Surfer Garrett McNamara, star of the HBO documentary series , is one of the few people on the planet who can truly describe what it’s like to be chased by a massive wall of water.
“It’s just so choppy and the wind is just going by your face and your whole body,” McNamara said during a panel discussion of 100 Foot Wave as part of Deadline’s Contenders Television: Documentary + Unscripted event. “As you’re coming down [the wave], you’re looking to see if it’s going to keep you from behind or if there’s an exit, if you can make it or should you go deeper or run to the shoulder or try to pull into the barrel. And if you pull into the barrel, that’s when it’s like you’re in this special place where time doesn’t exist… It’s the most exhilarating, amazing feeling on Earth.”
The series, directed and executive produced by Chris Smith and executive produced by Joe Lewis, follows McNamara and his wife Nicole as they head to points around the globe in search of titanic waves for Garrett to surf. Nicole serves as a spotter from the land, alerting jet-ski drivers towing her husband when a monster wave is forming.
“They can’t even see sometimes when the waves are coming — they’re in the troughs of these waves,” Nicole said. “So, having that spotter is super important, and having a spotter who knows what they’re talking about and has the attention span to pay attention because there’s a lot of downtime out there, just waiting.”
Smith directed the Emmy-nominated 2017 documentary Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond, about Jim Carrey’s immersive approach to playing comedian Andy Kaufman on film. He said he’s drawn to unorthodox personalities, like Carrey and McNamara.
“I’m always looking for people that just think differently than everyone else, and I feel think Garrett a hundred percent fits that mold,” Smith observed. “With any project that’s worth [it], I think what people are interested in watching is somebody that thinks differently.”
Lewis plays a key role helping capture the beauty and drama of McNamara gliding down or being crushed by these aquatic giants, in ocean waters from Portugal to Hawaii to Alaska.
“From a producing point of view, you have to be ready to shoot in the most dangerous surf imaginable with 10, 12 cameras — cameras flying, cameras in the water, cameras on land, cameras following the surfers,” Lewis said. “You have to be able to do that on a dime and not just do it adequately, but… the best it’s ever been done.”
Check back Monday for the panel video.