Chris Sharma is way too young for a midlife crisis, but there he was, strolling the aisles of this year’s Outdoor Retailer
show with bright-gold hair. What?!
The peroxide look arose during nearly two months’ work in Venezuela, stunt-doubling for a remake of the classic 1991 surf film Point Break.
Sharma calls the experience, held on Auyan Tepuy, site of Angel Falls,“a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
“Auyan Tepuy is one of the most amazing places I’ve ever been.”
In the original Point Break, directed by Kathryn Bigelow, the FBI agent Johnny Utah (Keanu Reeves) goes undercover to pursue the surfer Bodhi
(Patrick Swayze) and his gang of bank robbers, in the process bonding with the mulleted mystic. For the remake, the heists have gone international, and the gang has expanded to incorporate “extreme” climbing, snowboarding and wingsuit athletes as well as surfers.
Luke Bracey now plays the lawman Johnny Utah, and Edgar Ramirez is his friend and nemesis Bodhi. Sharma doubles as a climber for Johnny Utah. Teresa Palmer, female lead, was filmed in a climbing scene separately in the Alps.
In Venezuela, the film crew essentially occupied three camps near the 3,212-foot Angel Falls. One base was below the falls; one was on the rim; and one was high on the tepui, a 20-minute helicopter ride from the top of the falls. That site was near an overhanging 100-foot boulder that the longtime climber-rigger Dave Schultz had picked out during scouting as an ideal site for close-up “studio” climbing shots. Filming also took place on the wall beside the waterfall.
Linh Nguyen, a longtime Southern California climber, was Climbing Unit Supervisor, hired by the director, Erickson Core, his “oldest friend.”
“We went to grade school together. He’s an avid backpacker and used to climb,” Nguyen says. He laughs. “He bought my old climbing van and fixed it up to live in when he was in film school at USC.”
As Nguyen tells it, Core snagged him by saying, “Hey, I got this movie, there’s climbing involved. If it sucks, it’s your fault” (if you don’t help out).
Point Break is Core’s second feature film as director; the first was a football movie, Invincible.
In the past Nguyen was a climbing consultant to a TV sports series and worked on a commercial for COMDEX-Vegas consumer electronics show. On Point Break he was in charge of the entire climbing sector, with a crew that included Dani Andrada of Spain as the other principal climber (the Bodhi character) and the climber-filmmaker Mike Call as second-unit cameraman. Peter Croft, a well-known Canadian climber and soloist, was hired as a backup climber and a stunt rigger, and even to help lend credibility to the free-soloing scenes. He and Nguyen read the script together, taking notes and suggesting changes in dialogue.
Others in the unit were Schultz (head rigger), Aaron Walters, Brooke Sandahl, Alexander Magerl and Ralf Haeger of Germany, Emiliyan Kolevski of Bulgaria, and Alberto Roha and other climbers from Venezuela.
Near the huge so-called Studio Boulder was another major find (to the climbers): a stellar, untouched boulderfield.
Nguyen says, “We all hung out and climbed”—during evenings, even by headlamp. “The bouldering was one of the most awesome parts.” He calls the whole shoot, “Ridiculous. Ridiculously cool.”
Sharma says, “Overall we climbed a lot on the set, in between shots and in the evenings and of course for the film.” He put up a route, a rounded arête next to the falls, that will be seen in the film.
“The arête we did was super amazing,” he says, “and [we did] some amazing hard face climbing 15 feet away from the raging falls, with 3,000 feet of air.” The arête was 150 feet beneath the rim, the face climbing 200 feet below that.
The crew informally called the pitch the Sharma Arete.
“Oh, it was super exciting,” says Linh Nguyen. “We had all hands on deck”—12 people on the side of the cliff and an executive crew directing from above at the edge of the top. The second unit director said, “I’ve shot in a lot of locations, but this one scared the hell out of me!”
For soloing shots, the climbers were tied into thin Spectra line that could be digitized out.
Sharma adds another reverie: “While we were getting ready for a shot, Dani Andrada and I rappelled down to a ledge about 80 feet from the rim of the falls and did some amazing bouldering right where the waterfall shoots over the edge.”
All bolts used in the filming were removed afterwards. In the end, the climbing will have been as transitory and ethereal an experience as making a film.
The new Point Break is slated to come out December 25; a press conference with first-look footage takes place this afternoon (April 21) in Las
Vegas. For info, visit imdb.com/title/tt2058673.
Bodhi, in the 1991 Point Break: “One hundred percent pure adrenaline!”