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The five best surf movies ever, really

Thursday, Aug 7 2003
Photo by Jim Pidgeon

1. Big Wednesday: Gary Busey, William Katt and Jan- Michael Vincent star as Malibu Point surfers during the Vietnam era. It’s a dark and haunting flick that was maybe too dark and too haunting considering it bombed at the box office in 1978. It’s the story of friendships being battered by time and life and later repaired by surfing. The movie is also the first time the search for the ultimate wave became the search for the biggest wave (which takes place on a Wednesday, coincidentally), forecasting current trends in surfing.

2. The Endless Summer: Bruce Brown’s seminal 1966 surf movie. Featuring Robert August and Mike Hynson trekking around the globe, following the summer and looking for the perfect wave. This is the movie that started it all and is cited as having had the greatest influence on subsequent films in the genre. Even the campy voice-over narration has become institutionalized, and was copied later by legendary ski filmmaker Warren Miller.

3. Five Summer Stories and Apocalypse Now: This one’s a tossup. Surfer magazine called Greg McGillivray and Jim Freeman’s Summer Stories, a documentary of ’60s and ’70s wave-riding legends, “the finest surf film ever made.” That said, the “Charlie don’t surf” scene in Apocalypse steals the show from one of the finest shows of all time.

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4. Point Break: Say what you will, but Matt Archibald (Patrick Swayze’s surf double) riding backside with his shoulder blades dragging across the curl may be one of the single prettiest surf shots around. Gary Busey plays an FBI agent — a sure sign the filmmakers know their history — and Keanu Reeves delivers the greatest lines to end a film since Casablanca: “You’re going down, Bodhi. It’s gotta be that way.” The surfing in Point Break isn’t forced in a blatant demographic grab; it’s integral to the story, making it the first film for the X-Games generation and a lesson the makers of XXX and other such pandering trash should have taken.

5. Blue Crush: The plot’s cheesy, but the surfing’s great. This is the only film that actually gives you the feeling of what it’s like to sit in the lineup at Pipeline on a big day. It’s also a thinly veiled version of Rochelle Ballard’s story. She was the first woman to appear on the cover of Surfing magazine and the only woman ever to score two perfect 10s in a pro-surf contest. And that was for pipe riding! Many hate on this movie, but it’s been an inspiration to women everywhere, and already it’s become part of the culture’s language. Getting dropped in on by a bikini-clad hottie is now called “getting blue crushed.”

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