Let’s be honest – surfing is the coolest sport and surfing movies are way cooler than any other sporting movie. Sure cheese rolling, bobsleigh or lacrosse have their merits but where are the bunch of movies to back up the credo (Cool Runnings aside)? So surfing wins hands down. In a year when we have mostly been at home, it feels only right to try to escape to the great beyond with a list of ten epic films about the freedom and beauty of riding the waves.
- Best for: Cult status
The character of Californian teenager Gidget was based on a real life surf chick called Kathy Kohner whose surfing antics inspired her Dad to write stories about her. Gidget became more than just a surf movie, but rather a film & TV franchise. The original screen version was this 1959 film, in which Gidget is played by Sandra Dee (Yep, of “look at me, I’m Sandra Dee, lousy with virginity” of Grease fame). A technicolour explosion of summertime good vibes which sees “tomboy” Gidget show more interest in surfing than finding a surfer boyfriend…in the beginning at least. Romance ensues with the wonderfully named Moondoggie – is it just me or does that sound like a strain of the best Cali weed?
Director: Paul Wendkos
THE ENDLESS SUMMER (1966)
- Best for: Sun worshippers
Robert August and Mike Hynsen were just a couple of surfers who wanted it to always be summer, and who could blame them? The film’s title, and their journey within it, comes from the idea that, if you had enough time and money, it would be possible to follow the summer up and down the world (northern to southern hemisphere and back), making it endless. They pack little more than their boards and wax and hit all the best beaches of the world (jealous, much?) The doc has a traditional 50’s/60’s style to it, with some wry humour and the theme song by The Sandals which will make you wanna do exactly as they did.
Director: Bruce Brown
MORNING OF THE EARTH (1972)
- Best for: Hippies
Approaching its 50th anniversary, this inspirational Australian documentary is getting a 4k remaster, so keep an eye out for that in the next year. Morning of the Earth tells the story of a group of surfers promoting a lifestyle that might have even more resonance today; unconditional love for the planet. Making their own boards, building their own houses, living in spiritual harmony with nature…where do I sign up to join them?
Directors Alby Falzon & David Elfick
BIG WEDNESDAY (1978)
- Best for: Purists
The budget for sugar glass on this picture must have been about 50% of the total spend – I lost count of the number of men being thrown through windows during drunken brawls. Grappling with some big questions about lifestyle choice and freedom, it even takes on the issue of young men being drafted out to Vietnam. What begins as a seemingly shallow look at the lives of white American boys with too much time on their hands, becomes a more reflective study of growing up and accepting change. The war steals friends away, as does alcoholism and adult responsibility, yet the film remains clear on the ultimate beauty of the waves. A classic.
Director: John Milius
POINT BREAK (1991)
- Best for: Peak Keanu
Directed by powerhouse Kathryn Bigelow and a huge box office smash. No mean feat for a female director in the early 90s, they barely let women direct films at all back then. Point Break tells the story of an FBI agent going undercover with a group of surfers who may or may not be bank robbers and falling in love with their lifestyle along the way. Not only does this film give us one of Keanu’s finest performances as rookie agent Johnny Utah, but also if you Google image search him in it you’ll need to apologise to your boss for you will lose the next hour or two of your day to lust. I’m telling you, if there was an Oscar category for Best Wet T-shirts, he would have won….Anyway, back to the film: high stakes, adrenaline-fuelled action, incredible cinematography in the surf sequences: in my humble opinion, this is one of the finest action movies to come out of the decade. Patrick Swayze is excellent as Reeves’ nemesis Bodhi and also features Gary Busey bringing some comic relief as Agent Pappas, presumably in a nod to his role in Big Wednesday.
A great addition to the sports movie genre, in short, if you haven’t seen it, what the hell have you been doing instead?
