Get the popcorn, gather your surfing tribe of friends, and pull out that favorite surf movie. I watch surf movies not only for entertainment, but also to learn about an activity I love to do. Surf movies take me to exotic places, they show me the extremes of what is possible with a board on a wave, and they let my mind surf even when my body cannot.
Hollywood movies depict a surfer’s life in myriad ways, some of which may be very relatable while other parts have us avid surfers shaking our heads at the over-the-top drama and saying, “That would never happen.” Here’s a look at 13 of the best films made.
The Endless Summer (1966)
Considered a timeless classic and a must see surf movie directed by Bruce Brown.
Travel back in time and to amazing places with Mike Hynson and Robert August through their around the world adventures.
Surfing in Australia, New Zealand, Tahiti, Hawai‘i, Senegal, Ghana, and South Africa, the pair portray the fun, carefree, simple and sought-after life of young avid surfers on a mission to find the perfect waves.
This great movie displays friendship, comradery and fun in the water. This film will inspire you to travel. (95 minutes)
Riding Giants (2004)
This is a well-filmed movie/documentary and fascinating history lesson about big wave riding and those unique breed of surfers who seek and ride the biggest surf on the planet.
You’ll meet pioneer big wave surfer Greg Noll who led the charge in the 1950’s on Hawai‘i’s big surf, to Jeff Clark who discovered and surfed California’s Maverick’s massive wave alone for almost a decade, to Laird Hamilton, a rare individual that not only pushes his own physical limits, but the technological advances of the extreme sport as well.
Glimpse a view of the past, present and future of big wave riding and be prepared to cringe during all the wipeout scenes. Excellently directed and narrated by Stacy Peralta. (101 minutes)
Point Break (1991)
A group of rogue surfing friends, led by Patrick Swayze, don masks of former U.S.A. presidents to rob banks when they’re not in the lineup.
Keanu Reeves plays an FBI agent assigned to investigate the robberies and has to learn to surf for the first time ever to infiltrate the gang of thieves.
Action, suspense, romance, surf scenes, and the F-word said over a hundred times, plus the final scene with a record 50-year storm wave, give this movie its fame and cult following.
Overly done with Hollywood drama at times, but a totally fun movie to watch nonetheless. Directed by Kathryn Bigelow. (122 minutes)
Big Wednesday (1978)
Three California surfing friends living life from the early 1960’s to the 1970’s.
Each has a particular personality trait – one reckless, one responsible, one ruthless, which help and hinder them throughout their personal transitions from young men to grown adults.
From all-night partying and carefree surf trips, to marriage and war, it is the big swell of 1974 reunites these changed men in the end, whose friendship has only strengthened over the years and through the troubled times.
It’s a drama film with lots of character conflicts that need resolving through self-seeking inner peace . . . and surfing! Directed by John Milius. (120 minutes)
North Shore (1987)
What happens when you grow up in Arizona, learn to surf in a wave pool, and then move to Oahu’s North Shore to become a pro surfer?
You fail miserably, especially, if you enrage the Hawaiian locals and your main rival is a superior water athlete (played by Laird Hamilton)!
Yet, when young Rick Kane meets a beautiful local girl who introduces him to a board shaper and soul surfer, his luck takes a turn for the better.
Yes, there’s romance and conflicts and coming of age; there’s also a lot of surfing! This film also features legendary surfers including Gerry Lopez, Mark Occhilupo, Mark Foo, Derek Ho, and Ken Bradshaw. Directed by William Phelps. (96 minutes)
Step into Liquid (2003)
An excellent documentary featuring well-known surfers like Layne Beachley, Taj Burrow, Keala Kennelly and Laird Hamilton.
This beautiful film steps into the liquid realms of places like Rapa Nui, the Irish coast, Pipeline, Cortes Bank, and Vietnam, and …. Texas!
It additionally highlights the rise of female surfers in a traditionally male-dominated sport.
Beautifully filmed, incredibly inspiring and lovely surf footage.
Directed by Dana Brown. (87 minutes)
Blue Crush (2002)
After a near-drowning experience, the main heroin played by Kate Bosworth, gets back into the water with the help of her friends and trains for hard for an upcoming competition a rewarding sponsorship.
This movie is unique in that it features an all-female cast of surfers.
Of course, there’s romance and rivalry, and girls can be as ruthless as their male counterparts.
Will love or glory win?
Watch and find out! Directed by John Stockwell. (104 minutes)
Soul Surfer (2011)
It’s hard to believe that someone like Bethany Hamilton actually exists.
