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Anyone who has seen the excellent surfing documentary Step Into Liquid may remember that one of the more interesting aspects of that production was how it covered surfing in... Ireland. While Southern California and Hawaii are the best known surf spots in North America and arguably the world, Ireland is really starting to come into its own and director Joel Conroy, with some help from the Irish Film Board, has crafted a pretty interesting documentary that does a fine job of exploring how this phenomena has grown over the years and why, putting it all into context alongside the countries culture.
Before the film puts Irish surfing into context, however, it has to put surfing itself into context. We start by learning a brief history of the sport, how settlers exploring the islands of the South Pacific were shocked to see people standing on waves, and how it emerged as part of the culture in that part of the world before being co-opted by California where it spread into the consciousness of mainstream Americans. From here, surf culture exploded through the sixties and into the seventies and we meet some of the men who were there and helped usher it along. A huge helping hand in the explosion of surf culture came earlier, however, in the form of George Freeth, an Irish-Hawaiian man who did much to get more people into the sport. This serves as a solid connection for Conroy's film to latch onto as after hearing about road trips through South America and Hunter S. Thompson-style gonzo journalism road trips we eventually find our way back to the Emerald Isle.
Once we're back, we learn about what makes surfing in Ireland different from the rest of the world The coasts, while beautiful and scenic, lack the welcoming soft sandy beaches of California and Hawaii and, as pretty as they are, can certainly look pretty intimidating. These cold and rocky waters, however, offer up some absolutely monstrous waves and we meet a group of surfers who are not in the least bit afraid to take advantage of this.
Throughout the presentation we're treated to some pretty interesting interviews from a diverse selection of people who have input on the subject at hand. A lifeguard and historian named Arthur Verge details a lot of what happened in the past for us and does so with a remarkably infectious enthusiasm that'll easily draw you in if you let it. We're also given a chance to hear from popular modern day surfers like Kelly Slater and The Mallow Brothers, both of whom are featured prominently in the production. Kevin Naughton, one of the participants on the aforementioned South American road trip, is of Irish-American heritage and he offers up not only interesting stories of his exploits from decades past but also lets us in on other aspects of how the sport relates to Irish culture and tradition.
Director Conroy keeps the movie zipping along at a good pace, finding the right balance of interview footage and surfing footage to make sure that we never get bored or tired of the subject. There's some truly breathtaking footage included in here, particularly towards the end when certain participants head out to see in search of some massive waves and find exactly what they're looking for of the Irish coast. The camera captures the excitement and intensity of the sport and juxtaposes it against the quaint landscape and unique coastline. Look for a stand out shot in which a surfer rides a wave right past a massive and antiquated old castle that'll stick with you for some time simply for the odd contrast that it provides.The DVD:
Waveriders arrives on DVD in a 1.85.1 anamorphic widescreen transfer that is sufficient but which won't really wow you. The film is grainy and gritty looking and there are some frequent compression artifacts present throughout the movie. The interview footage looks crisper and cleaner than the surfing footage does, which is understandable given the conditions under which the material was shot, but this isn't a particularly amazing image. Some of this could stem from the fact that the footage shot in Ireland is rather gloomy due to the weather, but the compression artifacts are still there. The movie is certainly watchable, but it's definitely far from perfect.Sound:
Audio is supplied in English language Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound and Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo and the quality here is about on par with the visuals. The interviews are crisp and easy enough to follow, though there are spots where the narration gets a bit lost in the mix. The soundtrack, featuring tracks from the like of U2 and The Undertones, has some nice bounce to it though rear channel activity is relegated almost primarily to the score. Optional English subtitles are also included.Extras:
Extras are slim and brief on this release. Aside from menus and chapter stops, there are some deleted interview bits, a minute's worth of wipeout footage, two minutes worth of more surfing footage, a trailer and a still gallery. None of it is particularly substantial, though the wipeout and surfing footage is at least cool to watch.
Image's presentation isn't one for the record books, but it's passable enough even if it does leave room for improvement. As for the feature itself? Waveriders does a fine job of shedding some light on the unlikely surfing destination that Ireland has become over the years by exploring the history of how it happened and those who helped it get there. It's pretty interesting stuff and recommended for anyone with an interest in the sport.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.