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Underrated Surfer Movies You Need To Watch

There aren't a ton of unforgettable surfer movies out there. In fact, for those unfamiliar with the genre, Kathryn Bigelow's "Point Break" with Keanu Reeves and Patrick Swayze might be the only noteworthy entry. One possible reason could be that it's not easy to capture or recreate that cool, easy-going, carefree vibe — and limitless freedom — that surfers represent. The lifestyle can't be summed up by showing a bunch of tanned, athletic folks partying all the time while a classic track from The Beach Boys is banging in the background. Yet, that's often how Hollywood often treats these movies, building them on familiar, tired cliches.

At its center, "Point Break" beautifully encapsulates the mentality and lifestyle of Bodhi (Swayze) and his friends, riding stellar swells in California since they were kids. Nothing matters more to them — not women, not family, not a career. They live for the feeling they get from surfing, and are willing to do anything to never have to stop (even risking their lives and freedom). It's not a coincidence that it was the most charming, relatable aspect of that feature. But there are other, lesser-known gems that also offer a similarly effective experience.

The 10 films below include some visually breath-taking documentaries, as well as biopics, and a few features that might be flawed on some level but still deserve appreciation for how they attempted to capture the essence of surfers.

Chasing Mavericks (2012)

Michael Apted and Curtis Hanson's "Chasing Mavericks" is far from a perfect flick. Yet, there's something appealing about watching Gerard Butler (leaving behind any sign of his Scottish origins) as a veteran surfer in his early 40s, training a teenager on how to ride Mavericks in Santa Cruz, California. Although the story — based on the life of Jay Moriarty — stumbles when it comes to subplots, the dynamic between mentor and mentee is what gives heart to the movie.

Essentially, "Chasing Mavericks" shares the characteristics of a typical sports drama. As a kid, Jay (Jonny Weston) falls in love with surfing and makes it his life goal to ride the legendary Mavericks (the highest swells on Earth) one day. Since he happens to be a neighbor of local surf legend Frosty Hesson (Butler), he convinces the old man to prepare him for the big day (which will arrive in three months). It's a simple premise that gets deeper emotionally as it moves toward its conclusion.

Upon release, critics weren't fond of "Chasing Mavericks," to say the least, and it was a flop commercially, too — making only $7 million on a $20 million budget. Despite its reputation, however, "Mavericks" is an enjoyable genre flick.

Soul Surfer (2011)

The real-life story of Bethany Hamilton (a professional surfer, wife, and mother of three) is such an inspirational, uplifting tale that even an unbalanced adaptation can't ruin it. Despite its various storylines, Sean McNamara's "Soul Surfer" never loses sight of Hamilton's motivation and love for the sport.

The plot picks up Hamilton at the age of 13, her family living a peaceful life in Hawaii. She's a lively, goodhearted Christian girl, but besides going to church every week, her true passion is the ocean and surfing. As a teen, she participates in competitions and aspires to become a professional surfer. However, due to a shark attack, she loses her left arm and nearly dies of blood loss. Miraculously, she survives, and through a long recovery and rigorous training, she keeps pursuing her dream to compete with the best in the world.

The movie's mixed critical reception can't be blamed on its stellar cast. Besides AnnaSophia Robb in the lead, "Soul Surfer" features Helen Hunt, Dennis Quaid, Craig T. Nelson, and more. Although it was a commercial success in 2011 — making over $47 million on an $18 million budget — critics didn't like it as well as the viewers. Currently, "Soul Surfer" holds a 44 percent score on Rotten Tomatoes and 53 percent on Metacritic.

Andy Irons: Kissed by God (2018)

Steve Jones, Todd Jones, and Josh Taft's documentary, "Andy Irons: Kissed by God," is only underrated in the sense that it hasn't been watched by many people — which is, given how honest and important it is, is a shame. The few critics who saw the film clearly approved, according to its score on Rotten Tomatoes. And anyone interested in the culture should watch this documentary because it tells the troubled yet inspiring story of Andy Irons — one of the best American professional surfers that ever lived — who was hobbled by bipolar disorder and addiction.

Through heart-breaking interviews with loved ones and other surfers (including his rival), we get to know a complicated person who battled with personal demons and the pressure of being a competitive athlete. It's fueled by breath-taking footage of Andy, which leaves little doubt about his talent. In only 32 years, he lived an entire lifetime. Seeing him grapple with a mental disorder, drugs, and drinking will break your heart, yet also fill it up with compassion and love.

