Watch any surfing documentary, from Whipped! to Riding Giants, and youll hear the dudes speak in hushed tones about the treacherous and epic waves that show up off the coast of Northern California when the conditions are just right.
The Mavericks break is legendary, and for years, was considered some sort of myth by those who surfed and had never seen it.
Chasing Mavericks is about the days when that break was acknowledged as real, and the teenager Jay Moriarity who became famous there.
Jonny Weston is Jay, a curly blond who got the surfing bug from his somewhat standoffish neighbor, Frosty. The older surfer, played by Gerard Butler at his most gruffly charming, has a job roofing a gorgeous wife (Abigail Spencer) and a growing family. But his passion is surfing. All flowing locks, a regular Adonis-on-a-long-board, Frosty is one of the children of the tides, he poetically narrates. And his secret is Mavericks.
In a brief prologue, we learn of Jays working-poor background his alcoholic, semi-employed divorced mom (Elisabeth Shue) and his absent father.
Jay lionizes Frosty, and stows away on the guys ancient Ford Econoline van when Frosty sneaks off to Mavericks, of which only a quartet of veteran surfers are aware. They know what the conditions are and are skilled enough to handle waves as high as five-story buildings, a thousand tons of water pounding you, holding you down.
Those are Frostys warnings to the boy. But when his wife points out that there are all kinds of sons, Frosty mentors the kid trains him for that magical three-month window when conditions make Mavericks an epic ride.
Chasing Mavericks tends toward the cute, But the mentor-student relationship works. And the surfing footage is awe-inspiring. The film captures the majesty and violence of the big waves and gives us a taste of their allure.
Its a bit overlong, for the limited scope of the story and narrow vision of the characters. Thats probably due to initial director Curtis Hanson getting ill and being replaced by the equally accomplished Michael Apted in the last chunk of the shooting. Either one, on his own, might have ensured those issues were addressed.
But Chasing Mavericks is still an entertaining dip into a world many talk about, but few have ever sampled first-hand.