30 October 2012

Chasing Mavericks: A Local's Review

A year ago, Hollywood came to my backyard to make a movie, initially called Iron Cross and then saddled with the unfortunate moniker Of Men and Mavericks, which ultimately released October 26th as Chasing Mavericks. On a hot day last October, I was excited to join a throng of other surfers including my friend Heather as a "background artist" for the paddle-out scene filmed in eastside Santa Cruz. Then it seemed like forever to wait for the movie to hit theaters so we could see if we would be up on the big screen. At long last, I went with a little group of my surfing buddies to watch it on opening night in a half-filled cinema in San Francisco.
The story is simple: big-wave rider Frosty Hesson takes fatherless, driven, and eternally cheerful teenager Jay Moriarty under his wing and trains him to survive the monster swells at NorCal's big wave magnet. What was exceptional for me was seeing my home surf turf so beautifully filmed. Maverick's is less than 20 miles from my house, and my home break at the Jetty is just around the corner.

I've surfed at or in sight of all the locations shown in the movie. Maverick's is firmly in the "in-sight-of" category, but I've watched the not-quite-annual big wave surf contest with binoculars from the bluff.
The view from shore during the last Maverick's contest
That intimate knowledge of the locale didn't let me and my surf buddies get fully engrossed in the movie. For example, when Jay and Frosty finish their 36-mile-long paddle from Santa Cruz all the way across Monterey Bay, we all laughed out loud. They're shown resting on the sand at popular Linda Mar beach in Pacifica, 100 miles north of Monterey. I guess they got lost.
Frosty and Jay resting on the beach in "Monterey"
Jay and Frosty live on the same Santa Cruz street in a magical place where you can easily carry a longboard to not only the nearby eastside breaks (The Hook, 38th Ave, Pleasure Point) but also the westside ones (Steamer Lane, Cowells), which are about about 5 miles away in the real world. There's also some spatial portal that lets the big wave riders paddle out from the beach at Ross' Cove and then reappear on the opposite side of Pillar Point for the remainder of the journey to the lineup at Maverick's.

Then there are the little things that any surfer would notice - the always brand-new wetsuits, the too-clean board wax, the wave that goes on for a long, long time because it's really several waves spliced together. And I must admit that I long for a wetsuit like Frosty's, which seemed to have dried in the hour it took for him to drive from Maverick's back to his house in Santa Cruz, instead of staying damp for a couple of days.
The real Frosty (left) and the Hollywood version (right) during filming
The long-anticipated paddle-out scene of course came at the end of the movie, and Heather and I watched closely, hoping to see ourselves. After a full day of filming last year, we were surprised that it had been cut down to well under a minute. As I expected, the camera panned to encompass the real Frosty, but it didn't go a little farther to capture me on my bright Clownfish surfboard. Then the view shifted to an aerial shot, and it was over. I'll have to look for fame elsewhere.

It wasn't just me left on the cutting room floor. I remember reading about a casting call for extras at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, but there was nothing in the movie at that venue. And although Holly Beck flew up from Nicaragua to be the surfing double for Jay's girlfriend Kim, she was on screen for less than a minute, much to my disappointment.

Near the start of the movie, new grommet Jay's soon-to-be-friend speaks the truth that "nobody gets up on their first try" at surfing. Not breaking with tradition, the film gives lie to the truth by showing young Jay doing just that. I expect a bump of newbies in the lineup as a result. However, the film gets it right by showing what's required to surf really big waves: Jay is made to paddleboard long distance and demonstrate that he can hold his breath for 4 minutes without panic. Hopefully that will make inexperienced surfers think twice about attempting to surf the beast near Pillar Point.

All that said, the hallmark of a good movie is when I'm still thinking about it the next day and beyond, which is the case with Chasing Mavericks. Was it worth the inconvenience of closed parking lots and the commandeering of popular breaks while the filmmakers created this picture? For sure. I didn't know Jay - he died before I started surfing - but we belong to the same tribe. Not just the surfer tribe, but the particular clan of surfers who ride the waves south of San Francisco. We're clad head to toe in neoprene year round against the chill waters, and we all harbor a niggling anxiety about the Men in Gray Suits, although few of us ever actually see a shark. From the lineup, we have a unique view of some of the most beautiful coastline anywhere. We are each driven to return to the cold embrace of the Pacific ocean, some like Jay in search of the rush of dropping down a 50' face, others just to enjoy the dance on much smaller rollers. Chasing Mavericks has shared that view and that feeling with the world. And I have to say I am inspired to "Live like Jay", pursuing my dreams with determination and an indefatigable smile.

This post also appears on The Inertia.


  1. Ah, so thats where they landed. I grew up in Monterey and know every inch of the Peninsula. When I saw that scene I annoyingly told my bf "thats not Monterey!"

    I too loved seeing my local break featured. (although the hook is not the Point, but whatever). I also liked how they really captured the feel of the neighborhood on the Eastside. Really, not much has changed here except for eroded cliffs. I bet they didn't even need to move too many new cars out of shots.

    1. Yeah, I noticed they called the Hook the Point. Pretty sure I saw someone wearing Vibram Five Fingers in a scene at the Lane though!

  2. "niggling," though i'm sure unoffensive to you, has horribly racist undertones attached to it that make me and i'm sure others cringe. i'm sure you didn't know, i love your blog, and i'm not trying to tell you what to do, but just so you know.

    1. I'd never heard that before so I did a little research. In fact "niggling" doesn't have racist undertones. See http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/niggle and http://urbansemiotic.com/2007/10/05/the-definition-of-nigger-niggle-niggly/

  3. Please... that anonymous poster is probably of the same mindset that the term "niggardly" has racist undertones. Just because a term appears similar to a racial slur does not make it such. Sometimes, I think people look for racism where there isn't any. Some people are obsessed. Anyway, great review, Cynthia. It's nice to see a local's take on the film.