Tension, drama, exaltation, loss, and joy. All feelings more typically associated with a Martin Scorcese film than a surf movie. Most surf flicks these days attempt to engage viewers with basically the same formula; a barrage of choppy cuts and flashy maneuvers. The aim is to get you amped to surf. Jack McCoy’s latest film Blue Horizon will inspire you to surf as well, but it goes well beyond simply being a tool to get you excited to go for a dawn patrol–it delivers a great story with emotion.
McCoy is taking the film on a six-week, old-school theater tour–something he hasn’t done in 22 years. While he introduced the film before a packed audience at the U.S. premier at the Edwards Newport theater last night, it was clear the making of the movie combined with the charged atmosphere in the room evoked strong emotions as well. Thanking those who contributed to the film, McCoy fought back tears, leaving no doubt Blue Horizon is a work of passion for him.
Indeed, two years in the making, McCoy nearly died twice while working on the project. Once by going over the falls while chasing a critical water shot at Teahupoo, and again months later when he came down with walking pneumonia. McCoy was generally in jovial spirits though, reminding the crowd that in the classic spirit of surf theater, if you see something you like to “hoot, holler, and cowabunga.
Although Taj and other Billabong riders have some waves, the film focuses on Andy Irons and Dave Rastovich. The two make a perfect duo for McCoy’s venture into a narrative style of filmaking. Between Irons’ intense battle for the 2003 World Title and Rasta’s experimental and tuned-out free-surfing career, the movie strikes a great balance.
While the main focus is on the World Title race, it’s not just a play-by-play. McCoy does an effective job of conveying the emotional ups and downs of a year on the WCT. Slater and Irons, who from the first contest of the year seemed destined to meet in a winner-take-all end-of-the-year-battle, go back and forth throughout the year. Between the two they completely dominate the 2003 season. From Andy’s stumbling start with an early loss at the first event of the year, to his triumphant Bells and Pipeline wins, to Slater’s mind blowing attack at J-Bay, and his solo walk to the showers just after the losing the title at Pipe (and much more), there’s no shortage of drama and incredible surfing. You’ll leave with a better insight into the personalities of both Irons and Slater, and the battle for the 2003 World Title–certainly one of our sport’s greatest stories ever.
Blue Horizonis about more than just hardcore competition, though. Interspersed between the Irons/Slater story is a fresh look into the life of a professional free surfer via Australian stylist Dave Rastovich. Through Rasta, the film explores defining aspects of the history of surfing. These historical sections might not set off the surf amp meter, but they provide a good counterpoint to the rigors of the modern-day WCT. Plus, beyond the little historical sidebars, there’s lots of footage of Rasta that will keep your blood pumping.
To deliver the narrative structure needed to tell the Irons/Slater story, McCoy uses voice-overs in narration. The narration, which is a first for McCoy, is at times funny and well-placed, and at other times a bit distracting and hokey. Still, the strength of McCoy as a master film craftsmen, the tension and excitement of the world title race, Rasta’s free surfing, and a ton of amazing footage makes Blue Horizon a great addition to the growing McCoy film cannon, which now spans 30 years and more than 25 films.
Seeing a Jack McCoy film in the theater is a rare event. If you have the chance, you should go see it, because if you miss it you might be waiting another 22 years.