Tons and tons of surfing movies have been created over the years, and while many of them tackle different issues, they all have one thing in common: they all make you want to take to the ocean and ride some waves! While some documentaries like Soul Surfer and Chasing Mavericks might make you marvel at the danger of the sea, you still can’t deny how majestic it is at the same time.
Surfing is a popular pastime worldwide, so as you might expect, surfing movies of all types and from all regions exist. We’ve compiled ten of the best best movies about surfing and documentaries to ever exist on this list, plus a few honorable mentions at the end.
Everything you will learn here
- Top 10 Surfing Documentary Movies
- A Few Other Surfing Movies and Documentaries Worthy of Mention
- Wrap-Up of the best surfing documentary movies
Top 10 Surfing Documentary Movies
In this part of the guide, we’ll go over our top picks for the best surfing movies that you can watch today, plus a little bit of information about each one.
1. The Endless Summer (1965)
The Endless Summer is widely regarded as one of the most popular movies about surfing of all time. The film, which was produced in 1966 and directed by Bruce Brown, centers around two surfer friends who embark on a grand surfing trip around the world.
While this movie is technically a documentary, people who don’t like documentaries will still like it – it has a lighthearted narrative style that often doesn’t feel like a documentary. The story and the title were inspired by the concept of – you guessed it – an “endless summer.”
It would be possible to achieve an endless summer of sorts by “following the summer” across the world as the seasons changed, so this is what the two subjects, Mike Hynson and Robert August, attempt to do in the movie.
2. Point Break (1991)
Point Break is a slightly different style of movie, but one that nonetheless will make you miss the ocean. Rather than a documentary, Point Break is a crime thriller about an agent investigating a series of bank robberies. During the investigation, he must infiltrate the surfing community to get closer to the suspects.
Part of Point Break’s appeal is that it has a long list of big-name actors in it. Some of the names you might recognize are:
- Keanu Reaves
- Gary Busey
- Patrick Swayze
Today, Point Break is a cult surfer classic. Alcon Entertainment and Warner Bros. remade the movie in 2015, but the remake received bad reviews and never came close to the original’s popularity.
3. Riding Giants (2004)
Riding Giants is another documentary-style surfer classic, this time following surfing in a general sense, the culture behind it, where and how it originated, and other such topics. The film emphasizes big wave surfing, why people do it, and how dangerous it can be.
According to the film’s producers, Riding Giants’ purpose was to try and explain why people choose to devote years to surfing, even while risking their lives. If you’re looking for a way to learn about the history and culture behind surfing, this movie is one of the best places to start.
4. Surfwise (2007)
Surfwise is a fascinating documentary film that follows Doc Pascowitz and his family. Dorian (“Doc”) is a man who went to Stanford University Medical School early in his life to earn his M.D. After graduating, he moved into a 24-foot camper, where he lived on the beach with his wife and nine children.
The film looks at many deep and complex topics, ranging from forcing strict lifestyle rules on children to fostering lasting relationships with family. Doc was a proponent of holistic, natural lifestyles, and he required his children to live as he himself wanted to: a clean life mimicking that of animals in the wild.
This is one of those movies that really makes you wonder. As far as thought-provoking surfing movies go, Surfwise is a can’t-miss.
5. Blue Horizon (2004)
Blue Horizon is a bit of a lesser-known surfing movie, but one with no less potential than the others on this list. Blue Horizon documents two different surfers’ lives and struggles: Andy Irons, an up-and-coming surfer looking to beat Kelly Slater for the world surfing title, and Dave Rastovich, who surfs for the spirit and “soul” of the sport.
By following and comparing two surfers with highly contrasting views of what surfing means to them, Blue Horizon creates a highly compelling juxtaposition. Not only that but the soundtrack and film techniques of the movie – which was done by Jack McCoy, one of the premier surfing cinematographers in the world – give the movie a true surfing “vibe.”
6. Chasing Mavericks (2012)
Chasing Mavericks is a modern surfing drama that’s found its way into the hearts of teens and adults alike. While the film received lots of mixed reviews from critics on its release, it’s since gained its own following. The movie is based on the life of Jay Moriarty, an American competition surfer and “soul surfer.”
The movie primarily documents Jay’s teenage years. During this time, an older surfer named Frosty mentors Jay on how to surf “mavericks,” or giant waves. The film is full of drama and speaks to the emotion and passion behind surfing.
Technically, Chasing Mavericks is also a bit of a memoir since Jay Moriarty died in 2001 in a freak freediving accident. While bittersweet, the movie showcases themes like ambition, patience, persistence, and courage.
7. Nordfor Sola (2012)
If you’re not a fan of documentaries, prepare to have your mind changed. Nordfor Sola, or North of the Sun, is a documentary following two men – Inge Wegge and Jørn Ranum – as they struggle to survive in Norway’s arctic conditions. And, believe it or not, this is all within the lens of a surfing movie.
During the movie, the two men create their own shelter out of scavenged materials and eat whatever they can – even nearly-expired goods from food stores – to survive. They do all this in the name of surfing, as their remote island on the coast of Norway lets them experience some of the world’s best and most extreme waves. The men live here for a full nine months before returning home.
The value of the film is in the unique, regional spin it puts on surfing. The message is that no matter where you come from and where you are, you can share in the passion for surfing as long as you have access to the ocean.
8. Crystal Voyager (1973)
Crystal Voyager is another cult classic surfing film and one that will give you insight into one of the most famous surfers of the time: George Greenough. The film loosely follows his life and struggles, and it’s unmistakably a movie about soul surfing rather than competition.
One of George’s main struggles in the film is his quest to find uncrowded areas to surf in peace. In the end, he ends up building a yacht that can get him further out into the ocean, all to get closer to the perfect, undisturbed wave.
The final 23-minutes of the film is widely considered one of the best parts, as it’s a point-of-view shot showing the process of surfing through a wave.
9. Soul Surfer (2011)
Soul Surfer is a title that you’ve probably heard of before, even if you’re not a cult follower of classic surfing movies, if only because of the press that the story (and the movie) received when the events happened. Soul Surfer is based on the true story of a girl named Bethany Hamilton who loses her left arm to a shark attack.
The movie follows Bethany through her struggle to return to the ocean and re-learn how to surf without her right arm, as well as learning how to live her life without it. The movie deals with friendships and family relationships while also having a focus on competitive surfing.
(We also have a list of Best Books for Surfers of Every Level that’ll take your experience to the next level)
10. Blue Crush (2002)
Blue Crush is another cult classic devoted to younger audiences, this time following the story of a group of young teens living on Hawaii’s North Shore. Throughout the movie, the main character goes through a lot – everything from falling in love to facing deep-seated fears rooted in the past.
The main character (Anne Marie) was once a rising star in women’s surfing, but after almost dying due to a wipeout when she was young, she loses her confidence and edge. The movie follows her and her growth, along with her family and friends, as she works to return to the world of surfing.
A Few Other Surfing Movies and Documentaries Worthy of Mention
Didn’t see your favorite surfing movie on the list above? Check out these honorable mentions:
We also have some other articles with the lists of related movies you’ve ever seen:
Wrap-Up of the best surfing documentary movies
Surfing has a lot to teach us, whether it’s about ambition, confidence, or the ability to get back up again when you fall. Regardless of what surfing means to you, these classic surfing movies will make you feel a respect for the sport (and the people who do it) that you may not have before – and of course, they might just make you want to go out and try it for yourself.
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