To a non-surfer, surfing movies always seem to have the same strengths and weaknesses. We get to meet some pretty interesting and crazy guys (by most standards of normalcy), and we get to watch them tackling wave after wave in shots that are often as spectacular as the large and powerful curls of water that seem to beckon, to hardcore surfers, like nature’s sirens. But plot and character development—even for documentaries—is always slight, and that leads to a lot of repetition.
In the case of “Storm Surfers 3D,” a big-budget film that’s being released in 3D Blu-ray, Blu-ray, and DVD, we follow surfing legends and thrill-seeking pals Ross Clarke-Jones and Tom Carroll as they spend a summer looking for great waves that roll in with big storms. Clarke-Jones is among the world’s best tow-surfers, which to a casual observer seems a cross between surfing and water skiing. The surfer, in wetsuit, is pulled into position on top of a huge cresting wave and then lets go of the rope and glides down to catch a ride in front of the wave or “shoots the curl.”
We watch Clarke-Jones and Carroll as they grab tow rides at Cow Bombie, Ship Stern, the South Coast Bombie, as well as a brand new area the pair had just heard of that’s some four miles off shore—a place called Turtle Dove Shoal—where huge waves grow even more powerful when they come up against a shoal in open water that’s just under the surface. These guys are as serious about finding waves as bass fisherman are about finding fish. Instead of sonar they enlist the aid of surf forecaster Ben Matson, and outfit for each trip as if it were a safari.
Surfers will delight in watching these two “bad boys” do their thing. Even non-surfers will enjoy watching the men and others as they do the improbable. With miniature 3D cameras mounted on boards and others held in free hands, there are plenty of angles that reinforce what it might be like to actually challenge big waves like these. When the men wipe out, though, it’s always a long shot, and maybe it’s just as well. These are likable guys, and you don’t want anything to happen to them.
Carroll, who was voted Number 7 on Surfer Magazine’s list of “Greatest Surfers of All Time,” provides the most interest, insomuch as he’s conscious of his body starting to slow down. At age 49 he has three daughters, the youngest of whom is eight years old, and he’s clearly devoted to his family. As his body ages, he wants to stay within his physical limitations, but as episodes of horseplay with Clarke-Jones show, he’s also a big kid who emotionally “stopped aging at age 17.” The tension between those two impulses provides the film’s only drama, since there’s really no rising plot build-up to the wave riding. Every wave we’re told they could get hurt, but the speed with which this film is edited and the matter-of-fact insertion of clips—in which the men say, over and over, how they get a rush out of it and that it’s worth the risk—make the narrative pretty even-keeled.
Clark-Jones has a singular moment of narrative drama in Botany Bay, where younger and stronger surfers in their twenties and early thirties have found a short stretch of waves that pack as much power as big waves twice their size because they roll in alongside a bank of rocks. If you wipe out here, there’s a good chance you’ll be carted off in an ambulance. And it’s here where we see Clark-Jones a little tentative at first, then coming back strong after wiping out.
Non-surfers may wish for a few more internal human conflicts to go with all of the man versus nature big-wave riding, because they provide additional depth and a welcome break from the repetition of watching the men surf wave after wave and talk about how exhilarating it is. Like other surfing movies, “Storm Surfers 3D” can’t seem to offer much more of an explanation other than the “rush” it gives surfers, and that it’s the best feeling in the world. We still don’t know, though, why Carroll would risk his life surfing an unknown open-water spot like Turtle Dove when he’s admitted how devoted he is to his three girls. And maybe that’s because even he doesn’t know the answer.
“Storm Surfers 3D” (2012) has a runtime of 95 minutes and, though not rated, would probably merit a G rating.
I don’t know why anyone would prefer to watch a 3D movie in anything but high definition, but we were sent a DVD, and so that’s what I’m reviewing. I can say that for a DVD, there’s a huge amount of detail and very little grain, and you can really tell it was filmed using 3D cameras because there’s also an uncommon depth to each shot. Colors are also bright and nearly as bold as these two surfers. Flesh tones look great, and, yes, black levels are strong enough to provide for a rich-looking series of images. However, HD cameras weren’t used entirely during filming, and some scenes stand out as being less sharp and distinct. “Storm Surfers 3D” is presented in 1.78:1 aspect ratio.
The English Dolby Digital 5.1 audio is surprisingly powerful, but it makes me wish for HD audio all the more. Sound is nicely channeled across the rear effects speakers, and moves logically across the sound field. The bass doesn’t have a great deal of presence, but rather just enough to fill out the low end.
There are scant extras. Get up to use the bathroom when you put on “Behind the Scenes with the Directors” and it will be over by the time you return, no matter how fast you are. It runs only three minutes, and doesn’t really tell you anything you can’t guess or figure out. Then there’s a three-minute feature on Clarke-Jones’ and Carroll’s “Need for Speed,” which is basically just an extended car-racing segment that didn’t make it into the film. Other than the theatrical trailer, the only other bonus features are 10 minutes worth of profiles, and if you divide by three (Matson is included here) they too fall in the three-minute range.
There’s more drama in the waves than there is in this 2012 film, which depends more on state-of-the-art 3D digital photography than on a script or any sense of plot or character development. But fans will enjoy views we haven’t seen before on other surfing movies.