It hasn't exactly worked out that way, however. Instead, writers and directors have struggled to take something so esoteric and visceral and translate it into an easy-to-follow storyline with believable dialogue. It has proven an almost impossible feat. With the exception of Jeff Spicolli, very few great surf moments have broken free from the multiplex.
Therefore, it's time to take a retrospective journey through some of modern Hollywood's best and worst attempts to show the world what surfing is all about.
Note: I am not attempting to include "real" surf movies like The Endless Summer or Riding Giants. I'm talking Hollywood's attempts at fictional representations of surf-life facsimilies and stereotypes that sometimes hit their targets and others times fell flat.
Big WednesdayThe bottom line is that Big Wednesday did an exquisite job in representing true surfers and real surfing. Three friends spend their youth surfing their homebreak, hanging with friends, going to parties, and otherwise caring about nothing but friendship and the next swell. They must ultimately deal with fading youth, adult responsibilities, and the Vietnam War. Jan Michael Vincent, William, Katt, and Gary Busey portray characters trying painfully to make their fanatical devotion to surfing fit into "real life" and who resist sacrificing their inner surfer to the Gods of maturity and circumstance. Directed by John Milus, Big Wednesday is the most realistic portrayal of surfers in the 60's and 70's to date.
Also, you're not going to find better wave riding cinematography. Although it's supposed to be California, the waves (mostly Hawaiian)are great, and surfers like Gerry Lopez, Ian Cairnes, and Peter Townend light up the screen with classic 60's style.
PointbreakThis is tough for me. Keanu Reeves and Patrick Swazey are not my proverbial cups of tea, but how can I argue with a film that tells the story of a roving band of big wave surfers who rob banks to pay for their surf travel expenses. It makes sense to me. However, there is a mire of painful dialogue and awkward surfer stereotyping to wallow through along the way. Johnny Utah (Reeves) and his partner (Gary Busey...again) must infiltrate this illicit gang of soulmen by learning to surf and becoming one of them. Loads of action and a little lovemaking ensue along with some good surfing and lines like this: “It’s not tragic to die doing what you love. If you want the ultimate, you got to be willing to pay the ultimate price.”
Pointbreak is a fun action flick that makes a sincere effort to clench the elusive surf philosophy with varying but mostly satisfying results.
North ShoreOkay, so Rick Cane's ascent from wavepool maestro to near-Pipemaster is not the most eloquently told story in the annals of movie making, but for a surfer, it's damn fun to watch. What's more is that if you have ever been to the North Shore, you see that many of the explosively over dramaticized events portrayed here are rooted in some truth. The Halloween parties, the shave ice, the strip clubs, and the localism aren't all just a bunch tropical legends, they are small parts that add to the whole North Shore experience.
Rick Cane (Matt Adler) is the Karate Kid to Chandler's (Gregory Harrison) Miagi, and the karate championship is replaced by the Pipemasters. Occy and Rob Paige stretch their acting muscles to portray a couple of hard-drinking Aussies, and everyone from Shaun Tompson to Corky Carrol are hanging in the background.
Packed with beautiful scenery and great surfing, the bottom line is that North Shore is cheesy and unbelievable, but I think we should all be grateful it exists.
Blue CrushOn some levels, Blue Crush is simply North Shore with a female protagonist; however, the visual realism is far superior. The cinematography is phenomenal with angles and perspectives that convey what a surfer truly experiences out in the lineup, ducking under waves, and dropping in to the pit. This is a big screen event for sure.
Kate Bosworth plays a young surfer with an impressive amateur career who suffers a near fatal brush with the reef at Pipe and must somehow overcome her fear of the infamous left while at the same time deal with her love for a pro football player and her loyalty to her best friends. All of this comes to a head somewhere between the obligatory group of territorial Hawaiians beating down the haole boyfriend and the even more obligatory showdown at Pipe in the closing minutes of the film. Will it all work out?
Of course...But both the characters and scenery are beautiful, and there are some great female surf performances.