Surf’s Up: The Review

posted by / News / June 4, 2007

Funny how it takes a bunch of digitized penguins for Hollywood to finally get the surf thing right. After more than 40 years of failed attempts, of Bad Wednesdays and and Wet Blanket Bingo, Sony Pictures’ Surf’s Up wipes the slate clean like one giant Waimea closeout set.


Seems hard to fathom, we know. Those billboards plastered through greater LA alone could easily convince the last few So Cal soul daddys to pack it up and cross the border…for good. But they needn’t worry. If there were ever a Hollywood surf film to show your unjazzed friends and say, “Now, this is what it’s all about,” Surf’s Up is it.

At least SURFING thought so after this weekend’s California premiere and luau in Westwood. Surf’s Up may touch on some familiar themes, but it’s in the way they play out these themes, from the watertight dialogue to the Rob Machado, Kelly Slater and Sal Masekela cameos to the refreshing twists and hyper-realistic wave animation, that will make you proud to be a surfer.

Slater, Machado and Masekela sure were. Slater’s been involved in the film for the last two years and – aside from input on wave shape and appearance – was blown away at how dialed the writers had the surf lingo before he showed up. Machado was equally complimentary of the crew while Masekela didn’t hesitate to call it the “greatest Hollywood surf story ever.”

He wasn’t joking. Told in the effective “mockumentary” format, Cody Maverick is a young penguin from an Antarctic outpost called Shiverpool, who began surfing because the Duke-like figure “Big Z” once visited his beach and told him he should never give up on his dreams. Those dreams eventually lead Cody to Pen Gu Island, where he faces a Lance Burkhart-like Tank “Shredder” Evans, gets humiliated, finds refuge with a guru known as The Geek and eventually discovers the real magic behind the act of waveriding.

While the best surf films of the past don’t stray too far from this tried-and-true storyline, it’s in the execution where they always fail. You can’t re-enact the swell of the century on a solid day at the Ranch. You can’t fake a deadly wipeout at Jaws. And you certainly can’t just order up the tube of the main character’s life. No matter how hard you try, surfing stuntwork is always going to look a lot less convincing than the real thing. But in the digital world, anything is possible. Want to know what it’s like to eat it on a {{{90}}}-footer over dry rocks? Surf’s Up will get you as close as you’ll ever want to be. Have trouble explaining the feeling of a near drowning on a huge day? Show them Cody Maverick’s disaster sequence and they’ll immediately understand. And the final, looking-out-of-the-tube sequence will make every surfer – from grommet to geezer — leave the theater and head for the nearest barreling reefbreak.

It’s this last point that serves as Surf’s Up’s true crowning achievement. For the first time ever, Hollywood doesn’t make us want to quit surfing, it makes us want to go surfing. Like, right now.

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