The twin Australian ideals of outdoor adventure and ecstatic camaraderie achieve harmonic convergence in the visceral, extreme-sport thrill-ride “Storm Surfers 3D.” Innovatively photographed, the pic features zealous fortysomething Down Under surfing legends Tom Carroll and Ross Clarke-Jones zig-zagging the southern hemisphere in search of waves the size of the Sydney Opera House. Currently touring Australia in one-off screenings with filmmakers and talent in attendance, international preems at the upcoming Toronto and San Sebastian fests will extend the established Storm Surfers brand, as stoked international auds wipe phantom sea-spray from their 3D glasses.
Two-time world champion Carroll and pioneering big-wave rider Ross Clarke-Jones have been best mates since the 1980s. Carroll rose to dominance in the sport, while Clarke-Jones, no slouch himself in the honors department, grew bored with conventional waves and subsequently developed the use of jet-skis to slingshot surfers into ever-larger swells.
In 2005, co-helmers Christopher Nelius and Justin McMillan made a biopic on the larger-than-life Clarke-Jones, and the next year teamed with Carroll (significantly lower- key but no less mischievous) for an assault — “missions,” as they’re now called — on the waves off South Africa’s Cape of Good Hope. The subsequent addition of surf forecaster Ben Matson and co-producers Ellenor Cox and Marcus Gillezeau to the merry band has resulted in a handful of top-rated films and skeins for Discovery Channel (Asia) that foreground the blokey chemistry, the surfers’ fearless passion, and their seemingly more risk-averse weather guru against exotic and untamed locations.
For “Storm Surfers 3D,” the ante is upped considerably as a half-dozen miniature 3D custom camera rigs are mounted to athletes and equipment. (The surfers even clutch a cantilevered camera-topped pole above and behind themselves to film their progress). Likewise, the destinations have become even more remote and dangerous: Over the course of a typically unpredictable southern winter, the troupe mobilizes on short notice to tame swells south of Tasmania, off the coast of Western Australia and, in the pic’s thrillingly white-knuckle climax, the previously unsurfed Turtle Dove Shoals some 50 miles off the western shore in the Indian Ocean.
Story arcs involve Carroll’s apprehension over his imminent 50th birthday and a crisis of confidence amid a pair of bad wipeouts, and Clarke-Jones’ florid reaffirmation of his no-fear approach, even after the pair narrowly avoid a calamitous collision in the surf.
Each man is a father, with Carroll seen doting over his youngest of three, 9-year-old Grace, while Clarke-Jones’ grown son is glimpsed watching dad from shore. The gambit serves to humanize what might otherwise have come across as arrogance. Even so, and despite the pic’s trim 95 minutes, the surfers’ professions of love for their sport, and the surfing sequences themselves, flirt with a repetition offset only by the obvious sincerity and enthusiasm of their friendship and the vertiginous novelty of the images captured.
Tech credits are off-the-Richter gnarly, led by thorough coverage afforded by d.p. Dave Maguire’s modified 3D HD Go Pro cameras and the percussive symphonics of the sweeping score by composer Michael Yezerski (“The Black Balloon”) and Australian Chamber Orchestra leader Richard Tognetti. According to the helmers, a crew of 30 monitored multiple rigs simultaneously, with McMillan usually in the water, and Nelius coordinating coverage from a support boat or helicopter.
Colorful 3D animations are employed vividly to chart weather systems through the southern hemisphere as well as to illustrate Carroll’s childhood remembrances. Toni Collette’s relatively spare narration is pleasantly omniscient. Title card on the version caught appears as “Storm Surfers,” sans the “3D” suffix that appears in most of the publicity material.