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Ossie Khan

29th January 2024 13 min read

The 30 Best Surf Movies

Updated: Oct 30, 2023

Looking for the best surf movies?

Let’s be honest: there are surf movies — and then there are the best surf movies.

What’s the difference?

The best surf movies include some of the most gorgeous waves imaginable usually surfed to an iconic soundtrack, inspirational athletes daring to dream, powerful messaging that helps us all rise together, stories from the sea that deserve to be told, and a solid quote or two never hurts.

Whether you’re looking for entertainment or something to keep you busy during a flat spell, here are the 30 best surf movies in no particular order (except for the first one).

The 30 Best Surf Movies

The Endless Summer

If you can only watch one surf movie in your life, it should be this one.

The Endless Summer is the best surf movie.

Period.

Bruce Brown’s perfect encapsulation of a life lead by surf tops the list of great surf movies because it captured a dream many didn’t even think was achievable in the mid-60s as he narrated surfers Michael Hynson and Robert August chasing firing waves wherever they were breaking around the world.

If you weren’t already frothing, watching tantalizing surf checks and empty, glassy waves in Australia, New Zealand, Tahiti, Hawaii, Senegal, Ghana, Nigeria, and South Africa will definitely get you ready to put your feet in the wax.

Surf’s Up

This animated surf movie about surfing penguins hits all the right notes: the ambiguous locale of Pen Gu (Canggu, much?) as an amorphous blend of Bali, Tahiti, and Hawaii; the penguin versions of Sal Masakela, Kelly Slater, and Rob Machado; hilarious, adorable groms and actual sick surf sessions…by penguins.

The story is easy enough for kids with bits of innocent dark humor making surf moms, dads, aunties and uncles laugh while the littles vibe on the penguins — making it one of the best surf movies to watch.

Peppered with subtle surfisms like “shoulda been here yesterday” and devoting time to the art of traditional board shaping, this isn’t just a cartoon — it’s the ultimate animated surf story.

Unstoppable

This uplifting surf movie follows Kauai surfer Bethany Hamilton, who famously lost her left arm to a shark at just 13 years old.

Watching the struggles and successes of Bethany’s return to surfing, her media career inspiring others, and motherhood before she specifically recommitted to elevating her surfing are all incredibly inspirational, and the guaranteed surf stoke from watching Hamilton’s training routine and practicing aerials in Bali, barrels at Teahupo’o, achieving her CT dreams with a legendary wildcard performance in Fiji, and rounding out her prowess by paddling herself into XXL Jaws are what makes this one of the best surf movies.

Momentum Generation

Among the most important surf movies, this documentary about the American crew credited with making surfing mainstream in the 90’s is about the continual redefinition of surfing.

As kids in troubled homes, surfing was the savior; as championship hopefuls at Benji’s House, surfing defined your place in the community; and the united powerhouse introduced through Taylor Steele’s groundbreaking Momentum in 1992 redefined America’s perception of surfers.

Surfing’s core values were questioned and the brotherhood disbanded when rivalries, savage competitiveness, and early corporatized surfing aligned with the death of Todd Chesser, but as the men rewrote life after the tour and helped normalize male sensitivity, the crew who redefined surfing reunited when they learned that surfing doesn’t define them. All of these factors make Momentum Generation one of the best surf movies to watch.

Chasing Mavericks

An emotional powerhouse homage to Northern California’s iconic big wave, Chasing Mavericks is the artistic retelling of young Jay Moriarity turning to a local uncle to learn how to surf a wave known to few at the time, but those who did knew it could kill you.

The Karate Kid of surf movies, every surfer either has a Frosty in their life or is hoping to meet one to help them set and achieve goals like Jay’s dreams of surfing the NW miracle off of Pillar Point.

The guidance about consistently building all four pillars of oneself — mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual — is advice every human can use, and lessons surfing always gives.

Blue Crush

In the early 2000’s, mainstream media commonly painted women in surfing as the bikini models and girlfriends, until an Outside magazine article on female pros inspired the making of the international blockbuster Blue Crush.

People outside of surf communities finally got a look at female surfers striving for competitive greatness, and for some girls it may have been the first time they saw women surfing at all.

Offering inspiration for future female surfers alone makes this one of the best surf movies, but featuring timely legends like Layne Beachley, Rochelle Ballard, and Keala Kennelly (along with a young Coco Ho as the main character’s child version) makes this one of the best surf movies to watch.

Kissed by God

Let’s cut to the chase: Kissed by God is one of the best surf movies.

