The best surf movies of all time
Welcome to the list of the best surfing films of all time. Surf movies are a sub-genre of sports and travel films. More than 1,000 surf flicks have been released since the 1950s, the decade when surfing and cinema met on the sunny shores of California.
Living the dream, searching for new surf spots, riding endless waves, meeting new cultures, and embracing the surfing lifestyle: surf movies are windows to our imagination.
The best surfing movies of all time have a few things in common: the sense of freedom, blue and dreamy waves, surf trips, and endless moments of fun. In other words, surfers enjoy watching what pleases them aesthetically.
Thomas Edison was one of the first to get surfing into a film. In 1906, the American inventor captured a dozen surfers riding small offshore rollers at Waikiki Beach, in Honolulu, Hawaii.
But that was just the beginning. In the next 50 years, the outdoor activity became a popular sport in Hawaii, landed on the West Coast of USA, and the surf culture started building its proper foundations.
For obvious reasons, the surf movie movement has its roots in California. In the early 1950s, a 16mm camera cost around $50, and many young surfers-artists wanted to try something new and different.
When the sport of gliding across the waves gained traction in Mainland US, independent filmmakers thought of documenting it by exploring the connection between an outdoor lifestyle, nature, and the sense of freedom that surfing provided.
Bud Browne was a pioneer surf movie director. He started shooting the curl in the 1940s while visiting Hawaii, and released his first commercial film, "Hawaiian Surfing Movie," in 1953.
Browne charged 65 cents for 45 minutes, and he had 500 people watching his first work at John Adams Junior High School, in Santa Monica, California. His first debut film impressed the spectators, but mostly it created an endless world of commercial opportunities for the movie industry.
The answer was quick. Six years after "Hawaiian Surfing Movie," Hollywood tests the beach party concept with "Gidget." The movie was an enormous box office hit.
By that time, John Severson, Bruce Brown, and Greg Noll were already exploring the format, using and mixing short action moments, and short interviews, with feel-good and comedy sketches.
The 1960s and the 1970s brought new visions, and new filming angles and techniques. Names like Walt Phillips, Paul Witzig, Hal Jepsen, Alby Falzon, Steve Soderberg, and Jack McCoy helped spread the sport to a non-surfing audience.
More recently, Taylor Steele and Chris Malloy continued to evolve the surf movie sub-genre, adding new technologies, modern perspectives, and unexplored filming angles.
To film surfers in the waves, you need more than just perfect offshore conditions and pro athletes; to produce a surf flick that will be remembered, you need creativity, originality, and ingenuity.
So, when the ocean's flat or when we need extra adrenaline to pump ourselves up and get the blood flowing in our salty veins, there's nothing like picking up our favorite surf movie and getting inspired. SurferToday selected the ultimate surf movies.
The waves, the photography, the story, the surf spots, the surfers and the spirit are always present in these films. Get and watch the ultimate surf movie collection curated by SurferToday. The following surf flicks are sorted by date of release:
The Endless Summer (1966)
For many, it is the most important surf movie of all time. Mike Hynson and Robert August embark on a surf trip around the globe. They visit and Australia, New Zealand, Tahiti, Hawaii, Senegal, Ghana, and South Africa. Directed by Bruce Brown.
Bob McTavish, Ted Spencer, Baddy Treloar, Chris Brock, Gary Keys, Russell Hughes and many others explore the surf gems hidden in New South Wales and California. A fundamental perspective on the shortboard revolution. Directed by George Greenough.
Morning of the Earth (1971)
One of the most iconic surf movies of all time. Shot in Australia, Bali, and Hawaii, the film portrays the spiritual connection between surfers and Nature. The soundtrack is mind-blowing. Directed by Albert Falzon.
Five Summer Stories (1972)
A cult classic starring David Nuuhiwa, Eddie Aikau, Gerry Lopez, and Sam Hawk. The high-end production results in a colorful, action-packed surf flick. The soundtrack includes The Beach Boys and Honk. Directed by Jim Freeman and Greg MacGillivray.
Crystal Voyage (1973)
A major movie in the history of surf culture. The viewer is invited to follow George Greenough, as he rides the barrel with a waterproof housing strapped to his back. The music in the film includes Pink Floyd. Directed by David Elfick.
Big Wednesday (1978)
Three friends - Jan-Michael Vincent, William Katt, and Gary Busey - make the always complicated transition to adult life with surf trips, parties, marriage, and eventually the Vietnam War. But the "Great Swell of 1974" brings them together. Directed by John Milius.
Beyond Blazing Boards (1985)
This is Kelly Slater's favorite surf movie. Shot in Bali, Australia, Mexico, and California, it showcases Glen Winton, Mark Occhilupo, Kong Elkerton, Ronnie Burns, Simon Law and Tom Curren in firing waves. Directed by Chris Bystrom.
