Ride The Wave is a breath of fresh air. Tense, moving, and raw, it is a celebration of talent, resilience, and some top-class parenting.
Sitting down to watch Ride The Wave, I wasn’t sure what to expect. All I knew was there would be a good amount of surfing involved, which, to be fair, was pretty accurate. What I didn’t expect, as a complete water sports novice, was the swathe of emotions I would feel from a documentary about surfing. This film is about so much more than thrill-seeking and big waves. It’s about love, pain and the trials of trying to do right by your kids. You’ll laugh, cry and feel stress you didn’t know you could feel through a screen; Ride The Wave is definitely worth a watch.
In the year of Sky Brown’s Olympic bronze and Emma Raducanu’s win at the US Open, teenage talent has held a deserved place in the spotlight. As the film opens and we meet Ben Larg (who won Scotland’s Under 18’s surfing championship aged just 12), it seems we’re about to witness another dizzying success story of incredible young talent. And while there is no doubting Ben’s incredible skill that far exceeds his years, this film is so much more than that. Ride The Wave paints a portrait of a young boy who loves to surf, of parents that just want what’s best for him, and of the realities of a school life that has been less than kind.
Much of the documentary is filmed on the Scottish Island of Tiree, where Ben has grown up with his parents, Marti and Iona, and two younger sisters Robin and Lily. While Tiree might be synonymous with outstanding natural beauty, it also paints a picture of isolation, both physical and emotional, and this theme is explored through the film. Ben has been mercilessly bullied at school for years and has had periods of online and homeschooling. Ben’s mother Iona describes a particular incident where Ben was beaten by his classmates while in the schoolyard, she struggles to hold back tears. Iona’s pain is almost tangible as she wrestles with the desire to protect her children and provide them with the best education, always resolving to preserve their mental wellbeing above all. Iona describes, at times, when Ben was really low, he really threw himself into surfing.
Marti and Iona are shining examples of what parents should be. We’ve all heard stories of pushy parents that can never be pleased and as Ben travels the world in the early part of the film, competing at several international competitions, Marti proves himself to be the true antithesis of this. Ben struggles, loses competitions and battles with self-belief, writing himself off as failing before he’s even entered the water. Through it all Marti is a pillar of reason, encouraging Ben to try whilst always remaining steadfast in his commitment to fun being the purpose, telling his son he loves him and he is proud, everyone needs a Marti.
Marti and Iona reiterate throughout the film that, to them, surfing and competing isn’t about winning, it’s about gaining a wider view of the world. The life experience that Ben gains from non-competitive surfing seem a testament to this. In the latter half of the film, the family travel to Ireland, chasing Ben’s dream of surfing bigger waves. In notoriously dangerous Irish waters, serious and fatal injuries are not unheard of. Iona and Marti are clearly concerned, but are guided instead by their trust in Ben and commitment to encouraging him in his passion. (Spoiler alert) In one of the most tense documentary scenes I’ve watched in a while, we see Ben achieve one of his greatest ambitions. This really seems to be a turning point for Ben, and ties together all the film has been building toward: that, all along, Ben’s greatest competition was himself.
The message of this film is cleverly illustrated in the camera work, which seems to be beautifully cyclical, closing the film with a sense of hope and newfound clarity. The very first frame of the film shows colossal waves crashing on unruly seas. An image that leaves a sense of overwhelming powerlessness. By the end of the film, we see Ben with newfound confidence, a fourteen-year-old beginning to find his way in the world, guided by a renewed sense of self and a passion for surfing. Through some of life’s most difficult times, Ben was able to keep his head above water by throwing himself further into his craft, both a passion and a coping mechanism that allowed him, both literally and metaphorically, to ride the wave, to take what life throws at him, and respond with resilience. Ben reflects on his journey with a touching simplicity that really hits home: surfing is what he wants to do ‘when he’s older…tomorrow and every other day’ it was never the world championships or the big waves that were Ben’s mountain to climb, it was simply his belief in his potential and his resolve to just ride the wave, today, tomorrow, and every other day.
Ride The Wave premiered at the London Film Festival on 16-17 October, 2021, and will be released on DVD and Digital in the UK on 7 November, 2022.