Andy Irons shines bright in surfing’s galaxy, both for his incandescent performance that saw three of what could have been many more world titles and for the lasting inspiration he has left after his sudden, tragic demise.

This surf movie, much of it filmed in Kauai, captures the nuances of the man so many love and miss, showcasing the majesty of his surfing alongside the stories of his highs like contest success and meeting the love of his life, Lyndie, as well as the lows of drug addiction and living with bipolar disorder, a treatable yet misunderstood mental health condition that this movie explains in a clear, compassionate, and important way that opens doors of progress.

North Shore

“Scrub it, kook!”

“Nobody listens to Turtle.”

“When the wave breaks here, don’t be there…or you’re gonna get drilled.”

If you did the hand motion for that last quote, then the most classic among surf movies has done its job.

In this surfing movie, Rick Kane, Arizona’s best surfer who’s “so haole he doesn’t even know he’s haole” arrives on the North Shore of Oahu and quickly learns about respect for locals and the ocean, along with the spots, culture, community, and ultimately how to relax and live true aloha.

It’s a treasure trove filled with the greatest surfers of the 20th century, including the late Mark Foo and Derek Ho, whose Pipelinesurfing is the entirety of the North Shore in one image.

Nervous Laughter

A tight-knit north shore Maui crew that grew up together under the pioneers of Pe’ahi have made this azure mega-break in Haiku their own, from Albee Layer riding shockingly shortboards there ahead of the trend to Kai Lenny achieving the first big wave air.

Nervous Laughter is a surf movie that details all this, and much more, making it one of the best surf movies.

Locals Billy Kemper, Paige Alms, and Ian Walsh annually dominate the Jaws contest, and this documentary not only shows why, but also displays the unity of this group and their community through everything from the pre-dawn swell prep to contest days to the resilience of underrated free surfer Dege O’Connell fighting his way back to surfing Pe’ahi after suffering a devastating injury there.

Step Into Liquid

This surfing movie is an ode to the global surfing tribe is the perfect 90’s surf time capsule, filled with extra-long board shorts and heavily laden with surfing’s elite — including dearly departed legends Rabbit Kekai and Bruce Brown, and a shot of baby John John so young he isn’t even named — alongside everyday surfers all around the world.

Also an introduction to newly-perfected big wave tow surfing, Step Into Liquid features heavy tow-ins at Jaws, Mullaghmore, Mavericks, and the Cortes Bank 100 miles off the coast of San Diego.

Another high point of the time capsule: a primitive foil board design with snowboard-style boots attached that really shows how far we’ve come.

180 South

A surf movie that has inspired a generation of surfers, climbers and outdoor enthusiasts, watching 180 South will make you want to go on a wild adventure and protect and preserve nature along the way.

“This gorgeous, historic, and inspiring new film from director & surfer Chris Malloy and his collective at Woodshed Films, documents the adventures of surfer and climber Jeff Johnson as he retraces the epic 1968 journey of his heroes Yvon Chouinard (rock climbing legend and founder of Ventura-based Patagonia) and Doug Tompkins, on which they drove, mountain climbed and surfed their way to Chilean Patagonia.”

In the surf movie, Jeff meets up with Chouinard and Tompkins who discuss their love for the soul of surfing and of adventure — and how they started Patagonia to continue that love.

Not only is 180 South one of the best surf movies — it’s one of the best adventure movies and is certainly worth watching.

Under the Arctic Sky

If you’re looking for one of the most beautiful and awe-inspiring surf movies, it has to be Under the Arctic Sky.

A group of surfers, along with renowned photographer Chris Burkard, venture to Iceland’s north coast in search of perfect waves during the country’s largest storm in 25 years.

This sets the stage for surfing under the green hue of the Northern Lights, dramatic, snowy cliffs in the backdrop, aerials, and cranking turns — all things that make it one of the best surf movies.

Even better, while everyone in the surf movie is layered up with thick neoprene, you can follow along in the adventure from the warmth of your house.

The Ultimate Wave Tahiti

Ever wanted to experience Teahupo’o, one of the world’s best yet most dangerous waves?

It’s massive barrels, crystal clear blue water, the best surfers in the world threading its gargantuan tubes, with a dramatic green mountainscape as its backdrop?

You can with the surf movie The Ultimate Wave: Tahiti.

In this surf movie, Tahitian surfer Raimana Van Bastolaer, Kelly Slater and others go on a surf quest to surf the best and biggest waves at this iconic spot.

“The great waves arrive and surfing play becomes surfing survival as the riders tackle some of the biggest, heaviest surf on the planet.”