This is an incredible true story of a Kaua‘i teenage girl who is on her way to becoming a pro surfer when her life is suddenly upended by a tiger shark that rips her left arm off below the shoulder.
Showing immense strength and courage as well as moments of deep despair, she finds out that no matter what happens in life, we each have the power to persevere through misfortune, and we each have the capacity to make room in our hearts to help others. A must see film.
Directed by Sean McNamara. (112 minutes)
Chasing Mavericks (2012)
A true story about a Santa Cruz boy by the name of Jay Moriarity who gets rescued from drowning by Frosty Hesson, an inspiring Mavericks surfer.
Jay finds a much-needed mentor in Frosty.
Wanting to learn to ride the massive Mavericks wave, Jay learns the foundation pillars of surfing from Frosty that include long-distance board paddling, minutes-long breath holding, and treading water for extended lengths of time.
There’s romance, drama and incredible Mavericks wave riding in this biographical drama directed by Curtis Hanson and Michael Apted. (116 minutes)
Thicker than Water (2000)
Jack Johnson, Emmett Malloy and Chris Malloy, direct this dreamy surf adventure following well-known surfers like Kelly Slater, Rob Machado, Brad Gerlach, Shane Dorian and others for 18-months as they travel to Tahiti, Ireland, Hawai‘i, France and India in search of the best waves on the planet.
Being shot entirely on 16mm film is quite creative in that it gives the movie an authentic feel, one of being in the water, of being among friends and of being passionate about the surfing lifestyle.
There are parts of this movie that are stunningly beautiful, parts that will make you laugh, and parts that will forever stay etched in your mind.
Excellent soundtrack and vivid imagery make this a must see. (45 minutes)
The Endless Summer II (1994)
Bruce Brown is at it again with a riveting sequel to his 1996 movie that chronicles the surf scene since then, from longboarding to short board designs and windsurfing to bodyboarding.
Filmed in Australia, Java, Bali, France, South Africa, Costa Rica and Alaska, this documentary-style look at how far the art of wave riding has branched out from the traditional long boarding.
Featuring pro surfers Robert "Wingnut" Weaver who is sensational on a longboard and Patrick O'Connell on short board, these two have fun in true surfing style and so will you.
An inspirational movie whether your board is long or short! (109 minutes)
In God's Hand (1998)
A drama film about three surf friends with three different views on surfing as they travel to Mexico, Bali, Hawaii and Madagascar in search of monster waves.
The cast includes Matt George, an acclaimed but aging surfer who defends traditional wave-riding, pro surfer Shane Dorian as a young big-wave champion, and Matty Liu as the youngest member of the group.
The traveling trio search for the ultimate ride – 40-foot waves advancing at speeds up to 35 miles per hour.
While rich in visual imagery, this film by Zalman King has a plot that lacks excitement. (98 minutes)
Bra Boys (2007)
Enter the world of the Bra Boys, a tattooed, territorial band of surfing brothers and friends, aggressive, violent, and struggling as they come of age in the 1990's.
Set in Sydney’s eastern suburb of Maroubra, this is a powerful film narrated by Russel Crowe and told by members of the group.
Brutal social conditions shape this gang of surfers who cope with their intense street lives through surfing and ferociously defending claims to specific surf breaks.
The Bra Boys, however, consider themselves a brotherhood, held together by family, courage and loyalty, as told through the true-life accounts of the Abberton brothers.
Directed by Sunny Abberton and Macario De Souza. (90 minutes)
Final Verdict - Which should I get!?
Which movie to watch is certainly going to depend upon whether you’re looking for a Hollywood drama, a documentary or an inspiring film of travel and surf imagery.
It’s always a safe bet to go with the classics, yet it’s fun to step outside of your comfortable water world to view of the art of surfing from different perspectives, whether they be over-the-top dramas or films with no dialogue at all, just pure surfing visuals for the mind.
Documentaries are best for learning about where surfing came from and where it’s headed in the future. These movies introduce you to the top elite surfers, the new surfers making waves, and the pro surfers who chose a path away from competitions. Fictional films are more for entertainment, sometimes focusing less on surfing and more on the movie’s plot and character development. Travel surf films are my personal favorite.
These movies show the people and places surfers encounter during their trips, they highlight surfing in all kinds of conditions, and they allow my body to couch surf while watching so the next time I’m in the water and feeling the board catch, my muscle memory kicks into gear to try that new trick I’ve been wanting to learn.
Additionally, knowing about the surf culture in different countries is great, especially if you have that bucket-list surf trip coming up.