Between Land and Sea




An Irish filmmaker finds intimacy and spectacle amid surfing on the coast of County Clare.

Between Land and Sea


Ross Whitaker's documentary is a film about surfing but it is also about a community. Indeed, at the outset it declares itself to be a portrait of a year in the life of an Atlantic surf town. That town is Lahinch in the west of Ireland and this opening statement, followed by footage taken at the start of the year, is a clear indication of the shape that Between Land and Sea will take. To judge by the ease of the local inhabitants when talking on camera, Whitaker fully earned their trust and, while his film to its advantage does not ignore the sheer   spectacle inherent in the sport of surfing, this is also a work that offers an intimate picture of a number of surfers.


Central here are such well-established surfers as Fergal Smith and John McCarthy while Ollie O'Flaherty is a younger man following in their footsteps as he seeks sponsorship to support a professional career. If surfing has drawn Tom Doidge-Harrison to Lahinch in the company of his Spanish partner Raquel Ruido Rodriguez, he needs other work to earn an acceptable income (the couple have a young daughter) while 60-year-old Pat Conway is devoted not to surfing but to swimming (he regularly swims across the bay for charity and laments the major disappointment in his life when he twice fell short when seeking to swim the English Channel).


Whitaker's film brings out the fact that surfing is a young man's sport - not only because of the physical demands but on account of the need of many surfers to face up to the fact earlier rather than later that if you have a family to support you cannot rely on the activity that you love providing for you later in life. As for what surfing brings to Lahinch, Whitaker neatly captures the atmosphere in winter (some establishments are closed until Easter) and reveals the extent to which the ten weeks of summer bring the crowds to what has become a famous spot (visiting surfer Shane Dorian is suitably impressed by the big waves).


For much of its length this is straightforward but highly competent filmmaking with effective editing by Andrew Hearne, an apt music score from Michael Fleming and striking imagery from Whitaker and the other photographers involved. If there is a weakness, it stems from the fact that, as the year approaches its close, the material becomes more diffuse and the film seems a shade overlong This is arguably because, while the surfing does seem central, the introduction of so many local inhabitants means that several personal threads need to be followed through in a way that makes the last section of the film rather too episodic. However, any audiences strongly drawn to the subject matter will find much here that is amply rewarding.




Featuring  Fergal Smith, Ollie O'Flaherty, John McCarthy, Pat Conway, Tom Doidge-Harrison, Raquel Ruido Rodriguez, Dexter McCullough, Shane Dorian.


Dir Ross Whitaker, Pro Jamie D'Alton and Anne McLoughlin, Ph Kevin Smith and Ross Whitaker, Ed Andrew Hearne, Music Michael Fleming.


Motive Films-DocHouse.
87 mins. Ireland. 2016. Rel: 30 March 2018. No Cert.