THE LOST BOMB

posted by / News / January 14, 2004

Sitting in his Santa Monica screening room, Stacy Peralta was so close he could taste it. The acclaimed director of “Dogtown and Z-Boys” was convinced he had finally gotten his hands on the holy grail of surf history — film of Greg Noll’s December 4, 1969 wave at Makaha — generally regarded as the largest wave ever paddled into. As was reported by Steve Hawk in an LA Times story yesterday, Peralta acquired some old Super 8 footage of the swell from surf legend Shaun Tomson for use in Peralta’s new big-wave themed documentary “Riding Giants.” Sure enough, Peralta found that Tomson’s footage of that fateful day showed a monstrous left closing out across the channel at Waimea, flooded houses along Kam Highway before cutting to the parking lot at Makaha. Then the film abruptly ended and Peralta became convinced that Tomson deliberately sliced out the footage of Noll’s wave and is still holding onto it. “There was no leader on that reel like there was on all the other reels he had,” says Peralta. “It had to have been cut.” Reached in his Santa Barbara office, Tomson won’t admit to editing out Noll’s wave from the film stock he gave to Peralta, but he doesn’t try to deny it, either. (Tomson jokingly told Hawk that he didn’t mean for the cut to look so clean.) Tomson says that he was asked to show the lost footage of the wave, estimated to be well over 30 feet, at the Waterman’s Ball in 1999. Yet he refused because Greg Noll told him he didn’t want it shown. “I made a commitment to Greg,” says Tomson. When asked what he would do if Noll ever changes his mind and tells him it’s okay for him to show it, Tomson answers with a mischievous laugh, “Then I might have to start looking for it again.” Tomson, only 14 in 1969, actually surfed Makaha himself at a flawless 20 feet two days before Noll’s ride, and says that he showed the footage of Noll to a few friends upon his return to South Africa — “just as a home movie really.” He’s not willing to say definitively if Noll’s ride was the biggest ever, only that it was, “a beast of a wave. A special wave and a special time.” Peralta, for his part, isn’t upset with Tomson because he feels the absence of the footage only adds to the mystique of Noll and of big wave riding in general. “I worked for six months to get a hold of that film, but I really respect Shaun for doing what he did,” says Peralta.Peralta’s “Riding Giants” will be the first documentary to open the {{{Sundance}}} Film Festival in Park City, Utah today — the same day, coincidentally, that the biggest swell of the year is scheduled to hit Hawaii. Peralta says the film, which documents the pioneers of Waimea, Maverick’s and Tow-in surfing, will have similar stylistic touches to “Dogtown”(winner of two awards at Sundance in 2001) but won’t have a punk or urban feel. This is a bigger story than Dogtown,” says Peralta.The film might lack the money shot of Noll’s ’69 swan song, but it will feature plenty of other footage from the swell regarded by most experts as the biggest ever to hit Hawaii or California. And because proof of the ride is still lost, still securely tucked away from dissection and debate, immune from any rust to tarnish its grandeur, Noll’s legend is still safe as well. And as Tomson, a figure of mythical proportion himself, puts it, “The legend’s always better than reality. ” - Jamie Tierney

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