5 Excellent Hollywood Movies About Surfing

Low Angle View of Man Surfing

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Over the years, Hollywood has made a few surf movies, or shall we say Hollywood has made some attempts at bringing the sport of surfing to the big screen. It seems like a no-brainer. Surfing with its beautiful images, full-tilt action, and colorful characters (not to mention lots of tanned skin for sexy celluloid flair) should be a natural hit in the theater.

It hasn't correctly worked out that way, however. Instead, writers and directors have struggled to take something so esoteric and visceral and translate it into an easy-to-follow storyline with believable dialogue. It has proven an almost impossible feat. Except for Jeff Spicolli, very few great surf moments have broken free from the multiplex.

Therefore, it's time to take a retrospective journey through some of modern Hollywood's best and worst attempts to show the world what surfing is all about.

Note: This list does not include "real" surf movies like The Endless Summer or Riding Giants. This list includes Hollywood's attempts at fictional representations of surf-life facsimiles and stereotypes that sometimes hit their targets and others times fall flat.

Big Wednesday

The bottom line is that Big Wednesday did an exquisite job in representing true surfers and real surfing. Three friends spend their youth surfing their home break, hanging with friends, going to parties, and otherwise caring about nothing but friendship and the next swell. They must ultimately deal with fading youth, adult responsibilities, and the Vietnam War. Jan Michael Vincent, William, Katt, and Gary Busey portray characters trying painfully to make their fanatical devotion to surfing fit into "real life" and who resist sacrificing their inner surfer to the Gods of maturity and circumstance. Directed by John Milius, Big Wednesday is the most realistic portrayal of surfers in the '60s and '70s to date.

Also, you're not going to find better wave riding cinematography. Although it's supposed to be California, the waves (mostly Hawaiian) are great, and surfers like Gerry Lopez, Ian Cairnes, and Peter Townend light up the screen with classic 60's style.

Point Break

Keanu Reeves and Patrick Swazey are not my proverbial cups of tea, but how can I argue with a film that tells the story of a roving band of big wave surfers who rob banks to pay for their surf travel expenses. It makes sense to me. However, there is a mire of painful dialogue and awkward surfer stereotyping to wallow through along the way. Johnny Utah (Reeves) and his partner (Gary Busey) must infiltrate this illicit gang of soulmen by learning to surf and becoming one of them. Loads of action and a little lovemaking ensue along with some good surfing and lines like this: “It’s not tragic to die doing what you love. If you want the ultimate, you got to be willing to pay the ultimate price.”

Point Break is a fun action flick that makes a sincere effort to clinch the elusive surf philosophy with varying but mostly satisfying results.

North Shore

Okay, so Rick Cane's ascent from wave pool maestro to near-Pipemaster is not the most eloquently told story in the annals of movie making, but for a surfer, it's damn fun to watch. What's more is that if you have ever been to the North Shore, you see that many of the explosively over-dramatized events portrayed here are rooted in some truth. The Halloween parties, the shave ice, the strip clubs, and the localism aren't all just a bunch of tropical legends, and they are small parts that add to the whole North Shore experience.

Rick Cane (Matt Adler) is the Karate Kid to Chandler's (Gregory Harrison) Miagi, and the Pipemasters replace the karate championship. Occy and Rob Paige stretch their acting muscles to portray a couple of hard-drinking Aussies, and everyone from Shaun Tompson to Corky Carrol is hanging in the background.

Packed with beautiful scenery and great surfing, the bottom line is that North Shore is cheesy and unbelievable, but we should all be grateful it exists.

Blue Crush

On some levels, Blue Crush is simply North Shore with a female protagonist; however, the visual realism is far superior. The cinematography is phenomenal with angles and perspectives that convey what a surfer truly experiences out in the lineup, ducking under waves, and dropping into the pit. This is a big screen event for sure.

Kate Bosworth plays a young surfer with an impressive amateur career who suffers a near-fatal brush with the reef at Pipe and must somehow overcome her fear of the infamous left while at the same time deal with her love for a pro football player and her loyalty to her best friends. All of this comes to a head somewhere between the obligatory group of territorial Hawaiians beating down the haole boyfriend and the even more obligatory showdown at Pipe in the closing minutes of the film. Will it all work out? Of course, but both the characters and scenery are beautiful, and there are some great female surf performances.

In God's Hands

For the most part, In God's Hands is God awful. Shane Dorian, while being one of the most incredible surfers on the planet, has all the acting range of a foam blank. His supporting cast of Shaun Tompson, Darrick Doerner, and Matt George would be great if this were a typical surf flick. Instead, this is a Hollywood film directed by Zalman King (91/2 Weeks and Wild Orchid).

It's an introspective and international journey of a surfer who is struggling with his success on the pro tour and his inner need to be a big wave soul surfer. That sounds kind of cool, but it doesn't feel right having to suffer through it in the theater.

Again, the surfing is wonderful, and the visuals explode, but the acting and storyline pour over you like a vat of warm mayonnaise

The bottom line is that we are lucky to have these films at all. Surfing is an art that cannot be described, and only the most uncanny writers and directors can hope to translate it into dialogue that doesn't make the viewer laugh out loud. Just try and explain surfing to a non-surfing friend, and you will feel the frustration of these filmmakers. It's easier to put it in the words of Spicolli: "All I want is a cool buzz and tasty waves."

Does he speak for us all?