Chasing Mavericks is the biographical tale on the late surfer Jay Moriarity (played by Jonny Weston), charting his rise to prominence after caught on camera riding one of the most treacherous waves during the El Nino season in the late 90s when he was just 15 years of age. But this film is not so much of a celebration of the life of someone which was almost like a comet that burned too soon, but rather a celebration of the values the character stood for, in the willingness to invest time, energy and loads of hard work to pursue one's dreams, at whatever the cost.
Jay got introduced to surfing after being inspired by neighbour Frosty Hesson (Gerard Butler), who saved his life at sea when he was little. That left a very big impression, and not before long, Jay picked up the basics from best pal Blond (Devin Crittenden), before going further on his own to claim some local championships along the way. In following Frosty one night, he got even more impressed with Frosty and his buddies riding of "Mavericks", a mythical wave that stayed mythical because of the deliberate zipping of mouths by those who surfed it, in order to keep all the wannabes away to come soil in their sandbox of fun.
But Jay is adamant in breaking into the big boy's club, and a training pact got formed between Jay and Frosty, where the latter would become trainer, and the trainee would have to work on his terms, meaning the building of four essential pillars of physical, mental, emotional and the spiritual, before being allowed to partake in what Frosty described would be akin to a fifty foot drop onto a slap of concrete with tons of bricks that follow on, in the event something goes horrendously wrong. It's extreme sports with high risks, mitigated only through the best of training and meticulous research. 12 weeks become the deadline to do so, before one has to wait for another season.
What directors Michael Apted and Curtis Hanson didn't do, which would be usual for a lazy or mediocre director, was to montage the entire training sessions, cut to the chase and focus on the many other challenges that Jay, as a sportsmen, would have encountered in his professional career. The story by Jim Meenaghan and Brandon Hooper is firmly rooted at the cusp of one's career, taking us through the school of hard knocks to pick up lessons applicable in life, put into the context of surfing. And it helped that the training involved getting the basics right, and pushing it a lot further. It would probably be at a 101 level, and probably the first time I'm seeing provisions being made for a water bottle to be placed on a training board used for endurance distances.
As subplots, there is the requisite romantic dalliances between Jay and the love of his life Kim (Leven Rambin), made a little more complicated not only due to their differences in age, but Kim's refusal to acknowledge their relationship, especially when in public. One can imagine how a difficult love life would affect any sportsperson. Then there's the adversary. The largest wave to occur cannot be an adversary that will torment our protagonist since it's expected only in the finale, so a bunch of peers, in addition to what I thought was a very weakly designed turncoat of a friend, became antagonists, if only to drag the story a little longer because Jay usually walked away from challenges, having no time for petty scuffles and preferring to turn pent up angst into more training time on the surfboard. Something to pick up there as well.
But what I felt was the best story arc that provided this film its emotional core, was that of Frosty and his family, with the dad firmly preferring to spend time on his passion, than to have time for his kid, although through his parenting/coaching of Jay, this something of a father-son bond formed would be the catalyst for change. And this worked out very well to flesh out both Jay and Frosty characters, as they each have to handle their personal demons as well as tragedy, having to lose some as they gained others in the circle of life. While one quite can't come to terms with Jonny Weston trying his very best to portray a 15 year old, if not for Jay's maturity in having to pursue his dream, his lady love, and to keep an extra eye out for his mom (Elizabeth Shue), there is Gerard Butler to counter that expectation and disbelief as the no nonsense expert who is hell bent on imparting his knowledge and skills the only way he knows how to.
By the time El Nino rolls along together with the climatic moments in the film, they become nothing more than a formality and a crowning piece to a tale told in effectively simple ways, and in no less emotionally engaging. Surfing sequences in the high seas were also stunningly choreographed and captured, in case you need to know. Recommended!