A small confession: I don't 'get' surfing. Never have. Don't read me wrong, I don't dislike the activity, just fail to see what all the fuss is about. In one dispiriting episode, I even spent two hours crashing about in the sea in a (mostly unsuccessful) attempt to catch a wave, only to emerge wet, cold and no further enamoured with the enterprise.
With an over-reliance on slow-motion montages and talking heads, 'Waveriders', a documentary focussing on the Irish roots of worldwide surfing and on Ireland's potential for the sport nowadays, largely mirrors my feelings for the sport.
I know that it might be good, and plenty of people might find it enjoyable, but as much as I try, I'm not one of those people.
Narrated by Cillian Murphy and starring, among others, nine-time World Champion Kelly Slater and present day surf 'poster-boys' the Malloy brothers, 'Waveriders' works best when it has something to say to keep the non-converted out there entertained.
Divided more or less into three acts, the first of these, by far the strongest and most engaging, tells the unlikely story surfing's Irish roots, and in particular one of its first exponents, George Freeth.
Son of an Irish emigrant and Hawaiian mother, Freeth is credited as the 'Father of Modern Surfing'. Freeth brought a sport which was on the verge of becoming extinct into the limelight, and was in all senses of the word a pioneer.
First in Hawaii and then to a greater extent in California, he is justifiably credited with starting the sport and giving it international exposure. It's a fascinating tale, and skilfully told through a variety of means, but not enough to hang a whole movie on.
After telling Freeth's story, the documentary loses its way. A lack of real material and a repetition of tired old clichés (along the lines of 'me and the water', ‘freedom of it all' etc, etc) combine to make the film drag.
The documentary returns to Ireland in the final act, as present day surfers seek to explain why Ireland, although rather unlikely, is a top destination for surfers. The inclusion of Kelly Slater and the Malloy brothers, globally recognised surfing brands, does much to lend credibility to the film and in what is an enthralling climax, surfers tackle what is possibly the largest swell ever recorded to reach these shores.
'Waveriders' can be commended for many things, from bringing an unsung (Irish) hero to the large screen, to exploring a phenomenon in Ireland that is still, relatively speaking, outside the mainstream. The photography is stunning, with wave upon wave captured and slowed-down, giving the audience a view of how majestic the sport is. Be it night-surfing at 3am, or the Cliffs of Moher with waves the size of houses crashing against the beach.
The problem, however, lies in the over-reliance of these shots, to the point where it borders on repetition. To non-surfers out there it makes the film, which clocks in at under an hour-and-a-half, seem a lot longer than it actually is. Additionally, too many times throughout the film the audience is sermonised to by people who think the very act of surfing is up there with quantum physics. This constant reminder that surfing is a form of religion or semi-mysticism can get a bit too much to take for the sceptics out there.
The initiated won't mind about that, and I know enough people out there who love the sport and will go see this film and get a real buzz out of it. For those yet to be converted, however, they might still be scratching their heads as the end credits roll, wondering what all the fuss is about.