“Step Into Liquid”: Surfing doc never catches the right wave 

Step Into The Liquid

By Jae-Ha Kim
Chicago Sun-Times
May 28, 2007

2 stars

Artisan Entertainment presents a documentary directed and written by Dana Brown.
Running time: 88 minutes. No MPAA rating.

Dana Brown’s surfing documentary “Step Into Liquid” features lush locations, magnificent waves and rocking surfer bodies. So why does the film feel so much longer than its 88-minute running time?

I liken it to a spa treatment, where the anticipation of soaking in a mud bath or taking a long, hot steam sounds wonderful but, in reality, proves to get old fast. There’s only so much relaxation you can take before you’re antsy to leave.

While the beauty of “Step Into Liquid” is undeniable, Brown does almost too good a job presenting surfers as laid-back, spiritual creatures who make dancing on waves look effortless. We know that what they do can’t be easy, but we are never so immersed in their stories that we really care.

That these surfers do is obvious. One thinks nothing of waiting most of the day to ride the perfect wave. Another likens the high he experiences surfing to what it must be like for druggies addicted to crack.

And another young man–who was paralyzed during a freak surfing accident–returns to the waves, with the aid of some friends.

The son of Bruce Brown, whose “The Endless Summer” (1966) introduced the world to the surfing culture, Brown has his work cut out for him. Besides the legacy of his father’s work, he is competing with Hollywood’s version of the surf world. “Blue Crush,” “Point Break” and those two reality-based surfing series have made the sport a less exotic commodity for the casual viewer.

Brown makes a passing attempt to break the stereotype of the “dude” surfer. But he doesn’t give us a clear understanding of how these people support their passion. Sure, some like Laird Hamilton do quite well on the pro circuit. And we know how “X-Files” creator Chris Carter makes his money. But what about all those other men and women who seemingly surf 24/7, but never have to go into the office?

There are some nice vignettes in this documentary. Brown doesn’t concentrate just on the exotic locales. He includes a trip to Sheboygan, Wis., where the less-than-buff surfers gamely give Lake Michigan’s waves a try.

“Don’t put me in any contest,” says one Midwest surfer. “But I have as much fun as anyone else.”

Sure, Wisconsin’s not as pretty as Maui, the California coast or Costa Rica, but it’s real.

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