Hollywood producers only expected a few minor challenges when giving the story of legendary big-wave surfer, Jay Moriarty, the green-light. Clearly, they underestimated the task at hand.
The 55-foot “Huli Cat” nearly capsized at Mavericks, off the coast of Half Moon Bay, Calif. Photo: Frank Quirarte
Back in December, during early filming, actor Gerard Butler nearly drowned after being caught inside by a set of 25-foot waves. He endured a frightening two-wave hold-down, and was rushed off in an ambulance after rescuers got him ashore.
This week, with huge swells pounding the coast near Half Moon Bay, Calif., filming resumed at Mavericks, which is the most revered big-wave spot in North America. Wednesday and Thursday were banner days of surf. But according Ken “Skindog” Collins, and other local surfers, the perfect conditions — sunny skies, light winds, and glassy surface — may have lulled many into a false sense of security.
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Among those lured into danger were the crew members aboard the 55-foot Huli Cat. The boat, which served as home-base for the film crew and thousands of dollars worth of equipment, barely escaped a batch of rogue waves– but not before getting slammed by a giant wall of whitewater and nearly capsizing.
South African Grant “Twiggy” Baker makes annual treks to Mavericks for waves like this. Photo: Quirarte
“Their intention was to get close to the lineup…but not that close,” says Frank Quirarte, a Mavericks photographer who works as part of the water rescue team in his spare time. “They’d made a few close escapes earlier, then that happened.”
The challenge for cinematographers of the film is capturing the massive waves while also delivering sense of scale. Of course, nothing provides perspective like sticking a 55-foot boat in the foreground of your shot. Maybe that’s why the crew had the Huli Cat operating in a dual role– as a film target and command center.
“If you’re on one of the zodiacs you can get out of trouble in a hurry,” says Quirarte. “Not so on that thing. That was a scary moment.”
While some aboard were checking their underpants afterward, Grant Washburn, one of the men hanging-on in the back of the boat, was remarkably cool throughout the ordeal. Washburn is a respected Mavericks icon who was a close friend of Moriarty’s. As a consultant on the film, his job is to ensure the project’s authenticity. After all, the last thing Moriarty would want is for Mavericks to be bastardized by green screens and CGI.
The story of Jay Moriarty is, in many ways, the story of Mavericks. In 1994, when Moriarty was just 16, he became part of surfing lore after surviving one of the worst wipeouts in history there. A photo of his harrowing ride landed him on the cover of Surfer Magazine. Then, just three days after that incident, legendary Hawaiian surfer Mark Foo was killed at Mavericks. The stunning week of powerful surf combined with the Foo tragedy propelling Mavericks onto the global stage. Moriarty, too, was vaulted into the limelight thanks to his impressive performances the rest of that year.
However, Moriarty’s life was tragically cut short during a free diving accident in 2001.
These days, boats are a regular fixture in the lineup at Mavericks because the break sits more than a half mile from shore. Professional photographers use them as perches while surfers hitch rides back and forth to shore and store spare boards on them. The numbers of boats has been increasing ever since NOAA’s controversial decision to ban the use of personal watercrafts at Mavericks in 2010.
Scary episodes aside, those close to the film say they’re extremely happy with the footage they’ve managed to capture. After last week’s incredible swell, they believe the audience will understand exactly what it looks like to have a 30-foot wave approaching.