Surfing's been so mythologized over the years that you start to wonder whether we really need another documentary about it. Well, here's one anyway: Stacy Peralta's Riding Giants, which traces the sport's 1,000-year history but mostly focuses on the quest for killer waves during the last 50 years or so. Thanks to lighter boards, the use of jet skis as high-speed towboats and the promise of a $250,000 prize from an Australian surfwear company, big-wave surfers have set their sights on the so-called Jaws reef off Maui, which, after some winter storms in the Pacific, is capable of producing the elusive 100-foot wave, a full 30 feet higher than the highest ever surfed and recorded. Are these guys out of their minds? Sure they are, but the documentary, which gives equal time to the endless summers of the '50s through the '90s, reminds us that surfers have always been a little out of it - part daredevil, part beach bum, giving a middle-finger salute to the Man in the Grey Flannel Suit.
Meanwhile, the sport itself has changed, become commercialized. When Greg Noll ruled Waimea Bay on Oahu's North Shore during the '50s and '60s, there were no $250,000 prizes, just 30-foot waves. And when Jeff Clark spent 15 years exploring the treacherous waters of northern California's Half Moon Bay during the '70s and '80s, there weren't even any other surfers around, just jagged rocks and sharks. But with the advent of extreme sports, surfing has had to kick it up a notch, and it may not be a coincidence that Laird Hamilton, who owned the '90s and may be the greatest surfer of all time, also happens to be a former GQ model. Peralta doesn't make much of the fact that surfing, in the days since Gidget started laying pipe, has gone from a pastime to an industry. To him, it's still all about finding, catching and riding the perfect wave. And when you watch his marvelous footage - tons and tons of it, starting in the early '50s - you tend to agree with him.