For some reason, Hollywood cannot seem to nail Surf Movies. I’m not talking about classics like Bruce Brown’s Endless Summer or recent hits like John John Florence’s A View From a Blue Moon. Hollywood generally has no part in traditional surf films, which are focused solely on exquisite displays of surfing. I’m talking about big budget, star studded, silver screen surf movies. Over the past 50 years or so, there have been dozens, if not hundreds, of attempts to make a good movie about surfing. But something always goes wrong. Oddly, surfing and fictitious plots never mix well. It’s hard to say why good surf movies are far and few between, but it’s probably because authenticity is hard to fake. The pure joy that surfing represents doesn’t translate to the masses. Regardless, Hollywood tries and the result is usually a bizarre mix of tan beach bodies, corny one liners, and a forced feel good message. But if you’re like me, you’ve recognized the joy in the absurdity of these films and have grown to love them. That is why we, at WRSC, have complied a ranking of the absolute “best” worst surf films. Dive in and enjoy!
1. North Shore (1987)
Released at the height of neon clothing’s popularity, North Shore is everything you’d expect out of an 80’s surf film and so much more. The film centers around the kook of all kooks and wave pool extraordinaire, Rick Kane. Rick Kane, an Arizona native, finds himself on the North Shore of Oahu after winning a wave-pool surf contest back home. Rick learns the hard way how dangerous surfing Pipeline can be, but you need not worry. After getting stomped by the reef, Rick falls in love with a Hawaiian girl, meets his mentor Chandler who teaches him to surf pipe in just a few months, and competes against Lance Burkhart (Laird Hamilton) in the Pipe Masters. While it is extraordinarily unrealistic that someone from Arizona would even be able to learn to surf Pipe so quickly, let alone compete in the Pipe Masters, this film is endlessly entertaining in an unintentional satirical sort of way. To its credit, North Shore actually does feature some pretty decent surfing footage, in part due to both Laird Hamilton and Gerry Lopez who star in the film.
2. Point Break (The Original) (1991)
It is hard to summarize the original Point Break’s legendary status as an action sports film. Despite its egregious corniness, the film is still enormously popular. What’s not to like about college football star turned FBI agent, Johnny Utah (Keanu Reaves), taking down Bodhi (Patrick Swayze), the bank robbing surfer, and crew. Of course Keanu Reaves learns to surf, falls in love with the sport, and falls in with the rebellious bank robbing crew. Oh, and there’s a love story too. Point Break’s portrayal of surfers as adrenaline junkies, rebellious, and ultimately criminals didn’t do the surfing community any favors, but man did they look cool.
3.Blue Crush (2002)
At the turn of the 21st century, Hollywood decided to try something no one had done before, create a chick-flick surf film. And well, they did okay. Blue Crush centers around Anne Marie, a surfer girl working as a hotel maid to fund her dream of being a professional surfer and winning the Pipeline Masters. Anne Marie was only ever concerned with surfing, until Pro Quarterback Matt Tollman comes along. You see where this is going? They fall in love, she loses focus on her dream, and ultimately must find a way to balance her budding romance and her ambitions as a surfer. Oh and don’t worry there’s plenty of localism, beach fights, and overly tan beach bodies.
4. Surfs Up (2007)
In a lot of ways, Surfs Up breaks the mold of corny Hollywood surf films. There are no tan beach bodies, surfers aren’t portrayed negatively, oh and it’s an animated movie about penguins. The film is shot as a “behind the scenes look” at the World Penguin Surfing Championship. Which, to be honest, is incredibly creative. The film follows teenage surfer Penguin, Cody Maverick (Shia LaBeouf) from Shiverpool, Antarctica, in his efforts to compete and win the World Penguin Surfing Championship. This film is chalk full of surf star cameos in Penguin form, including Kelly Slater and Rob Machado. If you’re looking for a fun loving movie to introduce surfing to your kids, who are between the ages of 1-9, then this movie is it.
5. Point Break (The Remake) (2015)
Hollywood execs decided that the original Point Break was unfit for the digital age and in need of a reboot. The action packed reboot came in 2015 and wowed audiences everywhere with its high octane stunts. This version of the 1991 classic portrayed surfers and action sports athletes, in general, as bohemian adrenaline junkies chasing a rush and the perfect line through life. Unlike the first movie, Johnny Utah and Bodhi are more than just surfers, they are snowboarders, base jumpers, rock climbers, and of course chasers of enlightenment. What this movie lacks in intelligent narrative structure and Patrick Swayze-ness, it makes up for in action. Action sports legends and athletes were hired by the films producers to coordinate and execute the stunts. The result is an impressive tandem barrel shot in Tahiti’s famous big wave spot, Teahupoo. Laird Hamilton makes a small cameo and served as the films technical surfing advisor, but the actual surfing was done by professional surfers Dylan Longbottom and Bruce Irons. If you are in need of a new guilty pleasure action movie look no further.