“Culture, beauty, and a ton of wipeouts from the world’s best surf spots.”
80 Waves is an almost perfect example of an informational documentary. The plot of the story reads like the video diary of a road trip. Each of the places we view delivers exactly what the tagline promises. We see the local culture, the natural beauty of the area and always some awesome wipeouts. This is very obviously Steve Fagan’s passion project. He’s a surfer from Canada who spent five years traveling with an HD camera to some of the most beautiful places in the world like Bali and Fiji. He’s responsible for directing, shooting, and narrating this film. But the smartest thing he did for 80 Waves was to enlist three other people to help him edit the piece. That decision lends an objectivity which ties the film together in a more cohesive way than I suspect Fagan could have achieved alone.
A number of pro surfers appear in interview segments, talking about surfing without dumbing down anything. Indeed, it’s often a case of me having no idea what they’re talking about when they employ surf lingo. But that is the film’s greatest strength. 80 Waves is made by people who know and love surfing and they’re just happy to share it. If you want to know more about surfing, you’re on your own to look it up.
The most amazing thing to me is the sheer talent it takes to be considered a good surfer. I tend to only see surfing when it’s presented in a movie or the occasional contest on television, so I had no idea what a typical day out surfing looks like. There are so many people in the water at the same time it stuns me that there aren’t more injuries in this sport. Watching the pros slalom through throngs of boards, jet skis, boogie boards, underwater camera operators, and swimmers had me holding my breath as I waited for a collision that never happened.
And speaking of underwater camera operators, those shots are by far some of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen. Looking at the underside of a wave is gorgeous, and the camera is caught in the current to allow you to almost feel what it’s like to be there. The filmmakers know so much about surfing and it’s never more apparent than in their choices of slow-motion shots. They understand what needs to be slowed down, what that choice will reveal to the viewer, and when the opposite is true. Sometimes you need to see just how fast a wave is caught and ridden in order to understand what it means to be a good surfer.
Shot in HD, this is completely gorgeous video. Enhanced every now and then with an additional saturation of the reds, oranges, and golds to showcase the sunset/sunrise; the video could be shown theatrically with no problems. The audio had a pro and a con. The pro was the selection of songs. Every time a song was played a graphic came up detailing the song as well as artist name. They relied on three artists for the whole piece which gives 80 Waves more of a feature film feeling, as the songs combine to make a united soundtrack which never overshadows the pictures they’re accompanying. Each song was perfect for the selection it was paired with and lent a montage feeling that really worked. The con was the mix. The audio was obviously left on when the video was shot and sometimes you can hear the camera operator or someone nearby commenting on the action. It’s very faint but if you listen, it’s there.
The extra features contained something I’ve never seen offered on a DVD. If you place the disc in your DVD-ROM drive you can access desktops for either your Mac or PC. I thought that was pretty nifty. The wipeout gallery has some cheeky captioning that makes the two and a half minutes more fun. Other than that there’s a trailer for the film along with a photo gallery.