Hero of the Wave: The Making of 'Chasing Mavericks' ; Its Creators Worked Hard to Film a True Portrayal of Surfers and Surfing

By Dixon, Chris | International Herald Tribune, October 23, 2012 | Go to article overview

Hero of the Wave: The Making of 'Chasing Mavericks' ; Its Creators Worked Hard to Film a True Portrayal of Surfers and Surfing


Dixon, Chris, International Herald Tribune


Its creators worked hard to make sure the movie "Chasing Mavericks" is accepted as an accurate Hollywood portrayal of surfers and surfing.

CORRECTION APPENDED

Early on the morning of Dec. 19, 1994, a surfer named Jeff Clark stood alongside a few friends on a high bluff just outside Pillar Point Harbor in Half Moon Bay, California, watching 40-foot waves crash onto the reef at the big-wave surf spot known as Mavericks. The offshore winds were dangerously gusty, and Mr. Clark, 37, who had been surfing there for two decades, felt it prudent to wait for them to abate.

Several of his friends were already in the water. Among them was Jay Moriarity, 16, who had surfed Mavericks only a few times and was the youngest person Mr. Clark had ever seen challenge the spot. When the biggest wave of the morning swept in, Moriarity paddled hard. But as he rose to his feet, the wind lifted his surfboard into the air like a kite. He fell the equivalent of five stories and was driven 40 feet underwater, about 12 meters.

On a boat at the edge of the surf zone, the photographer Bob Barbour watched in horror. "I thought I was going to have to call his mother and tell her that her son had died," he said in a phone interview.

After a tense half-minute Moriarity kicked off the sea floor, swam to the boat to grab a replacement for his broken surfboard and paddled back out. An astonished Mr. Barbour would capture what is generally considered the greatest wipeout in the sport's history, not only placing Moriarity on the cover of Surfer magazine but also more recently on billboards promoting the new movie "Chasing Mavericks."

It is an account of the life of Moriarity, who died at 22 in a diving accident in the Maldives, and his relationships with his girlfriend and eventual wife, Kim, and his mentor, Rick Hesson, called Frosty. Moriarity's fearless surfing and warm personality made him a hero and a favorite son in Half Moon Bay, and his hometown, Santa Cruz.

Mr. Hesson, Mr. Clark, Mr. Barbour and others say the film's directors, Curtis Hanson and Michael Apted, and two of the producers, Brandon Hooper and Jim Meenaghan (both surfers), have achieved something as rare as Moriarity's wipeout: an accurate Hollywood portrayal of surfers and surfing.

Mr. Hooper said he saw universal appeal in the alternately uplifting and tragic tale of Moriarity's friendship with Mr. Hesson, but was acutely aware of the longstanding trap of inauthentic Hollywood takes on surfing. There was Mickey Munoz's bikini-clad stunt doubling in the 1959 "Gidget," laughable projected backdrops in "Ride the Wild Surf" from 1964, surfers who inexplicably reverse their board stances in "Point Break" (1991) and the computer graphics that enhanced Kate Bosworth in "Blue Crush" (2002).

"We said, 'We've got to capture big-wave surfers with big-wave surfers,"' Mr. Hooper recalled in a telephone interview. "I mean, we've seen 'Blue Crush,' where the girl's surfing and all the sudden it's clearly a guy in a bikini."

The filmmakers went ahead and cast the nonsurfers Gerard Butler as Frosty and the newcomer Johnny Weston as Jay, but they also employed the San Francisco film editor and Mavericks surfer Grant Washburn to assist the water-photography director Philip Boston in coordinating a collection of renowned ocean stuntmen and safety experts. …

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