Beyond sight: The Derek Rabelo Story

BEYOND SIGHT: THE DEREK RABELO STORY. Starring: Derek Rabelo, Kelly Slater, Makua Rothman, Laird John Hamilton, Rob Machado, Magno Passos, Bethany Hamilton and others. Directed by Bryan S. Jennings and Bruno Lemos. Rated PG (Mild themes). 84 min.

This American documentary is about a blind Brazilian surfer, Derek Rabelo. What Rabelo achieved has given inspiration to surfers and wave riders across the world.

The Production Company behind the film ("Walking on Water") is a Christian non-profit organisation founded by the surfer, Bryan Jennings, who co-directed and also narrates the movie.

Derek was born blind. Three surgeries before the age of 3 failed to reverse or repair the problem. Supported by his surfer-father, and caring mother, Derek announced at age 17 that his personal ambition was to surf the most dangerous wave in the world.

Derek decided he wanted to surf Pipeline on the North Shore of Oahu, Hawaii, USA - one of the most difficult waves in the world for a wave rider who can see, let alone for one who cannot. He set his hopes around what most people would regard as an impossible goal - "to get a barrel at Pipeline". Derek took three years to prepare himself physically and spiritually for the ordeal, and the film largely documents his preparation.

Derek's parents, his friends and chief coach (Magno Passos) encouraged him. But the skill to fulfil his ambition came from the help that was provided by an army of well-known professional surfers like Kelly Slater, Makua Rothman, Tom Curren, Laird Hamilton, Rob Machado, Damien Hobgood, Bethany Hamilton and others. They had the courage to face their fear of Pipeline and they helped Derek to face his own fear of it, and to realise his ambition.

The documentary records the faith and hope of a very courageous human being. Barrelling Pipeline, regarded as the ultimate wave, can kill, and Derek's dream was an incredibly risky one for him personally. With Pipeline, "you have no idea what's coming next", he is told. Derek succeeded in surfing Pipeline twice and the story behind Derek's achievement, which is captured in detail by this documentary, is a totally inspiring one.

There are enormous difficulties in surfing blind and the documentary exposes the viewer to all of them. They are most pointedly obvious when "seeing" suffers try to ride the waves while blindfolded, and when the camera shows Derek stroking the water to indicate to him what is going on, or happening, in the surf he is in. He literally listens to the ocean and "feels the waves he wants to ride". Derek rides the waves by utilising every sense, other than sight, that he has at his disposal.

The film is an incredible journey that shows us one man's personal faith and conviction to surmount all obstacles placed before him. Derek is not only driven by his faith, but, addicted to surfing, he is empowered by the achievements of people he knows, admires and respects.

Prosocial messages abound in the film: fear should not be allowed to inhibit behaviour where decisive action is needed; one should relentlessly pursue faith in what one knows to be right; and the seeming-impossible can sometimes be achieved by accepting help from those who are willing to provide it. Derek achieved his dream by finally accepting the help he knew he needed.

The film has wide relevance beyond the surfing community. The shots of Pipeline are amazing. Above all, however, the film is a moving tribute to how far courage and faith can take a person and grow a person on life's journey. Capturing the challenges of imagination and human determination, the overarching message of the movie is that our personal sense of who we are should be defined in terms of what we are able to achieve, not by what others think we may not be able to do.

Peter W. Sheehan is associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting.

Heritage Films

Released November 14th., 2014 (for limited release)

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