Documentary Review: Surfing twins take on the world and the big waves, “And Two if By Sea: The Hobgood Brothers”

I’ve seen and reviewed a lot of surf documentaries over the decades, but “And Two if By Sea: The Hobgood Brothers” stands out from the pack in two important regards.

One is the degree to which it dives into the lives of the surfing twins, C.J. and Damien Hobgood, surfers from Kelly Slater-land (Satellite Beach, Florida) who made names for themselves and made a living while not wholly escaping Slater’s multi-world-championship winning shadow.

We hear other surfers good-naturedly recall the identical twins “ganging up on” their competition in meets in their teens, see the ups and downs of their lives and careers, grapple with their ferocious competitiveness and see how flawed people can be.

One cheats on his wife and loses a marriage over it.

And we’ve never been told just how much “sponsorship” it takes to work your way into the good life. It takes $90,000 and up just to hit the meets on the World Surf Tour, travel, etc. Damn.

The other way “And Two if by Sea” stands out is the cutesiness filmmaker Justin Purser brings to the proceedings. He got comic Daniel Tosh to narrate it. Unless I’m missing a title in my surf filmography lifelist, that’s a first.

That narration is not quite omnipresent, but close — Tosh noting that “I believe that the medical term (for “identical twins”) is ‘the creepy kind,” pausing to identify the Florida Space Coast statue of Kelly Slater as “the only statue in the South NOT of an old racist.”

Funny enough, and certainly funnier than the way the movie opens — with a lot of folks venturing an opinion as to “what a Hobgood is.”

That sets the tone for the picture, which features cute captions (“Speaks Fluent Australian”) in identifying interview subjects, the half-joking presence of a medical expert on identical twins (“There’s a lot of power in twinship!”) and a little self-aware perspective that the Hobgoods didn’t team up to cure cancer or put a woman on Mars. They were just looking for that wave that would “land them in the history book, the SURF history book.”

The cutesiness doesn’t kill the film, and a little perspective is welcome in a genre that has given us decades of glorious slo-mo of gorgeous Aussie, Hawaiian and California (and Florida) girls and boys on gorgeous, thunderous slo-motion waves. But I won’t lie, it’s grating, like an endless series of generally limp rim-shots redundantly whacked on every joke in an indifferently-funny comic’s routine.

“That ISN’T what the Cialis commercials portray. Wait, is this a LIFETIME movie?”

The surfing footage is good, nothing that would make the picture stand out in a crowded genre. But the legion of interviews, with the Hobgoods, their parents, sibling and spouses taking part, get across a few new ways of considering surfing.

It starts with competitors noting what “competitive a–h—s” the two were to everybody else, and the Hobgoods confessing what we’re never told about this world and its laid-back, “chillaxed” subculture. “It’s a very selfish sport,” with head games played out in the water waiting for a wave, stare-downs and fierce paddling to beat the other surfer (even in non-competitive settings) onto a wave, behavior that flirts with bullying.

We see the brothers yelling at each other in the water, gesturing and shouting at the judges for giving them a poor score, even as these Christian competitors never let things turn profane or ugly.

The ebb and flow of their disparate careers is only mildly interesting, as is the conflict. Because, as we’ve been assured, with a twin “you’ve got a friend for life,” so none of this Everly Brothers antipathy, here.

Still, there’s enough new information and candor to make “And Two if By Sea” worth a look if surf docs are your thing. Just brace yourself for the cutesie.

2half-star6

MPAA Rating: unrated, one graphic injury scene, some profanity

Cast: C.J. Hobgood, Damien Hobgood, Kelly Slater, Carissa Moore, Sal Masakela, Charlotte Hobgood, Rachel Hobgood, narrated by Daniel Tosh.

Credits: Directed by Justin Purser, script by Justin Purser, Daniel Tosh, Christopher Gessner and Carly Hallam. A 1091 Media release.

Running time: 1:43

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