Judge Bill Gibron says you can look this up in your Funk & Wagnalls.
"Windsurfer—all he wanted to do was outrun the sun."—Roy Orbison
Since man was able to ambulate on two, instead of four, limbs, he has longed to conquer two very different, yet determined ideals: the ability to fly and the freedom to float. Air and water have influenced so many major technological marvels, from the airplane to the steamboat, that we tend to forget how private the pursuit really is. Indeed, man doesn't want to travel in first class and sip champagne from plastic cups…well, maybe that's a bad example. There is no individual triumph in taking a tourist-laden cruise to the Lesser Antilles. No, man wants to personally defeat the elements of physics that keep him Earthbound and as dry as white toast. He wants to challenge the so-called friendly skies and navigate the seven seas with self-motivated movements.
One attempt to combine the two divergent desires is the quasi-extreme sport of Windsurfing. Finding its origins in the Beach Boys buoyancy of the 1960s, the board-and-sail simplicity of moving through liquid on air power has grown, from its humble roots and late '80s heyday, into a post-Millennial full-fledged international phenomenon. Teams from around the globe compete on several seashores in both hemispheres, hoping to harness the power of the breeze to propel their fiberglass crafts into the stratosphere. There are even indoor competitions, amphitheaters and arenas transformed into blustery bayous so impressive physical specimens can traverse an internal track. Yet for a sport so popular, there is a great deal that is perplexing about its idioms. The folks over at MVC Productions think they have an answer: the "interactive" DVD entitled Windsurfing Encyclopedia.
Too bad then that this corporate sponsorship ad is such an instructional dud. Make no mistake about it, Windsurfing Encyclopedia wants to champion this specialized sporting event so that even the most inexperienced dolt can take up a sail. But it disguises this desire in a strangely antiseptic manner, shunning the so-called interactivity mentioned on the front cover to basically function as a plea for financial support. Don't believe it? Then just watch some of the overly odd sequences. Is it really important to note the amount of advertising space on a windsurfing sail? Or how riders wear outfits that also offer additional Madison Avenue acreage? Why is it important to note how worldwide the audience and exposure to windsurfing is? After all, we never meet an individual from outside America or Australia. Are the umpteen billion shots of corporate logos and multinational monikers merely eye candy, or a crass, commercial attempt at highlighting the cost/benefit analysis for a marketing team? And finally, why is the leading manufacturer of windsurfing equipment plastered all over the screen, constantly referencing his product and talking about the good that his organization does?
Look beyond all the super-sweet surf footage and mind-blowing brave antics of these certified athletes, and you will see a plain and simple plea for greenbacking. This is the reason why the main spotlight of the film, a group of direct daredevil dudes called The Team, got together in the first place. Whenever you hear a sportsman state that, by combining forces, they "increase their profile and profitability," you know this isn't some celebration of pure athletic activity. Indeed, Windsurfing Encyclopedia has more hints on how to maximize your promotional dollar than ways to catch major oceanic air.
One has to admit, though, that beyond all the pleas for the emerald objects, this is a breathtaking bit of nature/action film footage. When people think of surf shows, titles like The Endless Summer and Big Wednesday come to mind; screens filled with raging oceans, tiny men on minuscule devices tearing through the supernatural surge. Most of the movie montages in this set, scenes and sequences of man vs. nature, are spellbinding. Anyone can stand on a shoreline and shoot images of competitors cutting a wave or curling a tube, but there is a real skill—and a sensational bit of cinematic experience—to be had with extreme close-ups and water-level imagery. Windsurfing Encyclopedia really delivers on this dynamic. From the angry tides off Hawaii (and frankly, you'd have to be certifiably insane to challenge some of those churning breakers) to the weird, wicked notion of indoor competitions; lights low, man-made pond tossed with electric fan frenzy as neon bright riders breaking over the surface, this is a marvelous visual look at the sport.
And when it actually concentrates on the history and specifics of windsurfing, the elements of endorsement disappear. It's fun to hear Jim Drake, the so-called "father" of the sport, describe how the idea came to him (and how the first few experiments were less than successful). And the archival footage of early board boys and girls is fun in an "all summer long" nostalgia mentality. But then Mr. Fiberspar shows up to proclaim why his XJ7-24B2 polyethylene prototype is the next phase in competitive cross-training, or a member of The Team sticks his sun-tanned hand out, and the mood is broken. Windsurfing Encyclopedia would have been better had it stuck to the sport and avoided the sneaky, almost sinister supplicants.
On the sound and vision side, this DVD is amazing. The 1.33:1 full screen imagery is crisp, clear, full of high-definition-like detail, and as colorful as a beach babe's bikini. The contrast between water and wind is wonderfully maintained, and the overall impression one gets from the disc is the smell of sea air, the feeling of salty spray in your face, and the undeniable warmth of the sun. On the sonic side, however, things are a little more complicated. We can hear every interview and all dialogue in near pristine quality. Certainly, the outdoor nature of the shoot offers up some unwanted ambiance (overly loud seagulls, microphone-flaunting winds), but this is not the reason for any aural concern. Indeed, the main audible sticking point would be the use of some atrocious, bargain-basement Limp Bizkit/Techno combo as the backing music. This bump and grunge is just abysmal. It's the same seven riffs repeated ad nauseum, with occasional keyboard bullstuff draped on top. It takes away from the beauty and majesty of the aquatic footage and turns Windsurfing Encyclopedia into a bad bit of MTV garbage.
On the bonus feature side, we get a couple of cool multi-angle offerings (even though they cheat and present different riders from different angles) and a nice selection of biographical information on the individuals we've met throughout the course of the disc. There is also a wealth of links to windsurfing societies and product manufacturers. If you are already heavily into this scene, this data will come in mighty handy.
So, here's the quandary: Do you pick up Windsurfing Encyclopedia despite its obvious corporate kowtowing, knowing that buried within the ballyhoo is some excellent outdoor footage? Or is there simply too much shilling to warrant even a peek at the awe-inspiring skill and scenery presented here? Actually, it's a total toss-up. Fans of the sport will forgive the massive product placement. Newcomers will perhaps fail to notice the nods to sponsorship. So it you're curious about this decades-old diversion, grab a copy of MVC's magnificent, if marred, video presentation. Just don't feel odd if you get the urge to write a check to help out these hepcats in their desire to surf the world.
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