Savage Waters is the best surf movie of the year…it’s not a surf movie

The sloth

It’s not really a surf movie I love that about it,” British big wave surfer Taz Knight tells me from his home in Bundoran, having just shook a few waves at Mullaghmore. “Mikey, the director, was concerned that there wasn’t enough focus or surfing footage. But I think it’s great that in the five years that we’ve been making the film, the story has evolved a lot more from the idea we started with.”

knight speaks wild watersa 90-minute film that has won Best Documentary, Best Cinematography, Best Soundtrack and Best Director awards at numerous European film festivals since it premiered this month.

Not that the original idea was bad. Taz’s father, Matt, came across a 19th-century treasure hunter’s journal on a trip to the Salvage Islands in the middle of the Atlantic. For Matt, an experienced sailor (Taz was born and named after a brutal crossing of the Tasman Sea 24 years ago) and avid surfer, a passage from The cruise of the Alert let his salty veins pump.

The Knight family, the beating heart of this beautiful film. Photo: Craig Maddison

“A huge green roller, very high and steep, rose suddenly as if by magic from the depths…then swept across the shoal, when it reached the shallowest part, its crest veiled, and formed a cavern below through which the sun shone a beautiful green light.”

Matt decided to seek out and ride the mythical never-ridden wave in one of the most remote and dangerous waters of the Atlantic Ocean. He enlisted his 30-year-old wife and co-pilot Suzanne, Taz and his talented surfing sister Peony, and longtime friend and big-wave legend Andrew Cotton from Nazare. Aboard their 53ft Wharram catamaran The Hecatewas slated for director Mikey Corker to film the knight’s modern-day surfing treasure hunt.

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“The chasing of waves started it all, but it turned into a love story about mom and dad,” Taz said. “How they raised us kids for a life of adventure, and also the obstacles that Cottie had overcome just to surf, let alone get on the boat, became just as important.”

The narration by Charles Dance, the British actor best known for playing Tywin Lannister in game of Thrones, lends a certain theatrical weight to the story of the old world. The land, sea and surf shots in places like Nazaré, Madeira, UK and the Azores are also stunning. But the beating heart of the film, and what elevates it above a surf film, is Taz’s parents’ relationship and adventurous life.

Taz Knight and Sacred Treasures. Photo: Whipped Sea

“It was pretty obvious pretty early on that my parents were different, they were one of the few progressive farmers in the large traditional farming community that we lived in, planting trees and wrapping our land,” Taz said. “We also took time off school to go sailing, surfing and other crazy adventures. I didn’t know any other kids who did that.”

Historical footage of the couple’s sailing adventures around the world, including some tragedies, is combined with more recent voyages. One is a five-month voyage as a support boat for Ross Edgely, a family friend who became the first person to circumnavigate the British Isles, a distance of 2,000 miles. The entire Knight family, including Taz and his three sisters, made this trip, including Suzanne, who was being treated for advanced melanoma.

A piece of Salvage Islands – and the modern treasure hunt. Photo: WhippedSea

“I liked how everyone who has seen the film seems to love my mother,” says Taz. “I think mothers have been underestimated throughout history. They often do most of the important work behind the scenes and get no credit, but in the film you can see how much light and joy she brings not only to our family, but to everyone she connects with.”

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We won’t reveal if the Knight and Cottie family eventually find the big wave treasure they were originally looking for, but in many ways it’s irrelevant. This film is about adventure and family, love and loss, and how the ocean can provide endless sources of inspiration. And despite some incredible waves and great surfing, it’s not a surf movie. And it’s all the better for that.

Learn more about watching Savage Waters here.

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