Discovering Mavericks: Film Review

This surfing documentary about tough California waves makes just modest ripples of its own.

Joshua Pomer's surfing documentary explores dangerous Northern California waters and the people who have tried conquering them.

Some of the real-life story behind last year's surfing feature Chasing Mavericks is spottily explored in Discovering Mavericks, an aficionado's documentary with a luxurious amount of vintage footage concentrating on one of the ultimate challenges for big surf experts. The fact that Joshua Pomer's new film is dedicated to seven people who have died trying to master these rough Northern California waters suggests there could be enough drama and history here to interest viewers outside the surfing world. But engaging as it is up to a point, the repetitive footage, extensive talking heads sit-down interviews and haphazard structure will limit this look at one of surfing's holy grails mostly to the sport's inner circle of enthusiasts.

The new work is something of a sister film to Pomer's prize-winning 2010 documentary The Westsiders, which chronicled the rise and fall of the tough surf tribe in Santa Cruz. Discovering Mavericks looks at the action 50 miles up the coast, in Half Moon Bay, a small town with a name far more evocative than the place itself, a barren, wind-swept spot where frigid waters, “cheese-grater rocks” and a sizable Great White Shark population long served as significant discouragements from surfing.

PHOTOS: Life After the Olympics: How 15 Athletes Made Their Way to Hollywood

“Any wipeout at Mavericks can be your last,” one participant notes, a view amply backed up by footage taken over the years that shows 30-foot-high waves rapidly overtaking surfers trying to outrun them or find the elusive barrel. No one even knew about the spot (which is named after someone's dog) until sometime in the 1960s, because it's located a couple of miles offshore, where a canyon exists in the sea floor, and no one rode it until 1975, when Jeff Clark, the film's executive producer and most visible interview subject, went out alone and managed it.

It took a long time for Hawaii-centric big-wave surfers to acknowledge that California might offer similar challenges and, tragically, one of the first things that put Mavericks on the map in a big way was the death of Hawaiian surfing legend Mark Foo, who came to check out the waves in 1994 and drowned on his first try.

It was that same year that the 16-year-old Jay Moriarty became famous for a celebrated wipeout that was captured in a memorable photo. Very quickly he became a surfing star, in part because he stood out from the generally surly group of Northern California surfers due to his impeccable manners, warm smile and “monastic” approach to training. Moriarty's personal appeal and premature death at 22 made him a good subject for what became Chasing Mavericks, and the documentary adds less to his story than one might hope.

PHOTOS: Going for Gold: 10 Medal-Worthy Olympics Movies

Generally, the film meanders around without much discipline, letting various veterans relate their own experiences, showing plenty of quite similar shots of guys both crashing and zipping across Mavericks over the years and documenting the Mavericks surf contest that began in 1999 and annually takes place around Christmas, “surf permitting.” The almost incessant electronic musical score is lathered on in hyper-dramatic fashion.

Venue: Santa Barbara Film Festival

Production: Mauli Ola Foundations

Cast: Jeff Clark, Kim Moriarty, Gerard Butler, Tom Powers, Jack O'Neil, Richard Schmidt, Peter Mel, Flea Virostko

Narrator: Dean Winters

Director: Joshua Pomer

Writer: Nicole Pomer

Producers: Sean Mauer, Phil Weiskeler, Joshua Pomer

Executive producer: Jeff Clark

Editor: Joshua Pomer

Music: Bryan Berge

75 minutes