10 surf movies that inspired generations

Surf movies generally fall into three different genres: surf documentaries, beach party movies, and feature films with surfing in the background. The first known film documentation of surfing comes from the film by Robert Kates Bonine Hawaiian Islands It was made in 1906 for inventor Thomas Edison, who wanted to use new camera technology to document every corner of America and explore its culture. These early Polynesian pioneers helped spread the gospel of surfing and ushered in a new series of documentaries on the practice, evolving concurrently with the sport’s quantum leaps through new concepts and the development of fiber optics.

It wasn’t long before the mainland surfing trend of the 1950s made its way into narrative films Device It became so popular that it spawned a new genre of California beach party film. Seven years later, surf documentaries starring Bruce Browns also made a quantum leap The endless summer We follow three surfers around the world to avoid the change of seasons and find the ultimate wave.

In the 80’s and 90’s surfing experienced another renaissance and Hollywood took notice and made films like north shore And point break It explored storylines centered around surfing and attempted to present a more modern, documentary photography of actors and their doppelgangers being mugged while running. Throughout this history, the “soul” of surfing has remained an integral part of these films, regardless of genre.

Below are 10 surf movies that inspired generations to don wetsuits and jump into the surf franchise.


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11 north shore

Universal images

north shore was a film made at the peak of surfing popularity in the ’80s. In it, Matt Adler played Rick Hall, an aspiring inland surfer who heads to the North Shore of O’ahu to pursue his dream of becoming a pro. Along the way, he falls in love with a local girl from the “Hui” clan, a group of Hawaiians he is suspicious of haoles (Tourists) who come to Hawaii for the incredible waves. The film is mostly memorable for its great surfing cinematography and the stunts performed by the likes of surfing legends Gerry Lopez and Laird Hamilton. Although it definitely has some very dated 80’s aspects, north shore was one of the most serious attempts to portray the lifestyle of surfers and the politics of the local-only mentality, which can sometimes be a stumbling block for aspiring surfers trying to break into the scene.

Related: Jason Momoa to Produce Biopic About Hawaiian Surfing Legend Duke Kahanamoku

10 The Endless Summer II

New Line Cinema

The sequel to the most important documentary about surfing, The endless summer II Retaining the ease of the original, this time it had two surfers, Pat O’Connell (a shortboarder) and Robert “Wingnut” Weaver (a longboarder) surf together in a journey across continents from the blood-warm waters of Costa Rica to the frigid shores Alaskans. The film features cameo appearances from surfing legends like tour star Tom Curren to TV personalities like Steve Irwin The crocodile hunter Fame. The surfing odd couple created a modern take on the original, and the film retained Bruce Brown’s soothing narration voice.

9 Step into the liquid

Pipeline segment of Step-Into-Liquid-63750546
Craft entertainment

Dana Brown followed in his father Bruce’s footsteps and made his foray into the world of surf movies with 2003 Step into the liquid, a more contemporary look at surfing around the world, this time featuring modern innovations like tow-in surfing, which allowed surfers to jump into waves far too big to paddle. The film featured luminaries from his father’s films, as well as a new generation of surfers like Kelly Slater and Laird Hamilton, known for pushing the boundaries and dangers of the sport. Brown shows how much the sport has evolved since his father’s films, using much better camera technology with underwater photography and helicopter footage to get a close-up view of the action.

8th Five Summer Stories

Surfer and Big Wave in Five Summer Stories
MacGillivray Freeman Films

Five Summer Stories is the final film from surf documentaries Jim Freeman and Greg MacGillivray, which explored the lives of surfers like Gerry Lopez and Eddie Aikau, Waimea Beach’s first lifeguard who saved over 500 lives. The film also featured the incredible animation work of John Lamb, one of the first to animate surfing and skateboarding with a bright, bold watercolor technique. The film is the first to contextualize surfing within society at large, showing where it relates to the psychedelic times of 1972 and incorporating a Technicolor technique

7 Big Wednesday

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Warner Bros.

Gary Busey has appeared in two of surfing’s most important narrative films: point break And Big Wednesday. The latter saw the actor in an epic written and directed by John Milius, based on the director’s own experiences growing up in Malibu, to great acclaim. The characters have one goal in mind: to avoid the Vietnam Draft so they can sustain their lives of surfing, travel, and great beach parties while sending their friends into battle. Milius has a lifelong love affair with surfing and even incorporated it into his famous screenplay apocalypse now. Busey was actually a talented surfer in real life, which was one of those rare instances where an actor didn’t need extensive surfing training to play this type of role.

6 north of the sun


Surfing has gained such a large following that it’s no longer just practiced in sunny places like California and Hawaii, but has expanded to include landlocked locations and even a remote island in Norway in the documentary north of the sun. There, Inge Wegge and Jorn Nyseth Ranum find a break so compelling that they are willing to battle the extreme climate and sub-cooled seawater. The film shows how much effort surfers go to to achieve their dream of a pit stop, even if it means battling extreme elements and danger.

5 Riding giants

riding giants
Sony Pictures Classics

He is best known for skateboard documentaries such as Dogtown and Z BoysStacey Peralta turned his other passion, surfing, into his film Riding giants, which traced the origins and evolution of big wave surfing. The film initially focuses on Greg Noll, who pioneered big wave surfing in the 1950s and ’60s and traversed Waimea Bay at a depth of 25 feet, which at the time was thought impossible even by native Hawaiians. The film then revolves around Jeff Clark, who discovered the Mavericks’ infamous reef wave in Northern California’s Half Moon Bay and for a time surfed the deadly chasm alone. Laird Hamilton is considered the greatest inventor of big wave surfing, as the beefy surfer was the first to take to the waves in the outer waves of Hawaii and California.

4 point break

Point Break 1991
20th Century Fox

Kathryn Bigelow has established herself as one of the greatest action directors in film history, with point break, Bigelow caught Patrick Swayze at the peak of his powers. Swayze plays Bodhi, a soul surfer and bank robber who takes Johnny Utah (Keanu Reeves) under his wing, unaware that Utah is an FBI agent assigned to hunt him down. Swayze, Reeves and Lori Petty all required extensive surfing training for the film, but the surfing sequences required them to do extensive stunt doubles, a testament to how difficult the sport is. Still trying to do his own stunts, Swayze did a few shots for the film before breaking four ribs. Ouch!

Related: Keanu Reeves was replaced by Alan Ritchson as the villain in Fast X

3 Device

Columbia images

The Beach Party Movie That Started It All Device was a 1959 adaptation of a pulp fiction novel that capitalized on the recent surfing trend, cast Sandra Dee in the title role, and featured the first surfing scenes in a major motion picture. The film was a hit and inspired a number of films and a television series starring Sally Field. Given how light-hearted the image was, it inspired many young surfers to emulate the glamorous Malibu lifestyle of Moondoggie and his group of surfing buddies.

2 Stephanie in the water

Screenshot from 05/09/2023 at 00:38:04

Stephanie Gilmore is an eight-time WSL champion and arguably one of the greatest surfers of all time. However, her greatest challenge came when she was attacked outside her home in Australia. Stephanie in the water details her struggle to overcome the onslaught and get back on track to winning ways on tour, a harrowing ordeal that was both a mental and physical challenge. The film has its greatest moments with the photograph of the impossibly graceful Gilmore in the water, battling the waves and using her tremendous physical ability and athleticism to renovate the sport for women.

1 The endless summer

Cinema V

Simply the greatest surfing movie of all time: Bruce Browns The endless summer brought surfing to a much larger audience with a theatrical release in 1966 – when insider kids across America suddenly had a reference that transcended the beach party movies of the ’60s to show how they could indulge in the sport. Brown figured that if you had the time and money, you could go back and forth between the northern and southern hemispheres in summer and surf year-round for the rest of your life.

On a tight budget, Brown and surfers Robert August and Mike Hynson do just that, traveling to destinations like Australia and Hawaii armed with nothing more than surfboards and a 16mm camera. Brown’s film had an immeasurable impact on the sport, inspiring generations after generations to take up surfing wherever they are and providing a blueprint for how to do it.

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