Haakenson: 'Chasing Mavericks' a surf movie like no other

Hate to break this to you "Blue Crush" fans, but the best surfing movie ever made is about to hit theaters.

"Chasing Mavericks" will be released Friday, and it's bound to be a surf movie like no other. At least, that's what San Clemente native and big wave surfer Greg Long says.

Long worked as a consultant for the film and ultimately — albeit reluctantly — acted in it, as well. But in order to be involved in the project, Long was insistent that the movie reflected reality.

Too many surf films produced by Hollywood are just plain cheesy and portray outdated stereotypes of surfers and surfing.

Peter Mel and Zach Wormhoudt worked alongside Long as consultants and provided powerful influence on the directors of the film, Curtis Hanson and Michael Apted.

"When test shooting began about three years ago at Mavericks, our first reaction was you can't go ahead with this unless it's done right," Long said in an interview with surfline.com. "What we meant by that is that we — meaning the entire surf community — know what Hollywood has done to most other surf movies in the past.

"There have been guys in bikinis doubling as women [Mickey Muñoz in 'Gidget,' and Noah Johnson in 'Blue Crush'], terrible projected backdrops [Tab Hunter and James Mitchum in 'Ride the Wild Surf'], and the switching from going left to going right [Keanu Reeves and Patrick Swayze in 'Point Break']."

"Chasing Mavericks" is the story of Jay Moriarity, a big-wave surfer who first surfed Mavericks at age 16 and was taken under the wing of local Mavericks legend Frosty Hesson. Moriarity died one day before his 23rd birthday on June 15, 2001, but it didn't happen surfing a big wave.

Moriarity was on the island of Lohifushi, one of the islands of the Maldives in the Indian Ocean, for a photo shoot with O'Neil. During a break, Moriarity went free diving alone and didn't return. His body was found that night, the victim of an apparent drowning.

Long, Mel and Wormhoudt initially had their doubts about the project.

"We questioned if we could actually make this film in a way that it maintained the integrity of Jay's story — a story that holds a strong place in a lot of people's hearts," Long said. "Plus we needed it to know that the image it would cast on big-wave surfing would be a positive one.

"The sole purpose of me being involved, and why I accepted the job, was based on the idea that if I could help make this movie better in any way and bring Jay's story to life and to the world, then I was going to be involved."

Long was more involved than he anticipated he'd be.

"I didn't go to any of the initial casting calls because I didn't want to get into that side of things," he said. "But they kept asking me to read some lines — they were looking for surfers that could act because you can't get just any actor and put him out there at Mavericks and expect them to look natural."

Long plays the part of Mavericks patriarch Jeff Clark.

Filming at Mavericks was no easy task, as actor Gerard Butler found out. Butler, who played the role of Hesson, had only recently learned to surf when he found himself in the lineup at Mavericks and wound up getting worked.

"We were trying to get a shot of us paddling out with the rocks in the background, which had us on the inside," Long said. "There were waves breaking out at the main peak that day but barely capping. Besides the film crew, it was just Gerard, me, Jeff Clark, Grant Washburn, Peter Mel and Zach Wormhoudt out there.

"And there it was, just a wide set out of the north; the whole main peak just shifted into the channel and kind of doubled up inside the second bowl. We came over the first wave and suddenly it wasn't a question of if we were even going to be able to make it to the channel on the next one — we were going to get caught inside. So we just said to [Butler], 'Gerry, paddle toward the channel and get ready.' So we took a couple of strokes to get as far wide as we could, then the last thing I said to him was, 'just relax.' And then he took a legit 20-foot wall of whitewater on the head. … His leash broke and he took three more solid ones on the head before Grant could get him on the sled — he almost went into the rocks. He was rattled, but he handled it."

According to Long, it adds up to a movie surfers and the surfing community can be proud of. And the surfing footage is epic.

"The footage that was captured is like nothing anyone has ever seen before, given the equipment and number of angles used," Long said. "It's mind-blowing stuff, as well as the movie's ability to explain big-wave surfing and the psychology and physical preparation required to do what we do.

" 'Chasing Mavericks' is going to open up the eyes of a lot of people who may know about surfing, but not necessarily big-wave surfing, as well as those that don't know anything about surfing. From that side of the story — aside from being extremely motivational, inspirational, and respectful toward one of surfing's greatest heroes — it's going to do fantastic things for our sport."

JOE HAAKENSON is an Orange County-based sports writer and editor. He may be reached at joe@juvecreative.com.

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