Review by C.J. Bunce
In the realm of cool it’s really hard not to begin with something like Bruce Brown’s 1966 surfing documentary The Endless Summer. Whether or not you’ve ever tried to surf or even been to the beach, the carefree attitude of these 1960s surfers is infectious. Brown’s follow-up in 1994, The Endless Summer II, showed us what changed–and what hadn’t changed–in the intervening 30 years. A documentary airing the rest of this year on Starz provides another perspective on catching waves. It’s Shorebreak: The Clark Little Story, a highly-praised, multiple film festival pick in 2016 and 2017.
Clark “Turbo” Little is “the award-winning photographer with the largest social media following in the world,” who carved his own niche in the coastal photography market. While other photographers were clogging beaches trying to get the best shot of the most dangerous waves and those attempting to surf them, Little started taking photographs of a world nobody else was paying any attention to: the shorebreak–that zone where the waves hammer the beach, and the photographer takes repeated poundings to get his perfect image. In the documentary we watch director Peter King film Little as he films the unique natural formations that occur inside the waves as they slam him into the surf. The result is a wealth of breathtaking photos that have been featured at international museums including the Smithsonian Institution, in advertisements, in outdoor magazines, and even in a memorable National Geographic Magazine spread. Now a full-time career for Little, his clients include Apple, Nike, Nikon, Facebook, Hewlett-Packard, Toyota, Anheuser Busch, Starbucks, Whole Foods, and more. Little has filmed both stills and video on the North Shore of Oahu, Maui, Kauai, Big Island, California, Japan, and French Polynesia, and published two books, The Shorebreak Art of Clark Little and Shorebreak.
Shorebreak: The Clark Little Story, reveals Little’s pathway to creating his photography subject of choice. It’s a similar kind of mellow ride as found in Bruce Brown’s surfing documentaries–the kind of movie to meditate to or focus in closely with the benefit of quality HD and Little’s beautiful imagery. Little’s work can cause some sore muscles or even a broken neck if not done properly, but his work doesn’t have that tense risk factor of the big surf crowd. Yet he seems to be embraced by the community, walking the walk and talking that very cool vocabulary familiar to the beach community. Little shoots much of his work from nearby his home in Haleiwa, Hawaii.
The film features some nicely edited music by platinum recording artist, Shinedown. The music goes particularly well with the video of the underwater sequences, revealing unimaginable water ropes, turbines, and aquatic air pipes called rib wave vortices that viewers of the documentary are likely to have never seen before. Sometimes it looks like underwater tornados as the biggest waves form just right.
The film also includes footage of Little on a film shoot with a survivor of a shark attack as he takes his first visit back into the ocean swimming with sharks off coastal Hawaii. Little’s animal photography is as engaging as his eye for the best waves.
Catch Shorebreak: The Clark Little Story on demand via Starz through year end, or pick up the show from Amazon here. If you like the documentary, check out a new 2018 ten-part series from Clark Little, Shorebreak: The Series, available now from OutdoorTV via Amazon Prime here.