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L.A. Popcorn Adventure #68
August 28, 2007

Sitting On Top of the World

Riding Giants + Surfing

Riding Giants, a riveting documentary that traces the history of big wave surfing in Hawaii and California, makes surfing a la Gidget and the Beach Boys look like a docile paddle around a windless pond. Starting in the 1950s, a surfing's first rebellious pioneers lived along the beaches of Hawaii, eschewing financial cares to ride big waves. Over fifty years later, surfing is well integrated into popular culture, but athletes like Laird Hamilton still push the sport to its extreme limits. Hamilton and his posse recently invented towing surfing; a jet ski drops a surfer into waves as high as 70 feet, letting him take a thrilling ride before being collected again by his partner on the jetski. It's a jaw-dropping experience just to watch the film, and we found ourselves wondering what it would be like to wipe out in such ferocious surf. Sadly, many athletes don't survive the rough waters, and the film's sobering dose of mortality only increases the vicarious awe we felt watching those who push themselves to the edge.

We were stoked to hit the waves after witnessing the pure joy and absolute athleticism of big wave surfers. At the very least, we knew we couldn't let our kids grow up in California without knowing the thrill of riding a wave. Not daring to go it alone, we called our local surf shop and hired an instructor for an hour to get our kids up on a board. What a great move -- the instructor brought boards, wet suits and just the right surfer "dude" attitude to push our kids to try something new. After a thorough water safety talk, and some beachside pop-up practice, we hit the waves -- sometimes, literally! But, our kids came up smiling, wanting to try again and again. We spent hours in the water, practicing the balance and timing that allows for a few blissful seconds of sitting on top of the world.

Film Title: Riding Giants
Directed By: Stacy Peralta
2004, Rated PG-13, 101 minutes

Our Buttery Bits of Wisdom about this film:

  • Why It's Worth It: Everyone in our family was riveted by this beautiful film, which we recommend for kids over 8. The documentary traces both the history of big wave surfing and portrays the giants in the film - from the past (Greg Noll) and present (Laird Hamilton). Well told, with great music and archival footage, it's a worthy family film for kids who can handle the few tough scenes in the middle of the film (see Red Flags, below).
  • Red Flags: In the middle of the film, the Hawaiian big waves surfers come to the U.S. to surf Mavericks, a monstrous offshore break off Half Moon Bay. One of the Hawaiian surfers, Mark Foo, dies on his first ride - it is a devastating moment that surprises everyone. Nothing graphic is shown, although there is footage of him falling (peacefully) off the board into the wave. The film poignantly portrays how all surfers felt at the moment in history: that they are, in fact, mortal.
  • See Riding Giants at the Long Beach's Aquarium of the Pacific: Take the labor out of Labor Day at the Long Beach Aquarium and check out Riding Giants, (Friday, Aug. 31, 7 - 9 pm) as well as great sea life exhibits, surf bands and family programming.
  • Other Viewing: Director Stacy Peralta also chronicled the history of skateboarding in Dogtown and Z-Boys. We also love Step Into Liquid, another film about surfing that highlights Laird Hamilton and is directed by the son of the man who directed the classic surf documentary Endless Summer.


Our tips for talking with your kids about the film:

  • Cinema Savvy: Watching a documentary with kids is easy - they are naturally drawn to the immediacy of watching real people. Let them know how these films are made: a filmmaker decides to "study up" on something by interviewing people involved with a particular subject. In this case, the filmmaker had to find old footage, of the early days of surfing, in order to effectively tell the story. Ask the kids what they might want to make a documentary about, and get them to think about how they'd find their material.
  • Sports Savvy: Athletes such as Laird Hamilton push the limits of their sport. They are constantly thinking about how they could compete at a higher level. Their obsession is complete - in the film, Hamilton talks about being depressed when the waves are small. Ask the kids to think about the difference between traditional sports - football, baseball - that are locked in tradition and regulation versus other sports - surfing, skateboarding - that are still evolving.


Learn to Surf

Malibu Surfing Association Classic: September 8-9
Heal the Bay's Coastal Clean Up Day: September 15

Age Recommendation: Five and up
Time Allotment: Hours and hours of fun

Our Buttery Bits of Wisdom about this Adventure:

  • What Worked for Us: It's scary to watch kids in the water with variables like riptides and dangerous beach breaks. A good surf instructor can advise the kids on safety tips as well as push the board from behind to help them get up for their first few rides. It's worth the extra money for peace of mind, and it also speeds up the learning curve. A surf party is a great birthday event.
  • Before You Go: Do as real surfers do and check the waves and weather at Before you pack up your beach chairs and get cozy on that perfect spot of sand, beware that surfing is not allowed at all beaches. You can surf on-line before you surf the waves to check out what areas (usually designated by lifeguard stands) will let you ride. Click here for Santa Monica beaches.
  • Two Great Surf Outfitters: We've used both Malibu Makos and ZJ Boarding House. They are both easy to deal with, and professional. Costs vary depending on time, how many boards you need to rent and how many surfers will be in the ocean. Your location will determine which outfit you hire (ZJ handles Santa Monica-area surfers and Malibu Makos likes to surf farther North). There are no shortage of instructors, so we suggest you do a little price surfing.

Our tips for extending this Adventure:

  • Surfing Contest: Cruise up to Malibu next weekend and watch the Malibu Surfing Association's Classic Invitational at Surfrider Beach (September 8-9). We've never been, but the chance to watch surfers, of all ages and levels of skill, competing sounds too cool to miss. Click here for a link to the event schedule. All profits from the event will be donated to local charities, including Heal the Bay and The Surfrider Foundation.
  • Heal the Bay's Coastal Cleanup Day: Join thousands of volunteers and help clean up the beach on Saturday, September 15 from 9 a.m. - 12:00 p.m. Click here for details on where and how to volunteer. Here's what we said about taking part in the community wide effort last year. The Coastal Cleanup Day is billed as "the largest volunteer day on the planet" as is observed in 50 US states and 88 countries around the world.
  • Surf Museums: If your kids love the water, here are a few museums they will enjoy: The California Surf Museum in Oceanside and the International Surfing Museum in Huntington Beach.

Want more? Here are KOTC's picks of films, books, music, and websites that connect your family to more culture.

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