The Longest Wave

****

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

The Longest Wave
"You don't need to be a fan of board sports to enjoy the latest documentary from Joe Berlinger, but if you are you'll certainly get plenty of added value" | Photo: Red Bull Films

You don't need to be a fan of board sports to enjoy the latest documentary from Joe Berlinger, but if you are you'll certainly get plenty of added value from a film that acts both as a profile of windsurfing champion and all-round waterman athlete Robby Naish and as a triumph over adversity film.

Naish may not be a household name outside of the watersports community, but within it he is a trailblazer. Winning his first world championship at just 13 back in 1976, he is variously described by the assembled veteran talking heads, including Matt Schweitzer (the son of the inventor of windsurfing) and big-wave surfer Pete Cabrinha, as "a freak of nature", "a superhero" and "an insane competitor".

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Now in his 50s, Naish, who has also excelled in kite surfing and paddleboarding, is still looking for challenges and is intent on taking his paddleboard to hunt and surf the longest waves on earth. Berlinger has always had an ability to see subjects in the round, balancing the focus of films including Crude, Intent To Destroy and Metallica: Some Kind Of Monster, so that the approach feels enjoyably broad without being flabby. Here he, along with tight editing from Cy Christianson (who also worked on Intent To Destroy) surfs the waves of Naish's life, carving one way to show his plan for the longest wave surf with fellow watermen rising star Kai Lenny, who he has mentored from childhood, and veteran Chuck Patterson, 48, while also cutting back to consider Naish's upbringing and adult family life.

In terms of the longest wave plan, things go awry, there is the insult of the weather not doing what it should added to physical injury that comes as a reminder to Naish that he's not quite as young as he used to be, and more personal problems on the home and work fronts. In many ways, this is what makes the documentary more interesting than it might have been, as it gives Berlinger an opportunity to encourage Naish to reflect on his life and attitudes. Slowly a sense of what makes him tick emerges, as he frets about not delivering for the documentary, he admits, "I'm uncomfortable most days" and later when considering his ongoing career he revealing says, "I want to keep being a man".

These honest reflections are surrounded by a lot of less interesting self-help-style commentary from others who suggest the likes of board sports helping the star "heal his soul", but Berlinger also finds emotional resonance in open conversations with Naish's eldest daughter Nani. She takes an engagingly clear-eyed view of her dad acknowledging his failings but also highlighting his more positive attributes. All of this is couched in excellent sports footage, both archive and recent, that takes us into the swell with Naish, Lenny and Patterson, although the omnipresent product placement of Red Bull - which produced the film - and is over the top.

The film is available to watch online for free on the Red Bull site.

Reviewed on: 16 Aug 2021
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The Longest Wave packshot
World champion windsurfer Robby Naish aims to surf the world's longest wave.


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