The irresistible attraction between surfing and movies

January 8, 2016 | Surfing
Riding Giants: one of the most important surf movies of all time

John Engle believes that the film has played a central role in the emerging surfing subculture. In his book "Surfing in the Movies: A Critical History," the author analyzes the fruitful relationship between motion pictures and the sport of riding waves, with their hidden details and messages as core ingredients.

The history of surfing is incredibly rich.

In the past 100 years, surfing has become more than a sport. It grew into a culture, a cult, a lifestyle, and an industry. America helped boost surfing around the world. The Californian surf myth also gave birth to brands, businesses, and new needs for new markets.

Hollywood watched the whole surfing scene develop and acted accordingly when independent surf filmmakers proved they could sell out theaters in the main coastal towns and cities. When the giant film houses dropped in, surfing never stopped being a lucrative field.

"I've tried to watch films from the surfer's obsessed perspective and from that of the vaguely curious Saturday night entertainment consumer. I've examined movies as part of an evolving genre and part of a filmmaker's oeuvre, as cultural as social signposts, as responses to changing aesthetic norms, and as products in an economic system," John Engle reveals in the book's preface.

"Most of all, I've tried to watch each film or video as the individual creative work it is. As you read, you'll notice that I've chosen not to take a cursory glimpse at an absolute maximum of films and videos but rather to offer detailed attention to a smaller number of the many hundreds that treat surfing cinematically."

John Engle's "historical criticism" was a time-consuming experience. With roughly 1000 surf films out there, he decided to share with readers his remarks and notes on 200 separate works. In the end, you understand how much you've learned.

"Surfing in the Movies: A Critical History" is a fundamental surf book. It should be read by surfers, surf historians, surf journalists, and sociologists interested in surfing's own "subculture."

As you browse the 249-page publication, you will feel an uncontrollable desire to watch the world's best surf movies. One by one.

"It's time to take the surfing movie and the theatrical release-with-surfing-in-it seriously, spend some time with these films, look at how they function, what they mean," concludes Engles. And we couldn't agree more.

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