Surf films shape surf culture as much as they reflect it. The themes you’ll find in surf cinema range from intrepid travel to high performance. From early classics like the Endless Summer to modern masterpieces like View from a Blue Moon, filmmakers have tried to capture the essence of one of the world’s most exhilarating pastimes.
Join us for a walk through surf film history, starting in 1966 and ending up in 2019.
The Endless Summer (1966)
Documentary filmmaker Bruce Brown, himself a competition-level surfer, follows surfers Michael Hynson and Robert August on an around-the-world surfing adventure. With Brown’s wry, sardonic narration and a twangy, guitar-driven instrumental soundtrack by The Sandals playing over the silent footage, Mike and Rob leave their California home to visit Hawaii, Australia, South Africa and other secluded surfing spots in a search for the surfer’s holy grail that Brown dubs “The Perfect Wave.”
Initial release: 15 June 1966
Director: Bruce Brown
Narrated by: Bruce Brown
Producers: Bruce Brown, Robert Bagley
The Innermost Limits of Pure Fun (1969)
The beginnings of the shortboard revolution in California and Australia, highlighting the radical shift that forever changed the style of surfing. 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.
Director: George Greenough
Morning of the Earth (1972)
Morning of the Earth is a 1971 classic surf film by Alby Falzon and David Elfick. The film’s soundtrack was produced by G. Wayne Thomas and included music and songs by noted Australian music acts Tamam Shud, John J. Francis, Brian Cadd, Mike Rudd and G. Wayne Thomas.
Directors: Alby Falzon, David Elfick
Producer: David Elfick
Five Summer Stories (1972)
Slow-motion sequences highlight this examination of the surfing lifestyle in Southern California and Hawaii.
Initial release: 1972
Director: Greg MacGillivray
Crystal Voyage (1973)
A visual tribute to surfing, with the final segment filmed from the front of a surfboard, to the accompaniment of a Pink Floyd soundtrack.
Initial release: 5 December 1973
Director: David Elfick
The Endless Summer 2 (1994)
In this sequel to the seminal surfing movie, documentarian Bruce Brown again explores choice international surf destinations, this time visiting locations such as Alaska, Indonesia, Fiji, France and South Africa. Accompanying Brown are renowned pro surfers Robert “Wingnut” Weaver, an experienced longboarder, and Patrick O’Connell, who excels at shortboarding. In addition to these two styles of surfing, windsurfing and bodyboarding are also showcased.
Initial release: 3 June 1994
Director: Bruce Brown
Producers: Ron Moler, Roger Riddell
In God’s Hands (1998)
Three friends — Shane (Shane Dorian), Keoni (Matty Liu) and Mickey (Matt George) — are professional surfers who travel the world, searching for the perfect wave. They begin in the South Seas with Madagascar, and then head over to Bali and Hawaii. Along the way, they have a wonderful time, meeting women and enjoying life — but they also experience tragedy when one of their friends dies in a surfing accident. Still, that doesn’t deter them from the thrill of riding the waves.
Release date: 21 January 1999
Director: Zalman King
The Seedling (1999)
Shot on location in Mexico, France, California, Hawaii, New York and the Canary Islands, this unusual 16mm surf film follows a small squadron of California log riders as they make their way around the world. Featured athletes include Devon Howard, Joel Tudor, Seitaro Nakamura, Erik Sommer, Kassia Meador, Dane Peterson, Josh Farberow, Jimmy Gamboa, plus sliders Skip Frye and Donald Takayama.
Initial release: 1999
Director: Thomas Campbell
Thicker than Water (2000)
Thicker Than Water is a 2000 documentary surf film directed by singer/songwriter Jack Johnson and his film school friend Chris Malloy. It shows surfing footage from different locations like Australia, Indonesia, Hawaii, India, and Ireland in combination with a wide range of styles of guitar music.
Initial release: 12 May 2000
Directors: Jack Johnson, Chris Malloy, Emmett Malloy
Producer: Kelly Slater
Momentum: Under the Influence (2001)
Momentum Under the Influence is a surf movie distributed by Steelhouse Distribution and produced by Poor Specimen. It features all the best surfers in the world under 23 that surf places like Mentawai Islands, Australia, South Africa, France, Timor Island, Indonesia, Mexico, Hawaii and California.
Initial release: 19 November 2001
Director: Matt Beauchesne
Producer: Taylor Steele
The September Sessions (2002)
The September Sessions: The Tomorrowland Story Brought To Life In Brilliant 16mm Film is a 2002 documentary surf film directed by singer/songwriter Jack Johnson. Often called September Sessions, it is the second of The Moonshine Conspiracy film series. It was filmed in 16 mm.
