Movies that Matter revisits beloved movies to consider how they earn a place in the hearts of surfers. From that place of appreciation, movies are ranked in the pantheon of legendary surf footage. Five categories yield a combined final score to separate the Endless Summer wheat from the 1990’s Camcorder chaff.

For a breakdown of how the scoring works, click here.

Just Add Water documents Clay Marzo’s surfing through the lens of his autism diagnosis. Quicksilver included Kelly Slater and Dane Reynolds in the project, and their interviews lend the gravity of personal experience to claims that Marzo’s surfing is futuristic. That the surfing remains progressive gives testament to the fact that in 2009, Marzo was indeed ahead of his time.

Surfing 8/10

Clay Marzo is a beast, and segments of his freesurfing see Marzo baring claws and teeth. Marzo’s signature move is a frontside, inside-out blow-tail layback that he pioneered. Marzo hits the lip so hard and at such an extreme angle that viewers on the beach can see the entire bottom of his board. He ‘lands’ on his back more than a sun tanner, but the strength demonstrated in returning to his feet hands-free is unheard of in the tanning community. Even when Marzo comes completely unstuck, his unique kinesthetic genius allows him regain his feet from tweaked, prone, detached positions. At one point, prime Dane Reynolds says: “If you watch a wave of myself, then you watch him - back to back - I look like a stiff old man… it looks like he can bend in-between his joints or something.”

Segments highlighting his contest exploits serve the narrative and cause anxiety for viewers, but the surfing score gets docked a couple points. At one point, Marzo needs a 1-point ride to make it out of a heat in small surf at Steamer Lane, Santa Cruz. He will not stoop to catching a tiny insider for a score and loses the heat. Viewers come away sympathizing with Marzo’s disdain for contests, if for no other reason than watching him free surf rocks.

Narrative 10/10

The film lends texture to autism spectrum disorders and the discussion of Asperger syndrome allows the film to cohere through interviews and surfing. The film frames Marzo’s talent and focus as evidence supporting his diagnosis. The framing, interviews, and narrative offer moments of laugh-out-loud comedy, poignancy, and dark patches that grant viewers a unique perspective on Marzo’s psychology. Just Add Water is a quality documentary that happens to be about surfing.

Soundtrack 8/10

“Forgettable” scores well in surf documentary soundtracks.

The Intangibles 10/10

Clay Marzo loves to eat. At one point, with ice cream dripping over his hand from a cone that’s larger than his head, Marzo says between bites: “It’s so fucking good,” and he may as well be referring to the unintentional comedy of Just Add Water. There is the late oughts fashion aesthetic, like Andy Irons’ massive Von Zipper glasses. There is one-take, candid interviews delivering lines like this from Irons: “[Marzo] blows anyone, hands down.” The film is a time capsule for surf characters like Ry Craike, Fred Patacchia, and Strider Wasilewski who are featured, in some manner or another, in their quirky, natural habitats while conducting interviews. Another Dane Reynolds anecdote demonstrates the comedy born out of Marzo’s sincere commitment to being himself: “Clay loves watching clips of himself. He’ll be in the editing room and push you off the keys to rewind one of his turns 100 times… I’m sure lots of people want to do that, but Clay’s the only one who actually does it.”

Cultural Footprint 8/10

This film represents Marzo’s career apex. His reluctance to surf contests, attend sponsorship promotions, and give interviews may have hindered Marzo’s career, but he remains a fixture in the industry through wildcard entries at Padang Padang and global slab chasing footage. Just Add Water maintains its hold on the imagination because it is the rare surf movie that can be enjoyed by surfers and land lovers alike for the quality documentary style and the thematic through line.

Final score – 44/50