Many people will remember spending their teenage years on the beach surfing, even if you got to hang out only once a year during the summer holidays or stealing to the coast at weekends. Now well into their adult years, many still like to surf or have taken up stand-up paddleboarding.
Surfing history in Australia
The Northern Beaches of Sydney is regarded as the birthplace of surfing in Australia when in 1914-15, a local, Isabel Letham, rode a tandem surfboard with Hawaiian surfing legend, Duke Kahanamoku.
In 1964, Manly Beach hosted the first-ever Surfing World Titles, and Midget (or ‘Midge’) Farrelly became a household name after winning the World Surfboard Riders Championship. Friends tell me that sightings of Midge Farrelly in the late 1960s sent whispers up and down each beach he visited. We still remember a sighting at Coogee in the early 1970s that had all the beachgoers agog!
Since the 1950s, surf movies have been popular with both surfers and those who just love to watch the action. Some are now noted as iconic movies that we remember and still love to watch today, whether they’re pure surfing or movies that jumped on the bandwagon ‒ or should I say, surfboard ‒ and used the surfing culture as a plot device.
So let’s take a closer look at some of the classics. Do you remember any of them?
Classic 1970s surf movies
In the 1970s, surf movies were essential viewing for many teens. Even The Beach Boys capitalised on the trend, despite only one of the group being a surfer. From this era came so many classic movies that many will remember fondly.
Morning of the Earth.
Probably the best-known of the pure surfing movies and set more in the 1960s, this beautiful film was released in 1972. Watch this film if for nothing more than its stunning soundtrack. The no-dialogue film is mesmerising and symbolises the spiritual connection that surfers have with the natural environment.
Five Summer Stories
This cult classic, also released in 1972, features a soundtrack including The Beach Boys and Honk. Not simply a surf movie, this film made connections between the environment and potential damage we inflict on it, and heralded the second wave of surf movies.
Following on from the success of Morning of the Earth, this 1973 film is one of the most successful Australian surf movies, grossing over $100,000 (1973 dollars) in its initial release. Surfing tragics can watch George Greenhough as he rides the barrel, shooting footage from the waterproof camera strapped to his back. Check out mentions on YouTube for a quick fix.
Surfers and surfing in fiction
From the 1950s on, we saw loads of surfing movies that featured both surfing and the beach lifestyle. If you didn’t have a surfboard in the trailer, you might as well have not made the film as far as many teenagers and young surfers were concerned.
Big Wednesday, 1978
This classic is just one of many films that used surfing as a plot device. In this film, three friends share a love of surfing while dealing with the impact of the Vietnam War and the threat of conscription.
The best-known surfer chick, Gidget, may be better known for the spin-off TV series of the same name starring Sally Fields (pre her Flying Nun fame). Starring Sandra Dee, James Darren, Cliff Robertson and Arthur O’Connell, this movie is an early surf movie classic.
Where the Boys Are, 1960
Another classic, this time about four college girls who drive to Florida during spring break. Check out George Hamilton before he had a permanent tan and listen to Connie Francis as she sings what would become her signature tune, Where the boys are.
Puberty Blues, 1981
An Australian cult classic for both book and film, Puberty Blues, based on the book by Kathy Lette and the late Gabrielle Carey, was filmed on the beaches of Sydney. Part a coming-of-age story and part a feminist polemic, this movie certainly shook up the surfing world.
New surf films destined to become classics
While you might have missed out on the thrill of seeing a classic like 1966 The Endless Summer on its first release on a big screen, surfing remains a popular subject for movie makers.
If you’re keen to dive into the current canon of surf movies, check out the YouTube Red Bull Surfing channel. Also look for some of the new classics like the 2021 short film, Surfing: An All-Girls Surf Film with its rocking soundtrack and featuring, among others, seven-time world champion Steph Gilmore, or check out an indigenous soon-to-be classic (or so we believe), I Live, I Breathe, I Surf.
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