If you’ve ever wanted to experience Teahupo’o as well as the tropical paradise that is Tahiti, this is a surf movie you have to watch.

And Two if By Sea

Two of the best surfers to come out of Florida — and the international surf community at large — are the Hobgood brothers.

“A cinematic tale of adventure, destiny, and family.”

For the first time, their surfing lives are laid bare in the surf movie And Two If By Sea.

What drives them?

How did they go from surfing Florida shore break to surfing on the World Tour, with CJ Hobgood winning a World Title?

The surf movie also looks at their personal lives as their sibling rivalry in and out of the water nearly ripped their personal relationship apart.

What makes this one of the best surf movies is that it’s equal parts surfing and introspective, personal dialogue.

Whether you’re a Hobgood fan or interested in surf movies, And Two If By Sea is a must-watch.

Let’s Be Frank

Who is Frank? If you’re looking for one of the more creative, funny, and out of the box surf movies, it’s Let’s Be Frank.

“Let’s Be Frank is a visceral journey through the unseen and unknown world of big wave surf adventurer Frank James Solomon, an intercontinental clandestine investigation blurring the lines between myth, legend and reality – leading to the question… Just who is Frank?”

Fans of South Africa’s Frank Solomon, big waves, and fantastic storytelling will love this surf movie.

Lords of Dogtown

We know, we know…the Lords of Dogtown isn’t necessarily a surfing movie, so why is it on the list of the best surfing movies?

First, it’s an iconic action sports movie.

Second, surfing has many roots from the skateboarding realm.

Third, it captures the skate and surf scene of old and induces 1970s nostalgia.

When a drought in the 1970s in Southern California empties swimming pools, a group of ragtag teen surfers from the Dogtown area of Venice Beach take advantage with skateboards, and a new sport is born.

“Based on a true story, this film follows “Z-Boys” skate team members Stacy Peralta (John Robinson), Tony Alva (Victor Rasuk) and Jay Adams (Emile Hirsch), plus manager Skip Engblom (Heath Ledger), as their fearless “pool surfing” leads to fame, fortune — and misfortune.”

An iconic surf and skate movie, if you haven’t seen Lords of Dogtown, it’s a must-watch.

Riding Giants

How do surfers ride 50-foot waves physically and mentally?

It’s explained in yet another iconic and must-watch surf movie: Riding Giants.

Equal parts surfing history and thrill ride, this surf documentary gives tribute to surfers who dare ride the world’s biggest waves — making it one of the best surf movies.

The surf movie explains the evolution of big-wave surfing from the ’50s to today, touching upon changing trends and the constant search for ever larger waves and features the likes of Jeff Clark, Laird Hamilton, and more.

View From a Blue Moon

Stunning visuals, harrowing waves, and one of the best surfers today.

All these factors make our next surf movie, View From A Blue Moon, one of the best surf movies.

“From the dreamy blue perfection of the South Pacific to the darkest uncharted waters of Africa (and everywhere in between), John Florence faces a broad spectrum of emotions as he continues to seal his legacy as one of the most gifted surfers ever. And while the young Hawaiian is pulled in increasingly different directions, there is no form of pressure that will keep him from his ultimate goal — to redefine what is possible in the ocean.”

Not only does John John redefine what is possible in the ocean — this surf movie is so good that it redefined the genre by setting new and sky-high expectations for any surf movies that come after it.

Point Break

Keanu Reeves, Patrick Swayze, big waves, and bank robberies: these are why Point Break is one of the best surf movies.

In this surf movie, a federal agent, played by Keanu Reeves, infiltrates a gang suspected of bank robberies in Southern California.

“But this is no ordinary group of robbers. They’re surfers — led by the charismatic Bodhi (Patrick Swayze) — who are addicted to the rush of thievery. But when Utah falls in love with a female surfer, Tyler (Lori Petty), who is close to the gang, it complicates his sense of duty.”

Castles in the Sky

A product of Taylor Steele, featuring the likes of Rob Machado, Timmy Curran, Craig Anderson, and more, Castles in the Sky was filmed in 5 countries over the course of 3 years — making it one of the best surf movies.

Plus, it has some of the best quotes you’ll find among our surf movie list.

It’s another surf movie that will want to make you book a ticket and go on a life-changing adventure.

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.”

Morning of the Earth

Albert Falzon’s classic from 1972 is a true surf film. Morning of the Earth is a beautifully shot film of nature scenes, surfing, and a legendary soundtrack backing it up.

This surf movie helped introduce Bali, Indonesia to the surfing world.

