Storytelling: HBO's <I>100 Foot Wave</I>
June 7, 2023

Storytelling: HBO's 100 Foot Wave

The HBO docu-series 100 Foot Wave returned for its second season in April, with stops in Portugal, Hawaii and California, where big-wave legend Garrett McNamara and his surfing peers pushed the boundaries of the sport. These extreme athletes lead an unpredictable lifestyle in which big waves affect their personal stories. The show uses a mix of intimate interviews, verité scenes and personal archives, as well as aerial, surface and underwater footage.


Keith Hodne served as supervisor sound editor on the program, which spanned six hour-long episodes in Season 2.

“100 Foot Wave is by far the most intense project the team and I have worked on,” says Hodne. “When (executive producer) Chris Smith showed me the footage for the first time, I knew it needed to be set in reality, but cinematic at most times. You don't just pull 100-foot waves from a sound effects library! The biggest challenge was to create a sonic villain, that grows with twists and turns, and has emotions, essentially from scratch.” 
Hodne says the team began by recording waves at Rockaway Beach in both the morning and night using a Zoom H4 360 ambisonic recorder. 

“We converted them down to 5.1 .wav files and then manipulated these sounds to all heck in Pro Tools with plug-ins, like Reformer Pro, Lo-Fi, Lowender (and) other saturation plug-ins.”

In addition to adding layers of wind, avalanche and sub frequencies, the team introduced rainstorms and cat hisses to help on the high end. 

“Anything to help create the character of the wave,” he explains. “In the end, it was about 40 layers of effects with our manipulated ambisonic recordings of the beach. We tried to manipulate the tone and texture of the wave, and for it to evolve as the story evolves.”
When cuts were handed over in Season 1, they were empty, with the exception of dialog and music, Hodne recalls. 

“For Season 2, I delivered mono and stereo effects that were banked from Season 1. The picture editors used some of that to cut [and] give us a head start. My team of effects editors and sound designers then created all else that you are hearing.”

Sound effects included jet-ski engines, water lands and sprays; a mix of skis on snow and in water; manipulated wave and water sounds; explosions and animal roars; Foley’d neoprene for wetsuit sounds; and ambiences from each surf location. 


Alex Keipper and Alex Mark Bayer served as editors on Season 2 of 100 Foot Wave. Neather had worked on the prior season, but bith were excited to pick up the baton. The first season was shaped by Garrett's life story up to that point, which made their biggest challenge shifting the show from something more past-tense into the present-day. 

“It became obvious fairly quickly that Tony Laureano was going to be the heart of our season,” explain the editors. “we saw him right away as this super engaging local kid who grew up watching Garrett and was really inspired by what he had accomplished. We felt like Tony epitomized the next chapter of the story that Garrett had started writing at Nazare. Those insights led us to our cold open for the first episode, which uses Tony's VO and a series of subtle cues - such as opening with a composition by Max Cooper instead of our series' composer Phillip Glass - to communicate right away how this season would be the same show, but with an evolving tone and point-of-view.”

That desire to signal an evolution also led the team to the idea of changing the opening credits for each episode. This became another tool that was used to develop tone and character, as well as to work around a tight runtime for each episode.

“Our second challenge was to take on a shooting ratio far greater than any of us had wrangled before,” the explain. “We started with hundreds of hours of footage, which turned into thousands when our season was expanded to cover an additional year of shooting. The wealth of footage was a gift, but required us to really focus our choices creatively to make sure that each wave or wipeout was special in its respective character arc. Justine's barrel at the climax of Jaws was covered from a myriad of angles, but we chose to let the scene play out in one continuous take from her board's GoPro as a means of living inside her experience. Conversely, coverage of Cotty's wipeout in Lost at Sea was limited to a couple of shakey cell-phone videos. That was a gift that guided us into our approach. We leaned into the confusion of the moment as Garrett panicked after losing sight of Cotty, doubling back to hear Cotty's point-of-view after Garrett heard on the radio that he was okay. We cut a ton of subsequent versions that blended their POVs, but the more we tried to clarify the specifics of the accident as it happened, the more tension we lost from the sequence. In the end, we returned to a version of our original Rashomon approach, and it ended up being one of the season's most harrowing and memorable sequences.”