Ride The Wave – Review

Written & Directed by Martyn Robertson

UK/2021/78mins

Rating: 4 out of 5.

When we first encounter Ben Larg, he is twelve, and embarking on a journey to Japan to take part in the under eighteen’s world surfing championships. The Scottish champion has been entering competitions since he was eleven, and quite openly and humbly – accepts that he isn’t the best, in fact, he’s quite far from it. But Ben, perhaps in a determination to reclaim control, to overcome an obstacle he cannot in his day-to-day life, sets his eyes on the dangerously cold waters of Mullaghmore, Ireland. If he gets this right, he joins an elite group, and will certainly be the youngest to do so. If he gets it wrong, well, the consequences are not one to dwell over.

Opportunity awaits. But so too does the danger. Ride the Wave seeks not only to follow Larg’s journey to Ireland, but the dilemmas and collisions his family undergoes in persuing his dreams.

Writer and director Martyn Robertson comprehend the necessity for a documentary such as this to grasp the audience’s visual attention before anything else – and it does precisely that. Somewhat benefiting from the exceptionally magnificent, yet alluring waves and coastlines of the Scottish isles, to the immeasurable beauty and power of the waves by the quaint village of Mullaghmore and the vermillion kissed stretches of Portugal. But Jamie Dempster and Julian Schwanitz’s cinematography extends beyond taking advantage of the landscapes of Ben’s competition locales. A significant portion of the documentaries’ initial act follows Ben and his father’s time in Japan for the world championships, with Dempster and Schwanitz’s camerawork framing the intensity of the bustling neon cities, capturing the significant blending of contemporary and flittering traditional across the country.

Featuring a terrifically composed sound score by Glasgow-based composer and musician Scott Twynholm, which adapts to not only the changing locale but surreptitiously alters with the changing mood of either Ben or the weather itself makes Ride the Wave a remarkably easy documentary to become lost within as the visual splendour is matched tremendously by Twynholm.

But acknowledging the human aspect, by the time audiences have been wowed by the aurora breaking over the waves, Robertson turns to maintain a steady human aspect throughout the film – one which has been ever present but playing a subtle second fiddle to the japes and imagery.

Ride the Wave, on the bubbling precipice, appears a documentary chartering of a young man’s passionate attempts at becoming a world champion in surfing. But below that surface, in the black-azure of the ocean, Robertson’s film is far more a take on a traditional coming-of-age tale situated on an isolated island and the crippling influence of bullying. And, after the initial twenty minutes, is all the deeper for the film’s longevity.

There are limitations to the film, significantly with its conclusion and shorter runtime – the audience is unable to see beyond Ben’s achievements in Ireland and their hopes and aspirations of a better life on the island are left up in the air. In large part, Ben’s parents offer much of the film’s more insightful moments, from his mother’s concerns but pride to his father’s (failed) attempts at relinquishing control to Ben’s surfing coaches. If anything, the documentary could have benefitted from a closer interaction or dialogue with Ben and his family.

Robertson manipulates the turbulence of growing up with the thunderous crashing of the waves for some exquisite (if on the nose) commentary throughout. Ride the Wave speaks not only of these monstrous behemoths out in the ocean but of the habit of small communities to just bide our time and wait things out; that things will get better. And sadly, they often don’t. A visual wonder of a documentary, Ride the Wave never loses sight of its human core, and the young man with his eyes firmly set on not only his prestige and talents but on enjoying his life, irrespective of the cowards we encounter along the way.

Visual Wonder of a Documentary

Ride the Wave will be released to cinemas on September 9th.

Additionally, Glasgow-based composer Scott Twynholm’s score of the film will be released on Vinyl LP and Digital Download by De-Fence Records. 

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