Honesty ain't always brutal
Last night was the much-too-late SoCal premiere of Distance Between Dreams, a Red Bull film about the trials and tribulations of big wave surfing ft. Ian Walsh and co. Despite the movie’s releases in November, December, and January, I had never seen it. Below is an honest review.
When I was working for Surfing, I’d written that DBD could be the surf movie that surpasses Step into Liquid in terms of mass appeal. That concept was ill-conceived as it failed to recognize how alienating the movie would be, in the sense that it gives no hope to the average land-lubber. Instead of uplifting stories about the Dale Websters of the world, DBD focuses on waves that most of us would never fake a paddle at. Plus, this film lacks the one key component to any true surf blockbuster: Laird!
I asked my girlfriend, a decent surfer but more of a lay-person than not, her opinion of the film. She said she enjoyed but that big waves aren’t really her thing, as it gets a little old watching guys take the same drop over and over. “It’s probably the biggest adrenaline rush in the world,” she explained, “but watching Jaws second-hand gets monotonous.” Her favorite part of DBD was John threading South Pacific tubes and delivering hacks meaner than a drunk, machete-wielding, scorned Mexican lover.
But the Beach Grit community don’t pay no mind to the masses. We are the bourgeoisie of the surf world… not financially of course but in terms of self-importance! And in that spirit I, your humble servant, deliver this report on the actual quality of Ian Walsh’s film: it was pretty good (probably much better at La Paloma than it would be in your cubicles of cynicism) but I’ll likely never watch it again.
The movie is impressive in its production quality, but I’m not a fan of the whole Redbull aesthetic (over-dramatization of peak moments, complete with added wave-crashing audio and the like). Ian Walsh was a wonderful protagonist, being that he is intelligent (high school valedictorian!), handsome, driven and an exceptional talent. The accompanying cast includes a laundry list of the best big wave surfers in the world, Ian’s affable flock of brothers, and John Florence. On paper it’s an easy success, but I do side with my girlfriend in that there’s only so much Peahi a person can take.
This is no criticism of Ian or Shane or Greg’s ability and drive. These guys are genuine role models in and out of the water, and I have a surplus of respect for everything they do. But while the movie is well-made and their surfing very brave, that stink-bug stance really drags you down after a while.
After the film I escaped through a side door and found Ian in conversation with a faceless Redbull teamer. I shook Ian’s hand and told him “good job” because he deserved it. In return I received a firm grip and a heartfelt, eye-contacted “thank you”. Despite having the world wrapped around his finger and Red Bull dollars coming out of his ears, Ian appears to be a good guy with valiant intentions. Although it wasn’t my favorite film, Distance Between Dreams brings useful insight to two wonderful surf families: the genetically-bound Walshes and the bloodless but nonetheless impermeable big wave brothers.
It’s worth a watch, if only once.
Here’s the trailer!