Big Wednesday: a film about surfing and friendship in times of war

For many surfers, film critics, and surf historians, "Big Wednesday" is the greatest surf movie of all time.

The film chronicles the story of three young California surfers - Matt Johnson (Jan-Michael Vincent), Jack Barlowe (William Katt), and Leroy "The Masochist" Smith (Gary Busey) - who breathe and live surfing during the Vietnam War days.

Despite their different personalities, they all share a common ground - the passion for waves - and struggle to transition to adulthood between 1962 and 1974.

Years later, and after losing their innocence and friends in Vietnam, Johnson, Barlowe, and Smith reunite for the "Great Swell of 1974" and prepare to face the reality of life.

John Milius directed the Warner Brothers' surfing film with an $11 million budget.

It premiered on May 28, 1978, and is a tribute to Malibu and the good times Milius had there during his youth.

"Big Wednesday" is a story about friendship and epic wave riding that truly epitomizes the spirit and the essence of surfing.

And it even stars Gerry Lopez as himself.

Milius shot the film at Surfrider Beach (Malibu), Hollister Ranch (Gaviota), El Paso (Texas), Ventura (Los Angeles), and La Libertad (El Salvador).

Big Wednesday: the iconic movie poster

The Novel Before the Movie

"Big Wednesday" started as a novel written by John Milius and Denny Aaberg and was initially published in 1978 by Bantam Books.

"The novel is a story about old Malibu, its waves, its local characters, and what it was like to surf there in the 1950s and 1960s," explains Aaberg.

"The 40th-anniversary edition of 'Big Wednesday' novel has a lot of history and love stories that were either cut out or not included in the Warner Bros. film."

"People tell me it's a 'good read.' After years of working on it, I believe it is the novel John Milius, and I always wanted it to be."

Like most novels, the 40th-anniversary edition includes elements - like surfing history details, photos, and backstories - which were not included in the movie.

The book has not been officially released. There are only a few limited copies printed.

Denny Aaberg also owns a private collection of never-before-seen footage and images.

For example, "Little Wednesday" is a 10-minute behind-the-scenes film, shot in Super 8 by Aaberg on various sets during the filming of "Big Wednesday."

Big Wednesday: starring Jan-Michael Vincent, William Katt and Gary Busey

The Agreement With Steven Spielberg and George Lucas

Believe it or not, Milius and their friends Steven Spielberg and George Lucas agreed to trade percentage points for their three films - "Big Wednesday," "Close Encounters of the Third Kind," and "Star Wars" - before the movies were released.

In Hollywood, executives and producers believed that surf movies were going to be a box-office hit.

They were wrong. "Big Wednesday" made $4.5 million; "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" and "Star Wars" made $600 million each.

After watching "Big Wednesday" fail to perform, George even asked for his credit back from John Milius.

However, the poor financial performance didn't affect Milius' masterpiece.

"Big Wednesday" became a solid and perennial symbol of surfing culture and went on to influence and inspire future generations of filmmakers and surfers.

Bear Surfboards, the brand developed by the director for the movie, became a real and thriving business run by John Milius.

The iconic cult classic ends with a legendary final scene shot at Sunset Beach, on the North Shore of Oahu, in Hawaii.

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