‘Momentum Generation,’ a new HBO surf documentary, brought this critic to tears

You do not need to be interested in surfing to be excited and moved by Jeff and Michael Zimbalist’s excellent, eloquent documentary “Momentum Generation,” which premiered Tuesday on HBO. A surf film might not be the first thing you’d expect to bring you repeatedly to tears, but I can say with authority it is possible.

Even to a casual observer, there is something especially marvelous, occasionally miraculous and artful about surfing — nature makes every ride an improvisation, a sort of argumentative collaboration between the surfer and the surfed. When the waves get big — and they get Godzilla big — riding them makes no rational sense; it seems halfway to a death wish. But people do, and it is something to see.

The physical intelligence and excellence that make athletics aesthetically interesting even to those who don’t care about sports — style counts, always — are abundantly on display here. But the filmmakers’ real interest is in the ways we form of a sense of self; how friendships form, fray and heal; and what it means to lead a fulfilling life — which may have nothing to do with winning surf contests. Indeed, the price of competition, and the rewards of giving it up, is a central point of the film.

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