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The Big Swell: The Life of a Big Winter Swell in the North Pacific cover photo

The Big Swell: The Life of a Big Winter Swell in the North Pacific 2013

Highly Recommended

Distributed by FilmWorks, PO BOX 2072, Santa Clarita, CA 91386
Produced by Peck Euwer and Mike Kasic
Directed by David Pearce
DVD, color, 88 min.

Jr. High - General Adult
Forecasting, Weather, Surfing

Date Entered: 03/14/2014

Reviewed by Cliff Glaviano, formerly with Bowling Green State University Libraries, Bowling Green, OH

This film tells the tale of the waves created by a storm in the western Pacific Ocean, how they were propagated and dispersed over thousands of miles of ocean to break over a week later on the west coast of the United States. The beginning of the film is a fascinating look at wave science and oceanic storm prediction based on satellite information and NOAA weather buoys. In addition to the obvious advantages of storm prediction to ocean going vehicles and as warning for potential beach erosion in coastal settlements, the information is also compiled and disseminated as surf predictions to avid surfers worldwide by way of the internet.

The focus of the film is on big wave surfing and the extraordinary surfers who are brave enough and strong enough to surf the enormous waves that are sometimes generated at Banzai Pipeline in Oahu or at Mavericks surf break in central California. With a strong winter storm surge, breaking waves at either location can be forty to fifty feet in height. From a brief history of big wave surfing that includes the dangers inherent in challenging the fury of waves of such height, the film concentrates on the prediction of possible record surf at Mavericks from a 2004 storm. Interviews with surf historian Sam George, big wave surfers John Raymond and Grant Washburn, and big board shaper Randy Cove explore the danger and dynamics of surf at Mavericks as well as the obsessive attraction of the big waves to those who can successfully ride the world’s largest waves who often move to California to be able to catch perfect big wave conditions at Mavericks.

This video is highly recommended both as an exploration of big wave surfing and as a look at the science involved in wave dynamics and storm surge meteorology. The cinematography and editing are superb while the filmmaker adeptly captures the addictive draw of the biggest waves to expert surfers. Coexisting with and riding along on the big wave is compared with conquering Everest. Aptly so. Fascinating!