Revisit These Five Classics Of Surf Cinema

Do you remember the 1991 version of Point Break? Because I have just about every second etched in my brain. My uncle rented it for me and my cousins when we were way too young — which goes to explain at least part of why it left such an indelible impression. Over the course of a rainy weekend on the Oregon coast, we watched the whole thing at least three times. Certain scenes we’d just rewind over and over.

Here was a movie with everything:

  • Keanu on the cusp of stardom, flexing his legit acting chops while still splashing around Bill and Ted “duuuuuude” inflections.
  • Patrick Swayze in Action Hero mode — a perfect intro course for kids who had never seen Road House.
  • Anthony Kiedis playing a manic drug dealer who gets shot in the foot in such a brutal and realistic-seeming way that future filmmakers would try to imitate it.
  • And of course, Garey Busey delivering what I believe to be the greatest meatball-sub-ordering line in the history of cinema:

But above all of these joys was the surfing. To my 11-year-old eyes, it was a revelation. The slow-motion shots with beads of water twinkling midair captured the sport’s poetic grace. I remember watching the scene when a surfer lays his back against a wave and thinking, “Please, let me be that cool one day.”

Alas, I am not that cool.

But I do surf and Point Break is the reason why. After 24 years the movie holds up — especially the surfing. There are reasons for that: two of Bodhi’s fellow Ex-Presidents were real-life pros and his stunt double for the Bells Beach scene (shot on the Oregon coast!) was legendary big-wave surfer Darrik Doerner.

For those who are fascinated by surfing, this movie got under the sport’s skin while also telling a ripping yarn about a band of robbers living on society’s fringe.

It was a big, brawling surf spaghetti western and I continue to love it unabashedly.

Here are a few other classics of the genre worth revisiting:

Blue Crush (2002). Don’t hate on the movie that took Michelle Rodriguez’s career to the next level. Besides, once the stunt doubles got in the water there was some pretty amazing footage of Pipeline, the most famous wave on the planet. Pro surfer Kala Alexander even showed up to play a territorial local (not a huge stretch for him), dropping the classic surf movie line, “You flew here; we grew here.”

Big Wednesday (1978). No one debates this movie’s right to be near the top of everyone’s list. It’s the surf world’s version of Easy Rider — fearless, wild and slightly unhinged. Those phrases could also be used to describe Gary Busey’s character Leroy Smith, who gets elaborately basted at a party and tries to roast himself in an oven.

North Shore (1987). This is full of ’80’s sports-movie cliches and goofy dialogue and yet, thanks to the forgiving filter of nostalgia, it manages to be awesome — partly because it features the king of the North Shore, Gerry Lopez; which would be like Bruce Lee showing up in Karate Kid.

The Endless Summer (1966). It’s hard to overstate the significance that this movie has had on surf culture. And beach culture. And Southern California culture. It wasn’t just about the waves, it was about the breezy lifestyle and the bold act of leaving everything behind for the sake of an adventure. It inspired people and (perhaps more surprising considering the documentaries of the time) made them laugh.

So there’s our list — five standouts of the genre that will leave you craving the chance to wax up a board and paddle out. But before we go…Johnny Utah, why don’t you play us off with some of your impeccable Spanish.

For a better understanding of the roots of this ancient sport, here’s the handcrafted alaia in action, courtesy of Jon Wegener: