By Laurie Coker

Rating: B-

No one would attend the screening of Chasing Mavericks with me and by the looks on my fellow critics’ faces as they watched; I am guessing my friends are not the film’s niche audience and therefore are justified in not going. I loved the film, because I love the water and surfed as a youngster. I’d probably still surf were I not land-locked here in Austin. Sure the film is a bit touchy-feely, but co-directors Curtis Hanson and Michael Apted (who finished the film after Hanson had a health crisis) include a great deal a of real surfing in their film, and I relished every minute – longing to return to the water. With a decent cast, introducing newcomer Johnny Weston and including Gerard Butler and Elisabeth Shue, amazing surf sequences and a feel-good story, Chasing Mavericks makes for a sweet, inspiring film. Admittedly, however, for me the film was more about what happened in the water and not what took place on shore.

Jay Moriarty (Weston) is what some might call a child of the sea, a natural in the water, a young man, who as a boy, could count the rhythm of the waves and who taught himself to ride them, making a name for himself as a long board surfer at the young age of fifteen. Seven years after a chance meeting (when Jay was only eight) with neighbor Frosty Hesson (Butler), a fellow surfer and father figure, Jay sees the elder man surf Mavericks – enormous waves considered myths by most. Frosty, reluctantly at first, begins a regime of mental, physical and emotional training preparing the boy to surf Mavericks,  forming a close bond with a young man whose real father abandoned him.

Butler is surprisingly good as Frosty, hesitant and gruff and yet when committed, totally engaged in working with Jay (acting as a pseudo-father).  Nicely fit and trim, Butler looks the part of a seasoned surfer. Weston, too, from what I read and have seen about Moriarty, very much looks his part too, expect that is for Weston’s distracting curls (but I digress). Weston demonstrates a youthful zeal for life, an effervescent optimism and winning smile – all attributes spoken about Jay himself. Both Butler and Weston do most of their own surfing for the film, which is nice. Shue plays Jay’s mother, a woman who wallows in the self-pity of abandonment mainly inside a bottle, leaving Jay to care for himself (and her) most of the time.

As a child of the water myself, I can easily forgive faults in storyline, because I went for the waves and the exhilaration of surfing experience and I do understand the drive of the characters. Like most other sports films, Chasing Mavericks is formulaic and sugary. Moriarty did surf Mavericks and he did it just after his sixteenth birthday. He wasn’t alone in the water that day, although Frosty stood on shore, but he alone took a chance that nearly cost his life. He rode, rode Maverick, experienced a monumental wipeout and rode into surfing history, landing him on the cover of Surfer Magazine.

As in most other surfing movies, one character typically tells another that the waves they seek to master present an overwhelming obstacle, and such is the case with Chasing Mavericks, only here, in this the story, our hero is based on a real person and the waves are indeed darn big, the biggest in California. And he does ride the impossible ride – nothing really new here other than the based on a true story aspect, but this mattered not to me. Hanson’s and Apted’s remarkable surfing sequences held my attention, drew me in and had me mentally surfing alongside Jay as he ripped up the waves – a real pleasure, especially for someone, like me, who’s not a particularly gifted surfer. Actually, I do a great deal more paddling back out after wiping out, than I do surfing, but I love it!

Chasing Mavericks won’t appeal to everyone – take my friends in point. It is a coming of age film that could have easily floundered under the weight of its formulaic tale, but because of its cast and incredible surfing scenes, I enjoyed the ride.  Curious, I researched Jay Moriarty and his story is short, but it provides inspiration – if not for his talent and determination in surfing, for his genuine kind-heartedness and zest for life. As I read and after seeing the film, I realized just why a man like Frosty would take the time, why his childhood friend became his wife and why his life warranted a film. I am placing a B- in my grade book – a grade aimed mainly at the film’s time in the waves and not at the story played out on shore.

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