There’s an old joke that cave divers grow their hair long to cover the scar from where their brains were removed. You can probably apply it to big-wave riders too. Like leaping off a multi-storey car park on a dinner tray, these daredevils play chicken with the ocean as they cascade down 60-foot swells, with one misjudgment condemning them to serious injury, or worse.
Forever in pursuit of the next colossal, unsurfed break, legendary big-wave surfer Andrew Cotton is a chilled dude ever so slightly on the edge in this free-spirited and quietly touching doc – a kind of west country Bodhi from Point Break (albeit his side hustle is plumbing not bank robbing). Aerial footage of the man riding the epic seas of Nazaré in Portugal offer a reminder of the enduring appeal of dry land.
Cotton is one of the two contrasting poles in Mikey Corker’s cleverly constructed, bracingly told story. The other, English sailor and modern adventurer Matt Knight, is his partner on a quixotic mission to find that perfect wave. A journal written by a 19th-century treasure hunter called E F Knight serves as a kind of treasure map to their destination – a handful of rocky atolls in the Atlantic called the Savage Islands – and Charles Dance’s narration of the text is every bit as eloquent and evocative as you’d imagine. (‘The uneventful days passed by and I grew stout on laziness, salt beef and duff,’ recites Dance of a particularly glum moment for the mariner.)
The spirit of Robert Louis Stevenson and seafaring adventure courses through this special doc
The spirit of Robert Louis Stevenson and seafaring adventure courses through the film. Arrowing through the Atlantic one minute, becalmed the next, triumph and disaster are equally frequent visitors for Knight and his adventurous family, while Cotton’s pressing need to push his career forward and generate content adds a different kind of pressure to their mission. There’s canny parallels throughout between this tiny band on their catamaran and their 19th century forebearers. The ocean is just as mercurial, unpredictable and deadly now as it was back then.
Much more than just a surfing or sailing film, Savage Waters offers sharp insights into the unique psychology of extreme sports, the power of a united family, and the daring and resilience it takes to reach your goal when your every instinct is to play it safe. It teases the tantalising idea that life’s uncharted corners are where the real treasure lies. Just lay off the salt beef and duff.
In UK cinemas Oct 27.