Knight Mission

Savage Waters documents one sailor’s relentless search for big-wave lore.

Light / Dark

In his 1889 transatlantic journal, The Cruise of the Alerte, Edward Frederick Knight writes of treasure waiting to be found in Portugal’s Salvage Islands. He also warns of a big-wave setup in the archipelago that careens around an inhospitable little isle. 

Nearly 125 years later, Knight’s words left surfer and sailor Matt Knight (no relation) inspired to find and surf that same storied wave. Knight’s resulting search and strike missions are the subject of filmmaker Mikey Corker’s documentary Savage Waters—a captivating adventure about family, career, struggles, and beauty. 

Image by Mikey Corker, courtesy of Abacus Media Rights.

Surf travel has long been a family affair for the Knights. Knight’s partner, Suzanne, and their four children have run down the coasts of North and Central America in an RV and taken many water-based adventures. And all family members contribute to Knight’s search for big-wave glory in the Salvage Islands—especially their son, Taz, who presently lives in Bundoran, Ireland, where he spends his days crowbarring up floorboards in his ongoing home renovation, playing harmonica, and stuffing emerald barrels. Taz’s charisma, lifelong experience in travel, and confidence in heavy water prove pivotal in the mission’s logistics—which include coordinating their arrival with volatile Atlantic swell. 

In a scene left on the cutting-room floor, Knight anchors Hecate, his Wharram Pahi 52-foot catamaran, on the leeward side of a cove that he thought would be safe for the night. As swell wrapped into the cove like a tsunami, the boat’s anchors, lines, and cleats were pushed to their limits in strength; a failure would’ve washed them into the rocks, with possibly fatal results. “Matt acted like nothing was up,” Corker says about the situation. “He just sat there, doing his job.” 

Image by Mikey Corker, courtesy of Abacus Media Rights.

Knight has also recruited experienced British big-wave surfer Andrew “Cotty” Cotton in his efforts. Cotty’s tenuous chase for internet-breaking rides at Nazaré—the ones that pay the bills as a pro—run in tandem, and sometimes in contrast, to Knight’s  mission. In the film’s most truthful scene, a post-injury Cotty comes to terms with how dangerous big-wave surfing can be. Amid raising a family of his own, he discusses with his parents whether to take on the family’s plumbing business or continue to live on high alert for the next swell, willing to die to ride it. It’s cognitive dissonance on a Hemingway level. How does one possibly choose the right answer?  

We’ve all heard the saying, “It’s about the journey, not the destination.” But we want Katharine Ross to run away with us at the end of The Graduate. We want the fairy-tale ending. We want Mother Nature to deliver on surf trips. Savage Waters is no different. As viewers, we root for the crew to discover what Edward Frederick Knight wrote about more than a century ago—especially after being shown each person’s challenges to get there. 

Do they score first tracks at big-wave perfection? You’ll have to watch and see.

[Feature Image by Mikey Corker, courtesy of Abacus Media Rights.]