It’s ironic that the best film of the summer should come to Asheville when the leaves are starting to change. Step Into Liquid innocently claims to be a documentary on surfing, sort of Everything You Wanted to Know About Today’s Surfing in Less Than Ninety Minutes. In truth, Liquid is a spiritual experience that’s only about surfing as much as a chat with the smiling Dalai Lama could be called a comedy routine.
Surfing is the total immersion into a natural medium — into the ever-changing power and beauty of the body of Mother Earth. Nothing else comes close — not scuba diving, skiing, spelunking or even sky diving. The search for the perfect wave is really a journey of ecstasy. All surfers know this; it’s just that most of them are too busy surfing to learn how to be articulate about it. When you look past Liquid‘s gorgeous bodies and beaches, when you navigate around the butterflies in the pit of your stomach as you share the vicarious thrill of the big waves on the big screen, and when you listen to the subtext under the surfer idiom, you detect the whisper of what these passionate athletes are really experiencing: Riding the waves is the ultimate connection of body, mind and spirit with the divine.
Liquid is a trip through the planet’s best surfing waves, from well-known surfer spots like Hawaii and Australia to remote paradises like Tahiti and Costa Rica, and to surprising destinations like the rocky coasts of County Donegal in Ireland, or the big waves left by tankers in the Gulf of Mexico. Most thrilling is the final destination: 100 miles off the coast of San Diego, where surfers studied the ocean electronically for more than 10 years to predict the possibility of 60-feet-plus-tall perfect waves — and rode them in the experience of a lifetime. The jaw-droppingly exquisite cinematography in Liquid was all done by live camera operators in or under the water, or else hovering overhead at the same time the surfers were riding their waves. There are no special effects here — making the filmmakers’ accomplishment as astonishing as the feats of the athletes they film.
Liquid is the latest in a trilogy of surfing documentaries that started 37 years ago with the classic Endless Summer. That first film, which set the cinema world on its ears with its stunning photography and wanderlust story, was directed by surfer Bruce Brown. A generation later, his son, Dana, directs, writes and narrates Step Into Liquid, which benefits from being the last in the line, because one of its most charming aspects is the Baby Boomer surfers — no matter that their wet suits bulge over their beer guts, these guys can still catch a wave and, in the tradition of surfers everywhere, relive their greatest moments in stories of pure bravado.
In addition to the rapturous old guys, Liquid presents not only elated children on their first day in the surf, but also a whole galaxy of hunky young surfing studs. And, lest we forget, at least three incredible female surfers whose graceful antics on the boards put the guys to shame. The very human characters in the film tell the story of surfing that began in ancient Hawaii, was revived in the 1950s of Malibu’s Gidget, and explodes today with an infusion of technology and creative new techniques.
Even if the closest you ever come to the beach is to sip margaritas at sunset, you owe it to your awe-potential to see Liquid. And if you’re a parent who wants to instill love of nature in your children, this movie is a must-see.
“Awesome!” one young man kept whispering on his way out of the theater at the showing I attended. “Awesome!”
– reviewed by Marci Miller