The Season That Changed Big Wave Surfing
Stab reviews Nervous Laughter.
Last week, Albee Layer told Stab that his new movie Nervous Laughter was just like Ian Walsh’s dramatic big-wave documentary Distance Between Dreams, except rated R. He lied.
I know that he lied because I recently watched Nervous Laughter and it was not rated R. There were no drugs in it. No sex, either – although the way they interact with Jaws makes you think. Very touchy. Very intimate. And what really is a vest if not just a big red man-condom designed to save you from trouble beneath the surface?
The thing is, though, Nervous Laughter doesn’t need sex or drugs. It has something more powerful. It has Laird.
As the film kicks off, you get Lairded straight into the history of Jaws. I didn’t think I’d dig this, but I dug this. Never hurts to glance in the rearview. Plus, this bit showed the scope of the story Albee and his partner at Take Shelter Productions, Dan Norkunas, set out to tell.
That story was the one written during the 2015-2016 El Nino season. That season is the one responsible for the hardest shove high-performance surfing has received in recent memory. Big wave surfing changed that year. Straight up. It changed the way people look at big waves and it changed the way they ride ‘em. It’s all about performance now, and it’s the furthest cry from the Yamaha engine of the esoteric mess that used to define big wave surfing. Fuck evolution. That was a time machine.
Nervous Laughter exposes that special period through the lens of five friends – Albee, Dege O’Connell, Billy Kemper, Kai Lenny and Torrey Meister. That season meant different things to each guy. Some of them walked away with a BWWT Tour win. Some of them walked away with an XXL Award. Some of them didn’t walk away at all and got sent to the hospital. Details vary, gravity is consistent.
The whole production felt very behind-the-scenes. It ain’t a bunch of dudes in hyperbolic chambers talking about water temps off the Aleutian Islands. Instead, it gives you a sense of what the moments before the moments are really like – then it gives you the action. Each major session of the season is introduced with a neat little graphic showing the swell height, period and direction along with the wind speed and direction. Then off we go.
Now, spoiler alert: you’ve already seen the best waves. You’ve read about those sessions. You’ve seen it all hidden in frantic headlines and forgotten Instagram posts. And hey, maybe that’s enough for you. Too many repurposed dog memes getting around for you to want to commit 90 minutes to something of substance. I get it.
But if you’re in the mood for a humanising documentary about a special time when a levy exploded open and created a wave that’ll surge into the future of big-wave surfing, then buy Nervous Laughter here.
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