Premiering at the London Film Festival this year, Martyn Robertson’s Ride the Wave follows the life of a 14-year-old surfer, Ben Larg. Hailing from the Island of Tiree in Scotland, at such a young age Ben has already grown a strong love for water sports and a passion to make it in life as a professional competitive surfer. Following Ben’s story throughout the ages of 12 to 14, we get a glimpse at what it’s like to be one of the youngest competing surfers in one of the world’s most dangerous sports. Heart-warming, inspirational, and simultaneously nerve-wracking, Robertson’s documentary is a riveting tale of the anxieties of modern parenting, having perseverance, and chasing after your dreams. 

Image © Courtesy of London Film Festival 

Within minutes of Ride the Wave’s opening, we’re shown a montage of news outlets across the UK singing their praises for young Ben as he enters surfing competitions across the world. Juxtaposed to this, we’re then immediately shown Ben and his mother having a falling out over chores and laundry. Living with his parents and younger sisters, Ben has to juggle his pursuit of surfing with household chores and schoolwork. The latter is something Ben particularly struggles with, as he confesses how other children at school have begun to bully him. In one particularly harrowing scene, Ben’s mother Iona recounts how boys at Ben’s school had started to kick and punch Ben while the other children stood around and watched. Ben notes these occurrences are something that happens more often once he’s returned abroad from competitions, suggesting these acts might be down to playground jealousy. Looking at Ben’s international accomplishments, it can be easy to forget the stress and mental strain that Ben must go through on a daily basis – particularly the abuse and isolation he’s put through by his peers. However, Robertson is careful to include segments exploring the strains put on Ben’s mental health and shows a realistic depiction of what it’s like to compete at such a young age. 

Image © Courtesy of London Film Festival 

We begin by seeing Ben compete in a competition in Japan at the age of 12. He is one of the youngest in the under 18s group. In the opening ceremony, there’s a ritual where competitors from all over the world pour sand from their home country into one big container to represent unity. Representing Scotland, Ben wears a kilt on stage to pour out the sand from his local beach while his father stands behind him waving the cross of St Andrew. Although talented, it’s evident that Ben is struggling in the competition. His form is off, he’s not keeping his eyes on the time on the board, and something is obviously wrong as he comes out of the water crying after a particularly painful fall. ‘I don’t have much potential to get very far’ Ben says in a matter-of-fact tone. It’s upsetting to see Ben so disheartened at such a young age (with such a bright future ahead of him) and Robertson particularly examines this naïve disbelief in oneself that is so innate to the teenage experience. Fortunately, Ben decides to set his sights on different, but just as impressive, goals. Ben decides to turn his focus to conquering the Mullaghmore wave; a 60ft tide off the coast of Ireland. Here, we see a complete shift in Ben’s mindset as we see him prepare to ride the ginormous wave at the age of 14. He becomes much more disciplined and serious about his surfing; waking up every day at 5am to practice with his P.E teacher and working on his breathing capacity as he gains a belief in himself he didn’t have before. Taking us on the ebb and flow journey of motivation and self-belief, Ride the Wave explores teenage insecurity and the come-and-go nature of self-confidence and motivation with a profoundly humane and empathetic touch.

Image © Courtesy of London Film Festival 

In any high-stake sports competition for under 18s, you would expect to find pushy parents determined to live through their children but Ben’s parents are the complete opposite. While other kids have teams of dieticians, Ben is taken to international competitions by his father Marti. Before a surf, Marti sends his son off with a “Love you, do your best” and a kiss on the forehead. Marti and Iona are shining examples of supportive parents who always try to do right by their children, always encouraging Ben but also having open conversations with him about what he actually wants from life. While Ben is lucky to be surrounded by such a supportive family, there are also some undeniable tensions that arise as he prepares to surf the Mullaghmore wave. Ben starts to work with a coach who sits him down and shows him all the horrific photos of broken bones and torn flesh that can occur from riding such waves. Although Ben’s parents don’t stop him surfing, such sights certainly play on their conscience as they warn Ben about riding such a wave in the wrong conditions. ‘Do you listen to your dad all the time?’ one older American surfer sarcastically asks in one scene when Ben says he’s been told not to surf that day. Ride the Wave delves into the boundaries between parents and children (no matter how close their relationship) and the importance of adolescence testing these boundaries on occasion to create their own paths and solo adventures.

Filled with sights of crashing waves and slow-mo aerial shots, one of the Ride the Wave’s strengths is its ability to capture the sheer colossal size (and beauty) of the Mullaghmore waves. A heart-warming and endearing tale of young ambition, family, and individuality, Robertson’s documentary is one all about overcoming obstacles and finding your own way in the world.


Rating: 4 out of 5.

Written by Abi Aherne

View of the Arts is a British online publication that chiefly deals with films, music, arts, and fashion, with an emphasis on the Asian entertainment industry. We are hoping our audience will grow with us as we begin to explore new platforms such as K-pop, and continue to dive into the talented and ever-growing scene of film, arts and fashion, worldwide.

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BFI London Film Festival, Documentary, Film, Film events and festivals