Today: July 18, 2024

Surfing Films

Surfing movies have been around for well over half a century. From the earliest days of the sport’s arrival on the US mainland and its acceptance as part of youth culture, at least in California, surfers were making home movies of their antics. Surfing movies were always aimed at surfers and were principally a documentary format, but occasionally Hollywood tried to embrace this sporting counterculture.

Surfing movies have been around for well over half a century. From the earliest days of the sport’s arrival on the US mainland and its acceptance as part of youth culture, at least in California, surfers were making home movies of their antics. Surfing movies were always aimed at surfers and were principally a documentary format, but occasionally Hollywood tried to embrace this sporting counterculture.

One of Hollywood’s first efforts was a movie called Gidget, which was about a young girl growing up amongst the renegade surfers of southern California. This film had an irreversible effect on the sport and was responsible for its sudden upsurge in popularity during the sixties. It also generated a raft of copycat films such as Beach Blanket Bingo and Ride the Wild Surf, which did nothing to enhance the credibility of surfing or cinema.

Meanwhile, surfer Bruce Browne was making movies of his friends as they explored the world, trying to escape the throngs on the US Pacific coast. His film Endless Summer became one of the biggest surfing documentaries of the era, crossing over into mainstream cinemas. Other surfer/filmmakers, such as Hal Jepsen and John Severson, were trying to follow suit and although they didn’t quite get the same success as Browne, they did manage to lead a nice lifestyle that involved shooting and editing their surfing journeys as they travelled the world.

The seventies was another growth time for surfing. The craze of the early sixties had ebbed and surfing was enjoying a soulful, almost hippy-like, period. It may have slipped back into the counterculture but there were new places to explore. Australian filmmaker Albert Falzon took champion surfers Nat Young and Michael Peterson and some of his buddies to a small, virtually unexplored island north of Australia called Bali and produced the film Morning of the Earth, turning the island into a Mecca for Aussie surfers and eventually an international tourist spot. Around the same time, two American filmmakers, Jim Freeman and Greg MacGillivray made the hugely popular 5 Summer Stories, which concentrated primarily on the waves of Hawaii and America’s Pacific coast. MacGillivray Freeman went on to become pioneers of large-format cinematography contributing aerial photography for Jonathan Livingstone Seagull as well the growth of IMAX. But there were still plenty of other grassroots surfing films being produced, such as Hoole/McCoys’s Tubular Swells and Paul Witzig’s The Islands, which like its counterparts, all followed a prescribed format that legendary big wave rider Greg Noll described as “surf porn”.

As surfing started to make its first major steps as a professional sport, captured in the 2008 documentary Busting Down the Door, Hollywood was having another attempt at capturing the halcyon days, except this time it got it right. Maverick writer-director John Milius (Apocalypse Now, Conan the Barbarian) along with surfing legend Denny Aaberg wrote down their own experiences of the early days around Malibu to make Big Wednesday, the definitive Hollywood movie on the surfing lifestyle. Using the best surf photographers of the era including the aforementioned MacGillivray Freeman and Bud Browne, he also hired the slightly eccentric George Greenough to shoot the water footage. Greenough’s speciality was filming from inside the waves with his self-designed and -built waterproof camera that he mounted on his shoulder as he rode large waves (now, for around £200 you can buy a pocket-size HD camera that does the same job www.gopro.com). Greenough was also the subject of a documentary called Crystal Voyager, shot by Albert Falzon and produced and directed by David Elfick, who went on to write and produce some major award-winning Australian films (Newsfront, Rabbit Proof Fence). Crystal Voyager followed Greenough as he built his own yacht, much of it from scrap, and sailed along the California coast in search of empty waves. It is probably best known for its final 20 minutes of footage shot from within the waves accompanied by the Pink Floyd song Echoes. The film had a special screening at last year’s CPH:DOX Film Festival in Denmark, of all places.

Although the decade from the mid seventies may have been the heyday of surfing films they have been continuously in production, and apart from a few attempts by Hollywood, from the contrived Point Break and Blue Crush to the surprisingly good animation Surf’s Up, they have remained pretty much a niche market. However, the advent of BIG wave riding has genuinely brought something spectacular for general audiences to see. Two such films that explore the big wave riding phenomenon got cinema release around the same time, Billabong Odyssey and the superior Riding Giants, which was one of the opening night films at Sundance in 2004. The film was made by Stacy Peralta, the surfer and skateboard champ who had previously made Dog Town and Z Boys and wrote the fictional adaptation, Lords of Dogtown. Riding Giants follows the history of big wave riding from its earliest days up to modern times of riding 60 foot plus waves.

With the advent of digital technology, such as the aforementioned GoPro camera, it has become easier and more affordable for the generally impoverished surfers to capture their obsession, and with the sport enjoying increased popularity in the UK there has been an equivalent demand for content from distributors and extreme sports cable/satellite television stations, but they will always remain a niche market.

Check out Rio Breaks (main pic), out in cinemas from 3 June.

Marcia Degia - Publisher

Marcia Degia, who has worked in the media industry for more than 20 years, is the Publishing Editor of KOL Social Magazine. See website: thekolsocial.com

Previous Story

Illusionist, The (French) DVD

Next Story

Never Let Me Go

Latest from Blog

Memory

Memory (2023)

Memory is an exquisite American drama in the tender embrace of Michel Franco’s cinematic prowess.

Longlegs

Following early screenings, Longlegs mania became something bigger than anyone could have predicted. After an eerie and ambiguous marketing campaign made up largely of short, cryptic teasers, hype was already pretty high

Inside No 9 Complete Collection Unboxing

Earlier this year, one of the finest television creations in the history of the medium came to a poignant conclusion after 9 impeccable seasons. Over 55 self-contained episodes, Inside No 9 made

A Bittersweet Life Unboxing

Taking a brief detour from horror, Second Sight Films have given their much-loved Limited Edition treatment to South Korean neo-noir thriller A Bittersweet Life (2005). Filmmaker Kim Jee-woon may jump wildly around

The Conversation Unboxing

Francis Ford Coppola’s masterpiece of paranoia The Conversation celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, and StudioCanal are marking the occasion with this utterly beautiful Limited Edition 4K UHD Blu-ray release that even

Halo Season Two Unboxing

While the Halo TV series continues to be controversial with longtime ‘fans’ of the franchise for petty reasons, this year’s explosive second season certainly marked an improvement over the first. With better
Go toTop