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Originally published Thursday, September 2, 2010 at 3:02 PM

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Movie review

'Highwater': Breathtaking celebration of surfing excellence

"Highwater" is Dana Brown's worthy follow-up to his 2003 surfing-movie classic "Step Into Liquid."

Special to The Seattle Times

Movie review 3 stars

'Highwater,' a documentary directed by Dana Brown. 91 minutes. Not rated; suitable for general audiences. Pacific Place.

Dana Brown's "Step Into Liquid" has deservedly become a cable-TV mainstay, and now Brown — whose father, Bruce, invented the surf movie with his 1966 classic "Endless Summer" — has matched "Liquid" with "Highwater," another trip to Nirvana with the greatest surfers in the world.

Brown's follow-up encountered numerous delays in postproduction, but his coverage of 2005's Vans Hawaiian Triple Crown surfing championship was worth the wait. Serving as director, co- editor and narrator, Brown turns the obsession of top-ranking surfers into a universally appealing celebration of excellence on the treacherous North Shore of Oahu.

In addition to returning champions featured in "Step Into Liquid" and the Triple Crown debut of 13-year-old phenom John John Florence, "Highwater" emphasizes the growing popularity of female surfers like perennial favorite Rochelle Ballard and Bethany Hamilton, who returned to surfing after losing her left arm in a shark attack.

Despite a nagging tendency to gloss over details, Brown narrates with an easygoing balance of basic reportage and surfer-dude humor.

"These are not normal people," he wryly observes, later noting that surfing bliss is forever linked to potential tragedy, as occurred when Tahitian superstar Malik Joyeux drowned in Oahu's legendary Pipeline during the Triple Crown contest.

Then there's the mysterious Eric Haas. Brown finds him alone, quietly conquering Oahu's most dangerous waves far from the competitive spotlight. Arguably the world's purest surfer, he's never done it for the money.

Jeff Shannon:

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