Surf movies have been around for a long time; they started to become popular in the 1950's and 60s. Surf movies are one of the main means the media has of exploiting or expressing surf culture. Countless surf movies have been made over time. Film producers create an idealistic and dreamlike insight into the world of a surfer. Both exploring and influencing surf culture. Despite all the different storylines and casts (not always actors, often 'real' surfers), one core element that is always present in surf movies, is young, beautiful men and women enjoying fun, sun-filled lives in beautiful locations around the world. Who wouldn't find that alluring?!
Surf films have always been a very important medium for surfing. And their influence on the spread of surfing should not be underestimated. It was surf films that first made the sport visible to people around the world, from Bud Browne's first surf film 'Hawaiian Surfing Movie' in 1953. And later Internationally in Australia, with further releases from Browne, and later Bruce Brown, John Severson, Greg Noll and many more.
The surf film, that arguably sold surf culture to the masses more than any other, was Gidget, in 1959. Although the film's concentration was more on the relaxed, fun-filled life of a girl named Gidget, and less on actually surfing. It got the US nation hooked on surf and beach culture, and suddenly the Californian and Hawaiian beaches were packed, and the demand on shapers for boards sky-rocketed!
Possibly the most famous or iconic surf film is 'The Endless Summer', a Bruce Brown film, released in 1964. A film and poster that have become iconic of surfing. This film is a film documentary. It has no actors or script. It follows two 'real' Californian surfers as they travel the globe, following the summer, in search of the perfect wave. The film is narrated by Brown throughout. It shows the surfers having a great time doing what they love… surfing! The audience is thrilled with the beautiful locations the two visit, the stunning photography, the skills they show-off and their whole endeavour of travelling to surf. This film more than any other film really sells the surf lifestyle and the sport to a mass audience, and is a key film in any surf enthusiasts film collection.
Another 60s surf related film, and also better-known surf culture related film is Blue Hawaii starring Elvis Presley. The film brought to the big screen the very best of Hawaii's stunning picture perfect scenery and sold the Hawaiian's relaxed way of life to an impressionistic young audience. Naturally being an Elvis movie it also portrayed beautiful Polynesian women. All this contributed towards young Elvis and surf movie fans taking to the beach!
Picking up on the point made about Blue Hawaii, about the beautiful Polynesian women… Women or 'surf chicks' or 'board babes' are a very powerful source of marketing in surfing. Sex sells! This has always been the case in surf movie history, changing with the times of course. From the sweet Gidget of the 50's to the hoards of pretty young girls chasing and surrounding Elvis in his films in the 60s to the confident, sexy, beautiful blonde board babes of Blue Crush in 2002.
Hollywood has always been guilty of stereotyping people, cultures or organisations. It has always done the same with surfing. Stereotyping the culture and surfers. All surfer girls are young and beautiful, and particularly in the past sweet and innocent, and chase after the 'hunky' male surfers, but with the change through time of women in society, modern day 'surf chicks' in Hollywood are strong minded and feisty. Male surfers are wild and care free. Which as actually one of the nicest (and pioneering) things about 'The Endless Summer', in that for one of the first times, surfers weren't portrayed as mindless, care-free, adrenaline junkies.
In the 90s, Point Break portrayed surfers as reckless, wild, daring, violent, care free and oh yes… bank robbers too! Some hardcore surfers did not greet this film with much enthusiasm. Although the film does feature some great footage of surf, which is always a winner with surf enthusiasts and surfers alike, not to mention a handful of great one-liners.
The most important thing about surf movies is though, that they romanticise the sport of surfing and the lifestyles of the people involved. A very powerful, popular and influential media and marketing tool.
Note: This article leads on to Surf Fashion…