Director: Kathryn Bigelow
BLUE JUICE (1995)
- Best for: Britpop Beach Bums
If 90s nostalgia and surfing on Cornish beaches are in the centre of the Venn Diagram of your interests (*sheepishly raises hand*), then Blue Juice could just be the summer movie for you. A lineup of future stars, (Catherine Zeta Jones, Ewan McGregor, Sean Pertwee), all looking fresh-faced, bring their best swagger to this indie production. Telling the story of a former surf champ who needs to make a choice: grow up and move on with his girlfriend or continue chasing the elusive waves. It doesn’t exactly celebrate the notion of men who refuse to grow up, but is certainly well-versed in what makes them tick. It’s a classic man fucks up – loses girl – tries to win girl back story, all with a Britpop soundtrack.
Director: Carl Prechezer
THE SEPTEMBER SESSIONS (2002)
- Best for: Musical Bliss
Who else didn’t know that Jack Johnson was a professional surfer and filmmaker before he became known as a hugely successful musician? Ok so I might be the only person and that’s a little embarrassing so let’s move on… Multi-hyphenate Johnson created this documentary film for Kelly Slater, aka surfing’s most iconic figure and every 90’s teenager’s wet (!) dream. This character study film charts Slater’s journey to re-discover his connection with surfing after retirement from the pro circuit. It would be easy to hate Jack Johnson for being a man of quite so many talents, but all of them are really enriching – his music compliments this ode to waves just perfectly. Dive in, zone out.
Director: Jack Johnson
BLUE CRUSH (2002)
- Best for: Developing a girl crush
Here was a film to make me wish I lived in Hawaii in the early 2000s and worked as a chambermaid at a hotel, such was the power of it’s visuals and vibe. The bleached out blues and greys, lush Hawaiian landscapes and straight-talking female leads felt fresh and exciting at the time of its release and, to be honest, I still loved it when I re-watched it recently. Kate Bosworth played down on her luck Anne Marie who has a talent like no other for riding the waves and needs to get her shit together so she can win the Pipe Masters, which would lead to sponsorship deals and the opportunity to sort her life out. Not only does the film showing the power of female friendship here, but also gives an opportunity to see women competing for something more than just the love interest. Not forgetting it’s a really fun watch – what’s not to love?
Director: John Stockwell
RIDING GIANTS (2004)
- Best for: True Pros
If skateboarding and surfing are siblings, Stacy Peralta is the Daddy. One of the Z-Boys back in the 70s, who found fame by basing their skateboarding moves on surfing, he went on to become a filmmaker, often focusing his work around his own history with both sports..
Riding Giants is part sports history, part thrill ride, – a documentary which pays homage to the brave, but reckless surfers who dared ride the world’s biggest waves. Charting the evolution of surfing from the ’50s to present day, with a keen eye on changing trends and the constant search for ever larger waves, consider this the encyclopaedia of surfing.
Director: Stacy Peralta
NORTH OF THE SUN [NORDFOR SOLA] (2012)
- Best for: Hardcore Thrills
Did somebody say NINE months surfing in the freezing cold? Eek – that’s not exactly what I have in mind when I think of leaving my life behind to become a pro-surfer. Yet, that’s exactly what Inge Wegge and Jørn Ranum decided to do – living in an isolated bay north of the Arctic circle, risking their bodies and minds in order to surf some of the world’s finest waves. At 46 minutes, this doc is a speedy journey into extreme(ly cold) surfing. In many ways this is closer to our UK surfing experience than the sunshine-drenched beaches we like to dream of, so possibly a better watch before you get your wetsuit on and head for the coast…and just imagine the adrenaline rush when you hit that freezing water – BRRRRRR!!!!
Directors: Jørn Nyseth Ranum and Inge Wegge
So there you have it 10 great surfing movies without a single reference to hanging ten or wipe-outs (darn!!). Let us know what you think on our socials or get in touch: email@example.com
If you found this article helpful, we’d also like to let you know that we’re building the first social TV discovery platform. It will be your personal guide to all things streaming and will make finding something to watch a cinch. We’re launching summer 2021, so come on the journey with us by signing up to the waiting list and we’ll let you know how we’re getting on.