When you think of surfing — legends like Kelly Slater, Mark Healy, Laird Hamilton, Bethany Hamilton (and many others!) may come to mind. But what you might not think of are those on the other side of the waves: lifeguards.
While “Big Wave Guardians” is generously gratifying with scenes of clear blue water, big waves and the beautiful Hawaiian island of O’ahu, the documentary also captures the power of the ocean, paying homage to those risking their lives for others to follow their passions, catching that next break or big wave.
Written by Poway High School graduate Jim Kempton, the documentary began as an adventure to capture the spirit of surfers along the North Shore. But as Kempton conducted research, he quickly found the real story was with lifeguards, and not just those on O’ahu.
"There's a real shortage of lifeguards all around right now, and we hope this will inspire a lot of the junior guards or current lifeguards to keep it going," said Kempton.
As for San Diego, Kempton said the lifeguard community is very tight-knit and that it’s amazing to see people’s reactions whether they know nothing about surfing and lifeguarding or they know everything.
The documentary premiered June 24 to much fanfare at La Paloma Theatre in Encinitas. Family of the filmmakers, surfers from across Southern California, local lifeguards and those just curious, like me, were lined up all the way down the block an hour before the premiere.
Once inside, the heroic work of lifeguards was recognized right out the gate. The filmmakers asked all “watermen and women,” as they say in the movie, to stand up before the showing in order to be recognized.
One moviegoer, Courtney Stamatis, has been a lifeguard for the city of Encinitas for three years. Joined by a group of fellow “water people,” she finally got to take in the warm glow of the limelight. “I thought it was awesome."
We don’t often get recognized by the public but there are days you go home and you’re just so proud of yourself,” said Stamatis.
The documentary also highlights how technology has revolutionized safety protocols.
Ever wonder why there are jet skis at every major beach? “Big Wave Guardians” introduces you to the founding fathers of surfing safety, Brian Kealana and Terry Ahue.
Kealana and Ahue teamed up with Kohl Christensen, Pat Chong Tim and Danilo Couto to create the Big Wave Risk Assessment Group, better known as BWRAG. While the group aims to educate local lifeguards, it also aims to spread the message to surfers, teaching them ways they can assist others. By learning certain safety steps, it’s allowed some surfers to be prepared in case of emergency, in some cases saving others' lives.
For anyone interested in seeing “Big Wave Guardians,” it will be playing at La Paloma Theatre through July 14. Tickets are $12 at the door. For more information on showtimes visit La Paloma’s website.