There aren't many films that could tell you more about surfing as a lifestyle than "Kissed By God." Andy helps the viewer understand the indescribable sensation of being on a board on the back of an unconquerable wave. Even if you've never stepped foot on a surfboard in your life, he gets you the closest to experiencing this amazing emotion he felt on a daily basis. There's a purity in his attraction to the water, and a devastating sadness about the enigmatic mind that ultimately stopped him from reaching his greatest heights.

The movie is available on Youtube, free of charge, and comes highly recommended.

If you or anyone you know is struggling with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

Lords of Dogtown (2005)

A Hollywood flick starring Heath Ledger and Emile Hirsch playing skater dudes in 1970s California feels like it could be filled with cliches, but Catherine Hardwicke's "Lords of Dogtown," despite being bashed by critics and underperforming at the box office, deserves to be remembered for more than those poor reviews and low numbers.

Essentially a narrative re-telling of Stacy Peralta's 2001 acclaimed "Dogtown and Z-Boys" documentary, Hardwicke's "Dogtown" is far from being as bad as its reputation suggests. It follows Tony Alva (Victor Rasuk), Peralta (John Robinson), Jay Adams (Hirsch) and Skip Engblom (Ledger), telling the tale of how the so-called "Z-Boys" made skateboarding a phenomenon. 

Sure, it's technically more of a skateboarding film than a surfer one, but the vibe and the lifestyle have so much overlap that it will fit all your surfer movie needs. The feature showcases the minting of an urban culture, one forged in backyard swimming pools rather than on swelling waves. Despite its reputation, "Dogtown" is an entertaining flick featuring a transformative performance by Ledger worth remembering.

View From a Blue Moon (2015)

Blake Kueny's visually-stunning film is a journey in its plainest form. 

After the introduction of professional surfer John Alexander Florence (narrated by John C. Reilly), we join him on a trip visiting Australia, South Africa, and Brazil to steer on the biggest swells. Then, he returns to his hometown in Hawaii. There's no story, characters, or structure to follow here. This 58-minute-long film is simply a love letter to surfing and nature — documenting a life that, for most of us, will always remain a dream. However, through some spectacular footage, the viewer can appreciate its sheer beauty. Without getting wet, we are immersed in some tremendous waves alongside John, surrounded by gorgeous scenery.

"View From a Blue Moon" is almost like an art film. A collection of montages above and under water through the eyes of a guy who sees blue everywhere and can't live without it. Post Andy Irons, Florence became the first surfer that won back-to-back world titles in the sport and represented the United States in the Olympics. But his humble documentary isn't about any of those achievements. It's an appreciation of what surfing really means to him. And it's mesmerizing, captivating, and magical — even if glimpsed on a small screen.

Blue Crush (2002)

John Stockwell's 2002 romantic drama might be a proud, middle-shelf B movie with a plot all over the place, shallow characters and actors struggling to transcend their limitations — but as far as surf films go, there's a low-key appeal to it.

The scenes on land are mildly amusing at best; out on the water, however, "Blue Crush" doesn't hold back. Its vivid depiction of dangerous, brutal swells — which can smash even the best surfers underwater — is simultaneously scary and fascinating. Without illusions, the viewer gets an accurate comprehension of how difficult and physically demanding this sport is, even for the most ripped athletes.

The flawed plot follows three friends — Anne Marie (Kate Bosworth), Eden (Michelle Rodriguez), and Lena (Sanoe Lake) — who live, work, and ride waves together in Hawaii. The most skilled out of the three is Anne Marie, whose dream is to become a professional. Besides working as a maid in the local hotel, she trains hard to be able to compete in an upcoming competition taking place at the infamous North Shore of the island. Performing well at the Banzai Pipeline could be her ticket out of poverty and a difficult life. However, her plans turn complicated once she gets fired from the hotel and begins dating an American football player there on holiday.

Although "Blue Crush" wasn't very much liked among critics after its release, it became a decent commercial success, grossing over $51 million worldwide on a $25 million budget.

Scratching the Surface (2010)

Similar to "View From a Blue Moon," "Scratching the Surface" introduces viewers to another great talent worth meeting. 

Julian Wilson is a 33-year-old professional surfer from Queensland, Australia. He has some incredible achievements from the World Surf League Men's Tour and other prestigious events. This documentary briefly presents his background and upbringing through interviews with friends and family members. The rest of the film is dedicated to showcasing Wilson's skills and the numerous locations he's conquered. The film depicts him blazing through enormous waves in Australia, Hawaii, Africa, and Europe, with footage taken from spectacular heights and depths.

