Want to complete your education on all things surf? Absorb these!
If there existed a course in surf cinema, and of course there isn’t, these are the five films you would watch in the first semester.
They aren’t necessarily the…best… but they all have moments that capture that essential something about surfing. Blue Crush, you might find a little tenuous for its Disney-esque painting of North Shore life. But, even now, if I switch it on and find this one particular scene, it still gives me the shakes.
1. Bustin’ Down the Door
A 2008 documentary that documents in the most dramatic fashion, the Hawaiian winters of 74/75 and 75/76. Why do these winters matter? In 1974 surfers from Australia and South Africa dominated the big-wave events on the North Shore. The Hawaiians weren’t thrilled, but whatever. They became murderous when the Australian boasted about their exploits in print. This documentary is a meticulous account of that violent, terrifying, for the Australians, winter of 75/76. It is the finest document of an epoch in surfing you’ll find.
Turning point: When Ian “Kanga” Cairns seriously contemplates killing a man by throwing him into traffic.
2. Lost Atlas
Kai Neville’s follow-up film to his high-performance statement Modern Collective. Lost Atlas, however, finds a filmmaker suddenly able to express his intention without any technical limitations. Dusty Payne’s sequence is still regarded by many as the best in a surf film for a long time.
Turning point: Dusty’s candid take on women’s surfing, an opinion he backs up with his own astonishing performance.
3. Riding Giants
Stacey Peralta, the one-time skate superstar turned celebrated filmmaker (Dogtown and Z-Boys), narrates and directs this documentary about the rise of big-wave surfing. Stacey doesn’t do anything by halves. Riding Giants (2004) is as compelling as it is important as a document of an often-misunderstood art.
Turning Point: “I guess this is a good day to… die” Gerry Lopez.
4. Blue Horizon
A sponsor-funded film from 2003 that was meant to show the lifestyle differences of the free surfer (Dave Rastovich) and the competitive animal (Andy Irons) ended up becoming a stunning account of winning and losing at the highest level. “I just want to crush Kelly’s pretty picture,” says Andy.
Turning point: Kelly Slater weeping in the shower after losing the world title to Andy Irons.
5. Blue Crush
This isn’t meant to be a shock choice. Yeah, it’s Hollywood and, yeah, it’s cheese ball at times. But the moment in this 2002 feature when Hawaiian bodyboarder turned actor Chris Taloa tells Kate Bosworth to “stop with this surfing the sandbar horseshit” and tries to paddle her into a set at Pipe? If you surf, if you’ve ever contemplated actually riding 10-foot Pipe, your heart will be in your mouth.
Turning point: That moment in the film when the Pipeline crowd parts and Kate Bosworth’s character… pulls back!