Initial release: 17 December 2002
Director: Jack Johnson
Producer: Kelly Slater
Billabong Odyssey (2003)
Some of the biggest names in surfing, including Shawn Barron, Ken Bradshaw and Mike Parsons, are on the hunt for the biggest waves in the world. In their quest, they leave the coastline behind and travel to the heart of the ocean, where waves up to 100 feet in height have been recorded. Riding these gigantic waves can be fatal, but for these surfers the risk is worth it. Not only do they earn bragging rights if they can find and ride a 100-foot wave, but they’ll also earn a $500,000 cash prize.
Initial release: 2003
Director: Philip Boston
Step Into Liquid (2003)
In a documentary shot in waters all over the globe, director Dana Brown takes on tall waves and surfers who live to challenge them. The film treks from the Irish coast, where a trio of American brothers take on the Atlantic surf, to Rapa Nui in the Pacific, where the Easter Island statues gaze out at board-riding daredevils. Brown also finds good surfing in unlikely places, like Wisconsin and Texas, and charts the rise of female surfers in a sport traditionally dominated by males.
Initial release: 5 August 2003
Director: Dana Brown
Producer: John-Paul Beeghly
Singlefin: Yellow (2003)
Directed by Jason Baffa.
Singlefin Yellow tells the story of one surfboard’s life as it travels the globe shared by a group of friends.
Initial release: 2003
Director: Jason Baffa
Kelly Slater in Black and White (2004)
In Black and White is an in-depth profile of 6-time world surfing champ, Kelly Slater (Riding Giants), before he went on to be the most dominant and influential surfer of all time! In Black and White is arguably one of the best surf films of all time on the most exciting surfer in the world!
Initial release: 2004
Cast: Kelly Slater
Riding Giants (2004)
Part sports history, part thrill ride, skateboarder Stacy Peralta’s documentary pays homage to the brave, foolish surfers who dare ride the world’s biggest waves. Peralta lays out the evolution of big-wave surfing from the ’50s to today, touching upon changing trends and the constant search for ever larger waves. Then he shifts his focus to a handful of contemporary surfing superstars, among them Jeff Clark, pioneer of San Francisco’s remote waves, and Laird Hamilton, known for tow-in riding.
Initial release: January 2004
Director: Stacy Peralta
Producers: Stacy Peralta, Agi Orsi, Jane Kachmer
A Brokedown Melody (2004)
A Brokedown Melody is a 2004 documentary surf film from Woodshed Films directed by singer/songwriter Jack Johnson and his film school friend Chris Malloy.
Initial release: 2004
Directors: Jack Johnson, Chris Malloy
Producer: Tim Lynch
One winter Story (2006)
A portrait of big-wave surf pioneer and scientist Sarah Gerhardt, the first woman ever to surf the towering waves at Mavericks who rose from homelessness to achieve success in both athletics and academics.
Initial release: 2007
Director: Sally Lundburg
Forsaking a traditional home life, Dorian “Doc” Paskowitz and his wife raise their large brood in a 24-foot camper and spend their time surfing.
Initial release: 9 May 2008
Director: Doug Pray
Bra Boys (2007)
The Abberton brothers in Maroubra, Australia, belong to their community’s surfing subculture, a group with a well-known reputation for partying, hard living and rough justice.
Initial release: 15 March 2007
Directors: Sunny Abberton, Macario De Souza
Waveriders is a 2008 documentary film produced by Margo Harkin and directed by Joel Conroy.
Director: Joel Conroy
Bustin’ Down the Door (2008)
Surfers from South Africa and Australia revolutionise the sport with their radical approach in 1975. Narrator: Edward Norton.
Initial release: 25 July 2008
Director: Jeremy Gosch
The Present (2009)
The third film from acclaimed surf movie director Thomas Campbell.
Initial release: 10 March 2009
Director: Thomas Campbell
Producer: Thomas Campbell
Castles in The Sky (2010)
Filmed in five countries over three years, the documentary delves into the heart of the locations while the surfers travel through them with a sense of open-minded awe. With never-before seen waves and some of the best surfers in the world contributing their art, passion and athleticism, this is as close to the experience of pioneering new coastlines as you can get without getting on a plane.
Director: Taylor Steele
The Westsiders (2010)
The rise and fall of The Westsiders surf gang through the eyes of three best friends.
Director: Joshua L. Pomer
The surfers come from all around the world: New Zealand, Hawaii, Brazil, Peru, Australia and the US.
Directors: Dan Norkunas, Adam Chilton, Ben Gulliver, Zack Hill, Jay Button, Adam DeWolfe, Damien Robertson, Saul Garcia, Calvin Knowlton, Joao Rito, Nat Lanyon, Toby Cregan
Producers: Nathan Myers, Taylor Steele, Justin Heit, Andy Slipka
Splinters is the first feature-length documentary film about the evolution of indigenous surfing in the developing nation of Papua New Guinea. In the 1980s an intrepid Australian pilot left behind a surfboard in the seaside village of Vanimo. Twenty years on, surfing is not only a pillar of village life but also a means to prestige.
