Breaking Down the Stunts in ‘Point Break’
The original 1991 film inspired a generation of hard-charging athletes. Now grown up, many of them signed on as stuntmen for the reboot to make the snowboarding, wingsuiting, and motocross as real as possible.
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Hollywood seldom portrays action sports in a way that makes practitioners proud. The 1980s, when a lot of action sports were in their infancies, include some of the worst offenses: Hot Dog (1984, skiing), Rad (1986, motocross), North Shore (1987, surfing), and Gleaming the Cube (1989, skateboarding). If you remember those movies, it’s probably for the wrong reasons.
“Big movie productions make something rad cheesy,” says pro skater Bob Burnquist. “It’s the opposite of what we do.”
Then in the summer of 1991, Point Break premiered. Directed by Kathryn Bigelow (Zero Dark Thirty, The Hurt Locker) and starring Keanu Reeves and Patrick Swayze, the plot concerned an FBI agent infiltrating a crew of surfers and skydivers who rob banks to finance their thrill-seeking lifestyle. No cinematic masterpiece—its sins include corny dialogue, dopey acting, and contrived scenarios—Point Break still got enough right about the spirit of action sports to create an enduring legacy. Scenes featuring progressive surfing and skydiving inspired not only a generation of athletes, but have led to a remake, which opens Christmas Day.
The reboot, directed by Ericson Core and starring Luke Bracey as FBI agent Johnny Utah and Edgar Ramirez as Bodhi, eschewed computer generated imagery in favor of real stunts from some of the most creative athletes in snowboarding, skateboarding, climbing, surfing, and wingsuit BASE jumping. I caught up with several of them to talk about the influence of the original, and how they believe their work in the latest Point Break could inspire a new generation of devotees.
In 1992, the year following the original film’s release, registrations to the United States Parachute Association, the national governing body for skydiving, shot up 29 percent. Coincidence?
“I was blown away by the amazing freefall sequences, and a seed was planted,” says Boole, a wingsuit pilot and aerial cameraman who first saw Point Break at age 15 in England, where he grew up. “Four years later, I made my first skydive and my life was changed forever. Nearly every skydiver has seen Point Break more than once, and many experienced jumpers of my generation cite the film as their inspiration.”
For the remake, Boole joined fellow wingsuit BASE jumpers and stunt doubles Mike Swanson (who doubles for Bodhi), Julian Boulle (Grommet), Noah Bahnson (Roach), and Jon Devore (Utah) on Hinderrugg Mountain above Walenstadt, Switzerland, in August 2014. They jumped at a place called Sputnik, which achieved notoriety in Jeb Corliss’s 2011 viral video, “Grinding the Crack.”
Boole and Jhonathan Florez (who died in July in a wingsuit accident in Switzerland) served as aerial cameramen, filming the other fliers in formation through the narrow, twisting canyon. They made more than 100 jumps in five weeks while wearing eight-pound cameras mounted on their helmets.
“The unseen risk is the wake turbulence that trails behind each pilot, similar to a boat,” says Boole. “If you catch a burble, you lose control, risking a group collision. It tested all the skills I’ve learnt in the last two decades of jumping, and is by far the most elaborate BASE jumping sequence ever filmed.”
A leading big-wave charger, Walsh, 32, of Maui, hasn’t seen the original Point Break in years, but what endures for him today are the actors’ classic lines.
“Pretty much all of Gary Busey,” he says about his favorites. Then he yells, “Utah, get me two!” in his best Busey impression. “If you throw that out and someone you are hanging out with doesn’t know that’s from Point Break, there’s probably something wrong with them,” Walsh says.
Walsh received a call one night from one of the filmmakers in January 2014, asking him to pull together a crew and head out the following morning to Jaws, the iconic big-wave spot off Maui’s north shore. At 5 a.m., with cameras rolling, Walsh rode out in massive surf on jet skis with Billy Kemper, Makua Rothman, and Ahanu Tson-dru, taking turns towing into rolling walls of water.
“That was the biggest day we had in five years at Jaws,” Walsh says. “The waves were massive.”
An accomplished backcountry snowboarder, Basich, 43, was part of the first wave of professionals in his sport, competing on the World Cup and X Games circuits in the 1990s.
“Point Break had a core feeling to it,” says Basich, who watched the film multiple times at a dollar show in Sacramento when he was a teenager. “It was something you wanted to be a part of.”
For the remake, Basich rode with fellow stuntmen Xavier de la Rue, Ralph Backstrom, and Mitch Toelderer in the Italian Alps, near Chamonix. They were in avalanche territory, above 500-foot-tall cliffs, and in rocky couloirs, accompanied by a helicopter, cameras, and as many as 20 crewmembers and actors on site. “It was sketchy,” Basich says. “We set off avalanches every other run.”
The biggest challenge: four guys riding in line, with the Bodhi character in the lead, and Basich in the rear, struggling to see through all the powder kicked up by the others. Backcountry riders typically avoid groups due to avalanche danger. Taken together with the terrain Basich believes that footage depicting four riders in formation will look next-level. “All of us were excited about how progressive that felt.”
One of the world’s leading vert skaters (the guys on the half pipe), Burnquist, 38, is also a skydiver, BASE jumper, and airplane and helicopter pilot. He saw Point Break in Portuguese as a teenager at a movie theater in his native Brazil.
“When I watched the movie, it connected that dot” to his dream of flying, he said about the skydiving stunts.
For the reboot, Burnquist plays himself, hanging at a party on a yacht with fellow pro skater Jeff King, big-wave legend Laird Hamilton, and action sports commentator Sal Masekala, along with Utah and Bodhi. The yacht, anchored off the coast of Italy, came equipped with a mega-ramp on the deck, and Burnquist launched a few times into the water for the cameras.
“I can’t wait to watch it with my critical eye,” he says. “This better be good. Expectations are high!”