Ride the Wave: Review

Debuting at the BFI London Film Festival 2021, Martyn Robertson’s documentary offers a sensitive
portrait of family, dedication, and youth. Ride the Wave follows Scottish under-18 surfing champion
Ben Larg over three years as he prepares to face some of the largest and most dangerous cold-water waves at Mullaghmore, Ireland.
Even for those uninitiated in the world of surfing such as myself, there is much to like in Ride the
Wave. Robertson’s direction is assured, stitching together interview with Ben and his family, along
with visually arresting images of the ominous, impenetrable blackness of the waves Ben must face.
But highlighting the very real danger of big wave surfing is not at the aim of the documentary,
despite the conversations Ben and his family have with seasoned surfers who’ve severed their
femurs and broken their backs in the pursuit of ‘stoke’ (a term for the thrill found in surfing). Rather
in Robertson’s hands, Ben’s story becomes one not focused on the stresses of sporting achievement – the pressure, the physical toll – but of the trials and tribulations of adolescence. Ben’s interviews reveal a quiet, humble young man, whose dedication to his sport is not spawned by reckless dare-devilry but as an escape from the horrendous bullying he faced. A love letter to family at its core, Robertson lingers on images of domesticity: the family eating together; normal arguments Ben has with his parents. The interviews with his mother, Iona, are especially insightful, contrasting Ben’s quiet confidence in his surfing abilities with her worries, her grief at his bullying, her fear for his safety, and her pride for his achievements.
Despite its opening shots of untamable waves and an unnecessary attempt at heightening the drama by suggesting Ben’s life is in danger in the very first scene, Ride the Wave is a remarkably genuine documentary, charting the development not just of a sportsperson, but of a young man’s blossoming confidence, and is a heartfelt depiction of familial love.

[By Eve Connor (she/her)]

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