A Deeper Shade of Blue (2011)
Filmmaker Jack McCoy delves into surfing’s deepest roots through ancient lore and the craft of surfboard building.
Initial release: 15 June 2011
Director: Jack McCoy
North of the Sun (2012)
Inge and Jørn spend nine months on a remote island to surf some of the world’s finest waves.
Initial release: April 2012
Directors: Inge Wegge, Jørn Nyseth Ranum
Storm Surfers 3D (2013)
Australian surfing legends Tom Carroll and Ross Clarke-Jones ride gigantic waves.
Release date: 21 February 2013
Directors: Christopher Nelius, Justin McMillan
Two Australian brothers (Myles Pollard, Xavier Samuel) run afoul of conservative townspeople and drug-dealing bikers after they start a business of customized surfwear and surfing equipment.
Initial release: 2 May 2013
Directors: Morgan O’Neill, Ben Nott
Stephanie In The Water (2014)
Professional surfer Stephanie Gilmore reassesses her future after a violent turn of events abruptly ended her winning streak.
Initial release: July 2014
Director: Ava Warbrick
View from a Blue Moon (2015)
The first surf film shot in 4K, View From A Blue Moon follows the world’s most dynamic surfer John Florence and his closest friends from his home on the North Shore of Oahu to his favorite surfing destinations around the globe.
Initial release: 11 November 2015
Directors: Blake Kueny, John Florence
Producers: Matt Goodman, Bill Ballard
Ocean Driven (2015)
Surfer Chris Bertish overcomes obstacles and fears to become a big wave surfer.
Initial release: 28 October 2015 (San Francisco)
Directors: Christopher Bertish, Nadia Tarlow, Adrian Charles, Sean Dewil
Distance Between Dreams (2016)
Ian Walsh redefines “rideable” in a historic year of big wave surfing.
Initial release: 26 November 2016
Director: Rob Bruce
Producer: Clark Fyans
The stories of people who have dedicated their lives to the sea, from surfers and spearfishers to a long-distance swimmer, a former coal miner and a group of at-risk kids on the streets of San Francisco.
Initial release: 13 April 2017
Director: Keith Malloy
Producer: Monika McClure
Take Every Wave: The Life of Laird Hamilton (2017)
Filmmaker Rory Kennedy provides an account of the career of big wave surfer Laird Hamilton, a man who has spent his life conquering untamable walls of water.
Initial release: 22 January 2017
Director: Rory Kennedy
Producers: Rory Kennedy, Mark Bailey, Jack Youngelson, Paul Speaker
Under an Arctic Sky (2017)
Surfers travel to a remote corner of Iceland in the middle of the winter to find perfect waves. A few days in, the worst storm in decades comes through, turning their trip into a life-threatening situation.
Initial release: 23 April 2017
Director: Chris Burkard
Proximity is a film that pairs surfing’s living legends with today’s most progressive young surfers. The film is directed by Taylor Steele and produced by Teton Gravity Research (TGR) in association with Garage Productions. Proximity will explore the delicate relationship between people, time, and place, showcasing surfing icons from different generations in diverse locations around the world.
Director: Taylor Steele
Beyond – An African Surf Documentary (2017)
Surfers living along the coast of Morocco, Western Sahara, Mauritania, Senegal and Gambia visit their home surf spots as they discuss their surfing lives.
Initial release: 2017
Director: Mario Hainzl
The Church Of The Open Sky (2017)
The Church of the Open Sky is a luscious visual love poem that explores gratefully lived surfing journeys. It is a sea soaked celebration of the exquisite preciousness of being alive.
Initial release: 26 May 2017
Director: Nathan Oldfield
Andy Irons: Kissed by God (2018)
Three-time world champion surfer Andy Irons struggles with bipolar disorder and opioid addiction.
Initial release: 2 May 2018
Directors: Todd Jones, Steve Jones
Producer: Enich Harris
Beyond the Noise (2018)
Distracted by realities of our own invention, the natural world becomes invisible, technology is our king. As the cracks in our society spread, two surfers seek refuge in the vastness of the ocean, away from the deafening clamour of humankind. Unchained and dangerously close to freedom.
Initial release: November 2018
Director: Andrew Kaineder
Momentum Generation (2019)
Following the intense trials, painful sacrifices and incredible achievements of the influential surfing group who started out as teenagers from Hawaii in a small house in O’ahu.
Initial release: 21 April 2018
Directors: Jeff Zimbalist, Michael Zimbalist
Bethany Hamilton: Unstoppable (2019)
One of the most accomplished athletes of her generation, Bethany Hamilton, became a surfing wunderkind when she returned to the sport following a devastating shark attack at age 13. As she continues to chase waves, she also now tackles motherhood.
Initial release: 12 July 2019
Director: Aaron Lieber
Producers: Penny Edmiston, Jane Kelly Kosek
Did we miss one of your favourite surf movies? Let us know in the comments and we’ll update the list.