Courtesy Sidewinder Films

Waterman is a vigorously beautiful and deeply rich exploration of one of America’s most overlooked heroes. Sidewinder Films’s latest documentary chronicles the impressive life of Duke Paoa Kahanamoku, a  native Hawaiian, five-time Olympic medalist, pioneer of racial justice, and the father of modern-day surfing. The biopic skillfully recounts Kahanamoku’s awe-inspiring life, where even when he faced adversity, he upheld the welcoming spirit of Hawaiian “aloha.”

Shattering a world record during his first swimming event, Kahanamoku found himself propelled into a brave new world. As a person of color, the mainstream sports media admonished him throughout his career. Narrated by Jason Momoa and filled with heartfelt cameos from surfing stars, Waterman dives into the nuances of Kahanamoku’s legendary story through archival footage, insightful commentary, and tactful recreations of Kahanamoku’s life. While occasionally bogged down by subplots, the documentary presents a glimpse into the rarely understood beauty and depth of surfing culture and its Hawaiian origins. 

Waterman revives Kahanamoku’s legacy nearly a year after the Olympic Games hosted its inaugural surfing competition. On the surface, Waterman tells the story of the man who revolutionized surfing and sparked a subculture that would persist for generations, but underneath it reveals an intensely vulnerable, compelling story of the godfather of surfing and his inimitable compassion. 93 min.