“Chasing Mavericks” is a biographical movie which centers around the true story of how 16 year old surfer Jay Moriarity attempts to brave the 25 foot plus high waves of Maverick’s at Pillar Point Harbor, in Northern California. In order to do so, he’ll need to get coaching from a neighbor who actually surfs the spot. Along the way, the two form a familial-strength bond.
“Mavericks” gets a bit out of its depth, trying to cover dramatic material from the characters’ lives, but it’s not a total wipeout. There’s plenty of incredible surfing, and a decent portrait of the undeniable drive that motivates extreme athletes.
As a young boy, Jay Moriarity (Jonny Weston) was swept into the ocean and nearly drowned. His life was saved by a surfer from his neighborhood, Frosty (Gerard Butler). After, Jay understandably becomes obsessed with learning how to surf, and begins to idolize Frosty. He grows to be quite a capable surfer, but somehow, Frosty’s respect eludes him. So one early morning, when he catches Frosty loading up his big wave surfboard, Jay stows away atop Frosty’s van. After a ride of several hours north, he discovers Frosty’s secret surf spot.
Known only to a handful of elite, big wave surfers, Mavericks is a rocky point that routinely gets 20 foot waves. With the right conditions, they can reach over 30 feet high.
Watching Frosty and his friends surf the enormous break, Jay becomes obsessed. He becomes dead set on surfing Mavericks himself. Frosty initially denies Jay’s pleas for advice and training, but his wife points out to him that there’s no stopping it. Jay will surf Mavericks, with or without his help. Frosty realizes the truth in what she’s saying, and begins training Jay to handle the massive waves. But he also challenges Jay to push through his issues of abandonment (his father left when he was young) and his problems with his alcoholic mother (Elisabeth Shue), in order to be the strongest person he can be. That process brings Jay and Frosty closer, until they share a quasi father-son bond.
There are some times when that weighs the movie down, unfortunately. Not necessarily the Frosty/Jay relationship, but all the ancillary dramatic issues. The two deal with romantic relationships, friends with drug issues, local bullies, and of course family issues. It winds up a bit of a drag, I just don’t think that the movie has enough talent to support the dramatic weight of some of the things it attempts. And every moment they’re not surfing or training feels like a missed opportunity.
Because when they ARE surfing, “Mavericks” is pretty intense. The surfing action is pretty incredible, and they do an excellent job of establishing the waves at Mavericks as monstrous and potentially deadly (multiple deaths have occurred surfing the point). They also do a good job of showing the drive and obsession that burn within extreme athletes. These people defy death in order to conquer challenges and experience the ultimate rush.
The exhilaration of the surfing sequences is worth paddling out through some of the dramatic chop.