This film was also made in the heat of the shortboard revolution so the film features some really groovy boards as well.

The dreamiest sequence of the movie is when Michael Peterson surfs old school perfect Kirra on a single fin shortboard.

Peterson surfs the board with an immense amount of style making the film all the more perfect.

#21 Filthy Habits (H3)

Billabong released the surf film Filthy Habits in 1988 and changed the surf video forever.

Featuring Occy, Sunny Garcia, Richie Collins, and Ronnie Burns, Filthy Habits encapsulates surf culture in the 80s with its neon wetsuits and punk music.

The soundtrack really makes this whole film featuring headbanging tunes by TSOL and Social Distortion.

There’s no doubt about it, “Filthy Habits” is hard core.

Psychic Migrations

Ryan Thomas’s beautiful film Psychic Migrations was released by Volcom in 2015 and features a plethora of insane surfers.

Perhaps what this film is best known for is Ryan Burch’s rainbow fish part.

Shaper and surfer Ryan Burch shows off his stylish surfing on a self shaped fish behind an epic soundtrack.

The film has a great diversity of surfers and waves and even features Kelly Slater.

The Bruce Movie

An interesting character study, The Bruce Movie is about Bruce Irons living in the shadow of his world champion brother Andy.

The film follows Bruce and his struggles in trying to make the championship tour, largely due to his stubbornness.

Watching him surf in the video you would think he’s a world champion.

Bruce does what he does best and gets some great tubes and even wins the Eddie Aikau Big Wave Competition in this film.

Kelly Slater in Black and White

In 1991, Quicksilver wanted to show off its hot new young surfer.

Black and White features a young Kelly Slater with a head full of hair introducing himself to the surfing world before any of the world titles.

In the film he surfs a variety of waves from Lowers to Pipeline to Tavarua. The film has some great surfing and it’s really interesting to see Kelly before all the fame and glory.

Five Summer Stories

Another film from the heat of the shortboard revolution, made in 1972, Five Summer Stories follows surfers from SoCal and Hawaii.

It also has a legendary cast, including Gerry Lopez, Jeff Hackman, and Bill Hamilton.

The backing soundtrack is amazing as well.

Straight out of the 70’s, 5 Summer Stories is a groovy watch.

Soul Surfer

Of course, Soul Surfer belongs on our surf movie list — Bethany Hamilton’s story is a special one for sure.

The dramatic film portrayal of it is just as iconic. AnnaSophia Robb portrays Hamilton in a very convincing fashion.

The movie hasn’t aged incredibly well and the acting can be corny at times but the film does its job well.

It tells Hamilton’s story extremely well and shows how the shark attack accident affected Hamilton at such a young age.

Sonic Souvenirs: Parts 1 & 2

Mikey February’s first solo Vans surf movie has a lot to offer.

Filmed in the west and east coasts’ of South Africa, and on Africa’s Ivory Coast, February shows off his loose style.

February uses his signature Channel Islands board, the twin pin, throughout the film and even picks up a midlength at one point of the film.

February also uses music from South Africa to guide his viewer through the surfing clips.

Moments

Quiksilver’s 2011 film Moments features some world class talent.

Their team at this point was stacked. It included:

  • Dane Reynolds

  • Kelly Slater

  • Jeremy Flores

  • Clay Marzo

  • and a young Craig Anderson

The only thing holding this film down is the subpar soundtrack and the choppy editing. Other than that it’s great to see some of the best surfers of all time in one video making this a great film.

The Endless Summer II

Nearly 30 years after the first film, Bruce Brown created The Endless Summer II.

In a completely different surfing world than the first film, Brown tours the best surfing spots around the world including Alaska, Fiji, and Indonesia.

It follows surfers Robert Weaver, who longboards and Pat O’Connell who shortboards. This film is a must watch and worthy sequel.

Gidget

Love it or hate it, Gidget played an important role in throwing surfing into the mainstream, which is why it made our surf movie list.

Released in 1959, Sandra Dee plays Gidget, a young girl who wants to learn how to surf and falls into the Southern California surfing lifestyle.

Surfing after this film was never the same. It had an immense amount of cultural influence and introduced surfing to the country — for better or for worse.

The Best Surf Movies

Not only can this list of the best surf movies keep the vibe alive during a flat spell and document the sport for future generations; these surf movies can inspire you to take a life-changing adventure with a surfboard in tow.

Did we miss any surf movies on this list?

If so, let us know in the comments!

If you love these surf movies, you’ll love these surf books, too.

MORE = https://www.americansurfmagazine.com/article/surf-movies

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