Both a form of entertainment and envy, surf movies document those dedicated – in some way or another – to the lifestyle and craft of the sport. Featuring professional surfers in their element, each surf flick showcases the best of the best at any given time. And despite what some may assume, surf movies can very well be as thematic, moody, and moving as a standard Hollywood production. The exception? You’ll most likely either attempt a new trick or two, adjusting your style accordingly, or get bit by the travel bug in order to seek out that perfect spot.
There’s also a wide array of surf movies to choose from. Some smaller productions tend to present a more localized view of the sport, featuring local pros and spots within a specific region. Some act as introductory pieces to future world tour professionals, while other present magnificent snapshots of world-class breaks, scenery, and people. It really all depends on what you’re after. So we’ve racked our brains to lay out 12 can’t-miss surf movies across several decades that all touch on the themes presented above. Some were large productions at the time, others not-so-much. What is for certain though is these 12 are surefire hits, whether you’re simply interested in some sun-soaked entertainment or you’re more of a die-hard year-round surfer interested in expanding your library of must-haves.
The Endless Summer
Even those who’ve never surfed a day in their lives have heard of this famous Bruce Brown documentary. The premise is an obvious one: two surfers decide to chase the summer season and surf around the globe – uncovering spots rarely (if ever) ridden before – meeting influential people along the way. It stars the likes of famed surf/shaper Robert August and Michael Hynson along with a myriad of eclectic personalities and guides introduced throughout the flick.
Five Summer Stories
Featuring a handful of now legendary surfers, Five Summer Stories documents the lives of (you guessed it) five prominent Californian and Hawaiian surfers during a time when the world was a notoriously dangerous place – and how surfing served as a creative and expressive outlet for those looking to get away from the noise. Also documented is surfing at a historical moment, slowing seeping into mainstream culture, and paving the way for the worldwide phenomenon it is today.
What’s now more of a colloquial phrase within the surfing community started out as an iconic surf flick following the lives of three California surfers from the early 60s to the 70s. The theme of the movie is that of changing times – moreover how, these carefree individuals are faced with an increasingly complex and challenging world. Naturally, the Vietnam War plays a pivotal role in the plot – with the impending draft leaving them to wonder if the war, in addition to its controversy at the time, will force them to miss out on that perfect incoming swell.
The Endless Summer II
Better believe it. Yes, Bruce Brown’s initial Endless Summer was so influential for it’s time that he decided to bring aboard two young California surfers (Pat O’Connell and Robert “Wingnut” Weaver) on yet another journey across the globe chasing the summer season and the world’s best waves along the way. From the stifling-hot beaches of Costa Rica to the sharky waters of South Africa, these two lucky surfers surely lived the life we all dream of during this film’s production.
Thicker Than Water
A moody film no doubt, Thicker Than Water works to document the stages of surfing – from that initial wave-riding moment to a seemingly insatiable appetite for perfection. It’s written and directed by musician Jack Johnson along with the Malloy bothers – a trio of professional surfers, globetrotters, and soul-seekers. Additional surfers featured in the film include Rob Machado, Kelly Slater, Shane Dorian, big-wave-guru Brad Gerlach, and was shot on location across the North Atlantic, South Pacific, and the Bay of Bengal.
Momentum: Under the Influence
Director Taylor Steele had an idea to showcase up-and-coming surfers who at the time were pushing the sport to its limits. That idea resulted in Momentum, featuring a handful of innovative and talented young surfers under the age of 23 that’s shot on location in Indonesia, Australia, South Africa, Mexico, and California.
Step Into Liquid
Written and directed by Dana Brown (the son of Bruce Brown), Step Into Liquid acts as more of a profile piece compiled with interviews of the world’s most influential and talented surfers of their day. There’s also plenty of surfing to be had here as well – including footage of monstrous tow-in spots off the coast of Hawaii. Also, for what it’s worth, this surf movie was initially released in Imax theaters – if that gives you any idea of the cinematography at work here.
What do you get when one of the largest surf brands in the industry follows a handful of big wave surfers on their quest for the world’s biggest waves? A groundbreaking opus meant for the big screen. The final project – Billabong Odyssey – features the likes of Ken Bradshaw, Ken Collins, Shawn Barron, and a handful of other hellmen as they scour 6 continents over the course of 18 months for 70ft+ oceanic giants.
Quiksilver Young Guns 2
Talk about a dream vacation. Once 5-star yacht, a handful of jet skis, and a helicopter to document a trip in the wave-rich Mentawai Islands. Clearly, Quiksilver spared no expense in putting this trip together for a handful of up and coming surfers from around the world. Oh, and Kelly Slater of course. What follows is an in-your-face look at several now-world-tour contenders when they were still too young to legally drink a beer after a high-octane session.
If this beautifully-done surf flick doesn’t give you the itch to travel the world (surfer or not) than we don’t know what will. Directed by Taylor Steele, this is not just a surf movie. It’s an entree of cultural idiosyncrasies and collectivity that ties us together as one sovereign people. Not to mention the surfing is stellar, the cinematography on point, and the soundtrack perfectly suited for each segment.
A Deeper Shade of Blue
Anyone who’s spent some time surfing knows it’s about more than just carving across the face of peeling wave. There’s an otherworldly element to the sport – manifested in the form in intrinsic peace of mind and relaxation after a session. It’s this very transcendental nature of surfing that A Deeper Shade of Blue attempts to uncover. Here, they dive into the surfing’s early roots, the subconscious, the craft of shaping, and overall search for peace and harmony in addition to that perfect peak.
View From A Blue Moon
Not only does this magnificent surf flick showcase how far we’ve come both the style and athleticism involved in the sport, but the technological advancements in filming/editing these pieces. View From a Blue Moon – the first surf film shot in 4K no less – follows the one of the world’s most dynamic surfers of all time – John John Florence – while he and his friends surf and explore the worlds most pristine and remote regions while redefining what it means to be a surfer in the 21st century.
The 30 Best Movies From The '80s
Need some more nostalgia in your life? Be sure to check out this list of the 30 best movies from the ’80s. It’s a handful of premier picks from a bygone era that’s sure to please.