The 47-minute-long documentary is more like a carefully edited assembly of Wilson's unique surfing style, one that focuses on the moves and the dedication he has for the sport. There are also brief, quiet moments from his life, in-between waves, just traveling and discovering new places while visiting several countries around the world. While "View From a Blue Moon" might be more raw, creative, and nuanced — and clearly made on a higher budget — "Surface" is worth a watch for surf fans. It's available on Youtube, shared by Wilson himself for free.

Let's Be Frank (2016)

Peter Hamblin's documentary is as unconventional in the genre as it gets. Instead of following a linear, more familiar structure — such as "View From a Blue Moon" or "Scratching the Surface" — the filmmaker blends fiction into reality to an extreme degree. He invents myths and urban legends about the pro-surfer Frank James Solomon, telling them with a Guy Ritchie-like approach. "Let's Be Frank" is full of gimmicks — a mix of slow-motion punches and rapid cuts — that make the project look more stylish and cinematic. To be frank (sorry), it totally works.

Clearly, this is a mock-doc that gives its viewer an embellished reality of who the infamous Frank Solomon is. Though he's indeed a professional, highly gifted surfer, he's a much more humble and ordinary fellow — according to his website — than this project would suggest. "Let's Be Frank" is a reinvention of how far these surf movies can push the medium.

According to its director (who was interviewed by Variety in 2016), he pushed the envelope and came up with inventive ways to reach a broader audience. His project focuses on distinctive storytelling rather than simply showing us where Frank traveled around the world to ride the scariest waves. Of course, there is some of that, too, for those looking to see his skills in the water.

If you're eager to check out what Hamblin and Frank made together, "Let's Be Frank" is available to watch on Red Bull's website.

Big Wednesday (1978)

The fourth feature film from the legendary John Milius (director of "Conan the Barbarian," writer of "Apocalypse Now"), "Big Wednesday," was far from a success back in 1978. According to Deadline, good buddies of Milius (George Lucas and Steven Spielberg) thought the movie was going to be a huge summer blockbuster, trading points on their own projects ("Close Encounters of the Third Kind" and the original "Star Wars") for a piece. They were soon proven wrong, however, as "Wednesday" would be a failure both critically and commercially. 

But a funny thing happened on the way to the VHS discount bin; in the decades since, "Wednesday" has been reappraised by critics and cult audiences, earning it a decent following. One of its defenders is none other than Quentin Tarantino, who wrote, "While all in all I prefer Milius' directorial debut 'Dillinger,' it's hard to argue against the idea that his surfer epic 'Big Wednesday' isn't his classic."

The plot follows three close friends in the 1960s, united in their love of surfing. They're like gods on the coast of California: popular, admired, cool. However, their enviable lifestyle gets threatened in 1965, when they are drafted into the Vietnam War. 

In their individual ways, they all attempt to avoid joining the military by faking various mental illnesses. The film portrays their lives from the mid '60s to 1974, when they're all reunited to ride the Great Swell of the year. Looking back on their younger selves, they reminisce with bittersweet nostalgia about their youth, realizing that the past is gone and they've all changed. Whether they like it or not, they have no choice but to accept it.

Bra Boys (2007)

Sunny Abberton and Macario De Souza's documentary "Bra Boys" is hands-down one of the most controversial surf films ever made. 

It documents the story of the infamous Australian surf gang named in the title and is made by them, so it's unabashedly one-sided, which hindered it during release. Nevertheless, "Bra Boys" can be a moving story about a group of lost, poor, and hopeless kids saved by a kind-hearted grandmother, who provided them with a home and a sense of belonging. They might have been associated with crimes, localism, and gang wars, but their loyalty, bond, and love for each other deserve some respect.

Russell Crowe (a New Zealand-born Australian himself) narrates the doc, which adds a layer of prestige. Yet, perhaps the film's greatest accomplishment is that it doesn't glamorize criminal behavior and instead shows a raw insight into the Australian surfer community. It's not a coincidence that some of the biggest names in the sport reference these guys as one of the heaviest bunches as far as professional surfing goes.

"Bra Boys" holds a rating of 59 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, based on 29 reviews, but it deserves better. If you want to put yourself in the surfer mind space, it's a solid pick.