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Film Review: Come Hell or High Water

An uncomplicated tribute to body-surfing

Photo: Chris Burkard, License: N/A

Chris Burkard

Come Hell or High Water


Come Hell or High Water

Directed by Keith Malloy

Like the sport to which it’s dedicated, director Keith Malloy’s ode to body-surfing can be explained in one word: simple. This is not a criticism of Come Hell or High Water—a done-up Blue Crush-esque film would have felt at odds with what the film says about body-surfing. In truth, Malloy’s relaxed take is the perfect pace for the sport.

Come Hell or High Water has a loose story line; it floats through a history of body-surfers, also known as the torpedo people, and briefly delves into some of its heroes, their issues with board-surfers, and even a debate on the pros and cons of wearing a speedo. Malloy introduces certain techniques and different types of waves to viewers but doesn’t inundate the film with boring facts. The movie’s purpose is simply to get viewers to take a moment and appreciate the genuineness and purity of a sport that doesn’t necessitate equipment or hours of extensive coaching. (Hawaiian body surfer Bill Coleman says he was mostly self-taught.)

The film is split between interviews with body-surfers and shots of them riding the waves. While the surfers explain how the sport connects them with nature, Malloy’s message is really understood through his action shots.

To capture the entirety of a body-surfer on a wave, Malloy used 16mm film in just about every angle a viewer could think of. He gets underwater, close-up, from the side, above, and then pans out to emphasize the size of the wave. Shot after shot, surfers glide through the waves like fish. Or, occasionally, make a mistake and fall nearly 20 feet into the ocean. At points, shots seem redundant, but viewers will forgive Malloy, for each is truly stunning. The soundtrack, with the Cave Singers, Eddie Vedder, and more, reinforces the movie’s mellow vibe.

If you’re worried Come Hell or High Water is a cheesy love letter about body-surfing, it isn’t. The film is merely an uncomplicated tribute to the sport. Malloy describes his work as “taking a breath and kicking your feet in the big blue sea.” By the end of its 40 minutes, viewers will feel they did just that.

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