Cinephile: Classic Must-See Surf Movies

When the surf is dead but you’re still jonesing for a ride, pop in one of these surf classics and dream.


Thicker Than Water - Jack Johnson directed surf film, classic surf movieThicker Than Water | 2000

A documentary-style surf film directed by singer/songwriter Jack Johnson and Chris Malloy, Thicker Than Water is an ode to the water dancer. With footage from Australia, Indo, Hawaii, India, and Ireland, with surfers like Kelly Slater, Timmy Curran, Rob Machado, the Malloy brothers, among others, putting to it, the surf on the screen is emboldened by one of the best soundtracks on any surf video I’ve ever heard.

The September Sessions - Classic Surf FIlm with Kelly Slater, Rob Machado and Shane Dorian - Directed by singer/songwriter Jack JohnsonThe September Sessions | 2002

Flat and rainy out? Make it a double feature with Johnson’s The September Sessions. Johnson’s follow-up to Thicker Than Water, Sessions (full title is The September Sessions: The Tomorrowland Story Brought to Life in Brilliant 16mm Film) follows Slater in 2000, who a year into retirement (which did not last) was restless. So doing what all world-class vagabond surfers do, he climbed aboard the decommissioned Japanese coastguard cutter, Neptune 1, with fellow wave riders Machado, and Shane Dorian among others, in search of some of the world’s most flawless waves off the coast of Sumatra and the Mentawai Islands.

   Both movies were filmed using 16mm film with a vintage camera, giving them a raw, warm vibe and texture that makes them much more intimate than those hi-def, full color rampage surf films. After watching these two films you’ll be drafting your notice at work and booking the next flight out of dodge. Surfing is like jazz; these two films capture that.


The Endless Summer - Classic Surf Film from Bruce BrownThe Endless Summer | 1964

This is the one that started them all. The 1964 documentary surf film from Bruce Brown took what was largely a regional sport and made it global, as he followed two young American surfers, Robert August and Mike Hynson, as they rode the nose around globe “in search of the perfect wave.” The duo caught waves in Senegal, Ghana, Nigeria, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Hawaii, and California, forever instilling a nomadic vibe in surf culture that is often replicated, never duplicated.

   The Endless Summer has become a timeless masterpiece through its 50-year run, the seminal surf film if there ever was one. It’s a must-watch, regardless of age, if for anything else, to see where things really began.


Step Into Liquid - Documentary Surf Travel Film by Dana BrownStep Into Liquid | 2003

There are rarified few surf films that go on to broader appeal beyond the salty surf rats crowded around a television with sandy feet. But as they say, like father like son. Dana Brown, son of the legendary Bruce Brown (The Endless Summer), managed a somewhat similar feat with his directorial debut, Step Into Liquid. The film travels the world visiting with various surfers of “the tribe” as Brown puts it, catching surfing at its truest form. This is a film dedicated to the waves and the people who ride them. From little wind chop ankle biters on Lake Michigan to the monsters only tamed by Laird Hamilton and his tow-in ilk, it’s a wild ride that’ll get you pumped for that next session.


Singlefin: Yellow - Travel Surf Documentary with a Tyler Hatzikian longboardSinglefin: Yellow | 2004

For the longboarders out there, the pickings are relatively thin when it comes to videos. For a film with soul and a pretty rad story, David Baffa’s Singlefin: Yellow is a must watch. The film follows a Tyler Hatzikian-shaped 9’6” yellow single fin as it travels the globe, shared amongst six surfing buddies, each adding their distinct surf style on the classic nose rider. Follow along as Hatzikian gives the board its first ride before being handed off to Beau Young, who breaks it in in Northern New South Wales, followed by David Kinoshita christening it in Japanese waters; Daize Shayne ripping it up in Hawaii; followed by a west coast romp in California and Mexico with Devon Howard; and finally ending its journey in Waikiki and Pipeline with Bonga Perkins. Shot with 16mm film, this travel story captures the essence of the surf nomad through the untold, yet all-important travel companion, the surfboard.


A Deeper Shade of Blue - Surf History Documentary by Jack McCoyA Deeper Shade of Blue | 2011

From award-winning surf filmmaker Jack McCoy, A Deeper Shade of Blue is not just a culmination of 30 years of filmmaking, but an attempt to reclaim the sports’ ancient past and reconcile it with today. Like Matt Warshaw’s opus The History of Surfing, the film connects the deep roots of surfing’s history to contemporary wave riders, building to a crescendo of modern day wave riders who are taking sport to greater heights.

   From the heady wave gliding days of the Duke, to the stylish Gerry Lopez rocking his single fin Lightning Bolt with a nonchalance, A Deeper Shade of Blue is a visual history lesson that is not just informative, but an absolute blast to watch. The surf captured is astonishing (some of the angles caught were groundbreaking at the time), the stories fascinating, the characters undeniable…this is the story of surfing.


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