dangerous and I am not really into thrill sports. It is the lifestyle, I think, that hits me so deeply. The surfers always look so happy, so contented with their lot in life, like they could not ever even imagine asking for anything more.
That is what I am envious of and that is what I watch over and over.
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