Plastic surgery be damned: A considerably more enjoyable, if unlikely, antidote to the aging process is the subject of “Surfing for Life.” With its dual focus on surfing history and inspirationally active seniors — protags here range from 60 to 93 years old — David L. Brown’s engaging docu should fit nicely in diverse broadcast, fest and specialty theatrical slots.
Pic centers on 10 surfers well past the washboard-abs stage, including several legendary figures in sporting annals: veteran surf photographer “Doc” Ball; catamaran inventor Woody Brown; big-wave pioneer Fred Van Dyke; the world’s first “hot dog” stylist, Rabbit Kekai; former Disney animator (as well as 50-year surf enthusiast) Eve Fletcher; and early board designer/coastal-protection activist John Kelly.
Genial lifelong nonconformists, these subjects discuss the mystical oneness with nature of their chosen “hobby” and its tendency to become an all-consuming passion. (Most admit sacrificing careers, playing hooky from day jobs and driving spouses to distraction with a blissful “Surf’s up, gotta go” compulsion.) They also gently chide today’s commercial-endorsement-chasing, heatedly competitive surfing scene as lacking the “Aloha spirit” of earlier years. Some say this slide began over 40 years ago when the novel and film “Gidget” rocketed surfing from obscurity to pop-culture fad status, cluttering the Hawaiian and Californian coasts with hordes of woody-driving, Beach Boys–blasting surfer wannabes.
Though there are some impressive inside-the-curl shots here, vid-shot “Life” isn’t a thrill-based docu, and there’s a greater emphasis on gender equity than usually found in surf pics. Personalities spotlighted are all disarmingly youthful proof that age needn’t be a barrier to even the most challenging physical activity. “I don’t think you can ever be too old to be stoked,” as Fletcher puts it.
Fascinating archival clips and photos show many of the participants in action decades ago, while suggesting how much farther out of the mainstream the sport was before it became synonymous with the “California lifestyle.” Despite short running time, feature lacks a firm structure, which makes it feel a bit rambling after a point. Nonetheless, offbeat subject and numerous ingratiating elements make it fun, upbeat fare of interest to general auds as well as surfing aficionados. Tech aspects are modest but solid.