The Engineer’s Room: Beyond the Beach

Beyond the Beach

As summer rolls along and people flock to their local beaches to lie in the sun and play in the surf, farther out in the breaking waves are the surfers. Surfer Today estimates that there are 20 million surfers worldwide, even though the average ride is only 6 seconds long. By comparison, the average roller coaster ride is around 90 seconds from first drop to final breaks. While roller coasters only date from the 1880s[1], the origin of the surfboard is lost to time but credited to the ancient Polynesians. The first surfboard observed in use by Europeans was recorded in Tahiti by Joseph Banks sailing aboard HMS Endeavour under the command of Capt. James Cook. Mark Twain tried his hand at surfing (and failed) in 1866. Jack London was more successful, and chronicaled his adventure in “A Royal Sport,” published in 1907.

While the first surfing movie is likely Thomas Edison’s 1096 short, “Surf Board Riders, Waikiki, Honolulu, H.I.,” surfing and the surfer lifestyle really gained widespread popular attention with 1959’s Gidget, kicking off a surfing craze with beach party movies (typified by 1965’s Beach Blanket Bingo starring Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello) and surf music from groups such as Dick Dale & His Del-Tones and The Beach Boys. The 1960’s quickly established Southern California, Hawaii, and Australia as the primary centers of surf culture, though anywhere there’s a breaking wave, there’s probably a surfer nearby – and possibly a cameraman.

Surfer Today has compiled a list of the best surf movies of all time. Shockingly, Gidget did not make the cut (though it does make TimeOut’s list of “the 15 most epic surf movies,” coming in at Number 15). Surfer Today is too laid back and chill to rank the movies on its list (preferring to present them in chronological order, instead), but topping most everyone else’s list of surf movies is the surf documentary The Endless Summer: “For many, it is the most important surf movie of all time.”

In The Endless Summer, the surfers, followed by the filmmakers, chase summer around the globe, surfing in Australia, New Zealand, Tahiti, Hawaii, Senegal, Ghana, and South Africa. In its original release, the film was silent, accompanied by surf music on a record player and live narration by director Bruce Brown (now the pre-recorded narrator in the current release version, along with a full musical soundtrack).

25 Best Surfing Movies of All Time

Title Year EIDR ID
The Endless Summer 1966 10.5240/D179-B7C9-530E-8C59-077A-W
The Innermost Limits of Pure Fun 1969 10.5240/77D9-AD4C-8DA6-96EE-A431-W
Morning of the Earth 1971 10.5240/9742-00C0-6784-2DAF-AF4B-6
Five Summer Stories 1972 10.5240/2147-5377-C26C-3CCC-5AEF-L
Crystal Voyage 1973 10.5240/EC04-9D0C-0A43-7CEC-CF69-N
Big Wednesday 1978 10.5240/35AD-39C5-C6BF-E578-F36F-N
Beyond Blazing Boards 1985 10.5240/0688-19CB-C0D8-CA5E-99C1-B
North Shore 1987 10.5240/0F07-AE10-5BA6-4BC3-77B2-F
Point Break 1991 10.5240/51DE-B02E-4B38-5391-E3C7-R
The Green Iguana 1992 10.5240/AF6D-E724-974D-639F-8441-4
The Endless Summer II 1994 10.5240/C47D-B446-1109-D1FA-2CA4-2
Occy: The Occumentary 1998 10.5240/A29B-6E6D-CD6D-5B78-CDB3-I
The Seedling 1999 10.5240/9F9E-8341-D9D6-5ECC-39AF-R
Thicker Than Water 2000 10.5240/4B52-0433-2E0D-48B1-F172-E
Momentum: Under The Influence 2001 10.5240/2E56-17CF-29EA-04A6-121F-D
The September Sessions 2002 10.5240/A245-0A36-BF7B-F890-1C11-Z
Billabong Odyssey 2003 10.5240/FBE7-88E6-373C-6F63-CDE6-1
Singlefin: Yellow 2003 10.5240/7E1F-2469-BABD-2830-0263-L
Step Into Liquid 2003 10.5240/6D07-718D-ACF4-B1C8-D206-5
Blue Horizon 2004 10.5240/B6C5-BACB-916D-97B2-24DA-I
Riding Giants 2004 10.5240/230E-429E-1088-DF06-4672-S
Bra Boys 2007 10.5240/F8D1-2119-F480-3152-650C-G
Castles in The Sky 2010 10.5240/2711-8F3D-7133-3169-60DF-1
A Deeper Shade of Blue 2011 10.5240/BAFD-D498-9FBC-D85B-40F8-C
View From A Blue Moon 2015 10.5240/AF8F-000E-CAFF-BA54-C410-O


[1] The first is believed to be the brainchild of LaMarcus Adna Thompson, then called a “Switchback Railway,” which opened on June 16, 1884 on Coney Island, New York.