Film Reviews

DOC NYC Review: ‘The Longest Wave’

Joe Berlinger hangs ten in latest doc


The Longest Wave
(USA, 94 min)
Dir. Joe Berlinger

In the world of surfing, Robby Naish is a living legend. At the age of 13, back in 1976, Naish won the inaugural Windsurfing World Championship, which could have been a mixed blessing for someone so young. As a kid, did he ever wonder, how do you top that?

As The Longest Wave, Joe Berlinger’s new film, quickly establishes, it’s clear that Naish hasn’t stopped being a champ since then. He’s garnered 24 titles and innovated and mastered kitesurfing and stand-up paddle boarding and created a company that employs other surfers and sells product—sails, paddle boards, and more.

In the classic doc tradition, Berlinger follows Naish for years as he deals with a life-threatening injury, a messy divorce and financial problems. Berlinger and Naish’s original idea, to shoot the legendary surfer as he finds and conquers the longest wave, is transformed into the 50-something champ having to deal with his own mortality. Along for that ride are Naish’s protegee Kai Lenny, the next “big thing” in surfing his very supportive oldest daughter who refuses to dish the dirt to Berlinger about her dad; and a bunch of veteran watermen including the likes of Laird Hamilton and Gerry Lopez.

Berlinger’s film is replete with gorgeous images of the best surfers—Naish and his buddies—flying in the air and riding the waves, framed by glorious skies and the pounding of the ocean. But it’s also about a man negotiating his future: an ex-champ with his head held high. As always, Berlinger has gone deeper into his subject and found something fresh to say.

The Longest Wave premiered at DOC NYC.