Watch any surfing documentary, from “Whipped!” to “Riding Giants,” and you’ll hear the dudes speak — in hushed tones — about the treacherous and epic waves that show up off the coast of Northern California when the conditions are just right. The Mavericks break is legendary, and for years, was considered some sort of myth by those who surfed and had never seen it.
“Chasing Mavericks” is about the days when that break was acknowledged as real, and the teenager — Jay Moriarity — who became famous there.
Jonny Weston is Jay, a curly-headed blond who has gotten the surfing bug from his somewhat standoffish neighbor, Frosty. The older surfer, played by Gerard Butler at his most gruffly charming, has a job — roofing — a gorgeous wife (Abigail Spencer) and a growing family. But his passion is surfing. All flowing locks, a regular Adonis-on-a-long-board, Frosty is one of the “children of the tides,” he poetically narrates. And his secret is Mavericks.
Jay lionizes Frosty, and stows away on the guy’s ancient Ford Econoline van when Frosty sneaks off to Mavericks, of which only a quartet of veteran surfers are aware. They know what the conditions are and are skilled enough to handle waves as high “as five-story buildings, a thousand tons of water pounding you, holding you down.”
Those are Frosty’s warnings to the boy. But when his wife points out that “there are all kinds of sons,” Frosty mentors the kid — trains him for that magical three-month window when conditions make Mavericks an epic ride.
“Chasing Mavericks” tends toward the cute, as Jay’s guru, his sensei, makes him practice holding his breath for four minutes, makes him ride a paddleboard 36 miles across Half Moon Bay, takes him on dives to explore the deadly reef that causes the wave break and assigns him essays on “the power of observation.”
But the mentor-student relationship works. The sense of a time and place is strong. And the surfing footage is awe-inspiring.