Fact, there has never been a great surfing movie. For all the popularity of the sport of surfing, Hollywood has never been able to take it seriously or treat with comic distance in any memorable. Sure, a few documentaries have approached the subject and come away watchable but when you have to go back to the late sixties hippy surfer doc “Endless Summer” to cite an example of a modestly entertaining surf movie, you’re really proving the point of this article.
With the surfer drama “Chasing Mavericks” riding the curl into theaters this month it’s a good time as any to reflect on the forgettable history of the surfer movie.
Frankie and Annette
The first inklings of surfing on the big screen came in the Frankie Avalon-Annette Funnicello beach movies of the early 1960’s. Granted, it’s a stretch to call these surf movies, as surfing as only glimpsed and not truly the subject, we can see the surfer archetype taking shape in these films and for that they are notable here.
There is a fair argument to be made that “Point Break” starring Patrick Swayze and Keanu Reeves is the best-known surfing movie of all time. Yes, the film is really about bank robbers who happen to be surfers but ask a modern movie fan about surfing in movies and you will inevitably raise the topic of “Point Break.” That “Point Break” is also best known as the smelliest of B-movie cheese only serves to underline my point about surfing movies.
While I can’t say for sure that “Chasing Mavericks” falls into the category of maudlin drama, the film’s trailer does hue in that direction. The maudlin drama is a popular form for the surfing movie yielding the 1987 tear-jerker “North Shore” and the 2011, based on a true story, heart-tugger “Soul Surfer as well as the least interesting parts of the Kate Bosworth eye candy flick “Blue Crush.” Notice that none of these movies rises immediately to mind even as they are the rare movies to take surfing seriously.
The Best Surf Movie?
The one film that ever approached being a good surfing movie happens to be an animated movie about penguins. “Surf’s Up” featuring the voices of Shia Le Beouf as a wannabe surfer and Jeff Bridges as his grumpy yet goofy mentor is at the very least fun to look at with bright colors and fluid animation (pun intended). “Surf’s Up” is probably the best surfing movie since “Endless Summer,” even as that doesn’t ring up as high praise. “Surf’s Up” is achingly conventional and eye-rollingly predictable but in the surf genre it’s not hard to set the bar.