North Shore (1987)
Rick Kane dreams of becoming a professional surfer. He decides to travel from Arizona to the North Shore of Oahu to follow his heart. The movie features a few pro surfers including Shaun Tomson, Gerry Lopez, Laird Hamilton, Mark Occhilupo, Mark Foo, Derek Ho, Ken Bradshaw, and many others. Directed by William Phelps.
Point Break (1991)
One of the most successful surf movies of all time. FBI Agent Johnny Utah (Keanu Reeves) investigates several bank robberies committed by a surf gang led by Bodhi (Patrick Swayze). Directed by Kathryn Bigelow.
The Green Iguana (1992)
A beautiful visual experience led by Mark Occhilupo, Peter King, Sunny Garcia, Munga Barry and Luke Egan. An ode to contemporary surfing shot in some of the world's best surf breaks. Directed by Jack McCoy.
The Endless Summer II (1994)
A smart sequel in which Pat O'Connell and Robert "Wingnut" Weaver revisit the spots where Mike Hynson and Robert August were happy back in the 1960s. The funny scenes continue to entertain. Directed by Bruce Brown.
Occy: The Occumentary (1998)
Australian surf legend gets the recognition he deserves in a full-throttle surf movie. Mark Occhilupo won the 1999 world surfing title, and his comeback inspired many surfers from all over the world. Directed by Jack McCoy.
The Seedling (1999)
Shot entirely in 16mm, the movie is a eulogy to longboard wave riding. Joel Tudor, Devon Howard, Kassia Meador, Dane Peterson, Seitaro Nakamura, Josh Farberow, Jimmy Gamboa, and special guest riders Skip Frye, and Donald Takayama prove that longboarding is not dead. Directed by Thomas Campbell.
Thicker Than Water (2000)
Rob Machado, Kelly Slater, Brad Gerlach, Shane Dorian, and others spend 18 months chasing the best waves on the planet. Each frame is a photographic delight, and the whole film depicts the elements like never before. Directed by Jack Johnson, Emmett Malloy, and Chris Malloy.
A new generation of surfers ignites exotic spots with new tricks and maneuvers. Featuring CJ Hobgood, Dan Malloy, Mick Fanning, Bruce Irons, Taj Burrow, Damien Hobgood, Joel Parkinson, Ben Bourgeois, Andy Irons, David Rastovich and Dean Morrison. Directed by Matt Beauchesne.
The September Sessions (2002)
Kelly Slater and friends embark on a free surf trip to the coast of Sumatra. Luckily, they are greeted by flawless waves in the Mentawais. The movie also showcases bodysurfing and river surfing. Directed by Jack Johnson.
Billabong Odyssey (2003)
The film is universally known for its opening sequence, in which Mike Parsons defies an incredibly huge wave at Jaws, Maui. Brad Gerlach, Flea Virostko, Barney Barron, Layne Beachley help make one of the most popular surf movies of the 21st century. Directed by Philip Boston.
Singlefin: Yellow (2003)
A film that captures the true essence of surfing. Tyler Hatzikian shapes a single fin, yellow longboard and shares it with friends across the globe. The board travels to Australia, Japan, California, and Hawaii. Directed by Jason Baffa.
Step Into Liquid (2003)
The son of "The Endless Summer'" Bruce Brown makes waves in the surf movie industry with a $2.5 million budget project. The blockbuster film was shot in Pipeline, Cortes Bank, and Vietnam. Taj Burrow, Layne Beachley, and Laird Hamilton are some of the stars of the documentary. Directed by Dana Brown.
Blue Horizon (2004)
The movie that confirmed Andy Irons as one of the best surfers of all time, and introduced Australian free surfer Dave Rastovich to the world. Expect plenty of spectacular angles and blue barrels. Directed by Jack McCoy.
Riding Giants (2004)
Narrated by pro skateboarder Stacy Peralta, the film showcases Greg Noll, Laird Hamilton, and Jeff Clark, Mickey Munoz, and others riding giant waves. However, the 101-minute movie also chronicles the evolution of the sport through time. Directed by Stacy Peralta.
Bra Boys (2007)
A documentary about the Maroubra surf gang Bra Boys. Narrated by Russell Crowe, the movie unveils the story of the Abberton brothers, three surfers deeply involved in the stories of violence that took place in Sydney's suburb in the 1990s. Directed by Sunny Abberton and Macario De Souza.
Castles in The Sky (2010)
A masterpiece featuring a stunning soundtrack, and secret surf spots. Watch Dane Reynolds in Iceland, Rob Machado in Peru, Dave Rastovich in India, and Jordy Smith in Africa. Directed by Taylor Steele.
A Deeper Shade of Blue (2011)
A complete lesson about surfing, its history, and the spirit of wave riding. Directed by Jack McCoy.
View From A Blue Moon (2015)
Pro surfer John John Florence spent three years capturing the some of the most incredible swells on the planet and delivered the first surf film shot in 4K. A beauty from start to finish. Directed by John John Florence.
Have you seen them all? Try our complete surf movie collection.