Last week Paul Evans ran you through ten European waves to surf before you die, and now we’re back with another list of things to fill your days with.
Luckily for the more lethargic among you, this week’s edition doesn’t require travel far and wide, food poisoning, angry spongers or the necessity to piss on yourself for warmth. Nope, these ten you can just as well tick off from the comfort of your stinking hovel, provided you’ve got alright wifi and a couple quid to spend.
So without further ado, here’s our rundown of 10 fantastic non-fiction takes on the sport of kings and all the land-based silliness that usually goes along with it.
The Endless Summer
It’s unlikely there’s a surfer out there among you who hasn’t at least seen bits of Bruce Brown’s seminal summer surfing odyssey. Many still consider it the defining work of surf film making, pointing to its abiding ability to capture the hearts and minds of everyone from the surf-obsessed to the tried surfing oncers.
Scored by Brown’s whimsical commentary, which was groundbreaking in the context of the joyless documentaries of the late 1950s, decorated by the timeless lines of Mike Hynson and Rob August and underlined by its perennial central premise – everything about this film suggests that it will remain well-loved for generations to come.
If you haven’t already seen it, I’ve genuinely no idea what you’re waiting for.
Bustin’ Down The Door
Sitting, in many ways, at the complete opposite end of the surfing spectrum to the joy-filled Endless Summer, Busting Down The Door exposes the far grittier side of late 20th-century surfing.
The film follows a group of young Australian and South African surfers as they cut their teeth on the North Shore in the mid 70’s, scoring iconic photos, clips and mag features and royally pissing off the local Hawaiians with their impertinence (except for MR- the Hawaiin’s loved MR.) The documentary offers a window into a Hawaii that many claims has ceased to exist, where actions- and particularly those with imperial undertones- have serious and usually violent, consequences. Were it not for the benevolence of the much revered Eddie Aikau, this story could have had a very different ending. However, thanks to him, the outsiders and the Hawaiian’s eventually unite to pave the way for the first incarnation of a world surf circuit and it all ends on a big cuddle and a handshake.
Come for the excellent archive footage of MR and the boys charging on leashless single fins, and stay for the decade-old John John Florence cameo.
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Andy Irons: Kissed By God
Released in 2017, Kissed By God tells the full story of the life and death of one of the greatest surfers of all time. We took this film on tour around the country and its no exaggeration to say it elicited wet eyes everywhere it went. Starting from the very beginning of Irons’ life, the film examines the minutiae of his ascent to the top, before charting his rivalries, his world titles, and eventually his drug addiction, mental health issues and tragic demise. It’s a remarkably raw and honest portrayal of the people’s champ, authored by those who knew and loved him and awash with stories few believed would ever be told.
Although some have claimed it somewhat absolves the surf media of its role in the tragedy, there’s no doubt this film is and will remain the most comprehensive account of the late great Andy Irons and for that reason, it’s essential viewing for any surf fan.
As with Kissed By God, we were lucky enough to introduce The Momentum Generation to audiences around the UK when it was released last year. Everywhere from Bournemouth to Edinburgh the film seemed to resonate with the scores of folk that turned out, who, despite its all-star cast, often saw their own youth reflected in the story.
The film charts the ascent of the Moment Generation through an expertly cut collage of largely unseen archive footage, shot by Taylor Steele in the early nineties, alongside snippets of supremely in-depth interviews with the likes of Kelly Slater, Ross Williams, Rob Machado and more.
It lifts the curtain on a group of surfers whose lives and careers most of us already thought we knew to reveal stories of early-life hardship, rivalry, tragedy and perhaps most enduringly, a strong sense of camaraderie.
Sea Of Darkness
After a short but glorious run at international film festivals, Sea Of Darkness disappeared from circulation, depriving the wider world of what many consider to be the greatest surf documentary ever made.
The film centres on a small group of Americans and Aussies in the mid-70s, who’ve all found their way to the wilds of Indo for one reason or another. Among them is the infamous Mike Boyum who invites the rest of the crew, comprised of commercial divers and soon to be surf execs, to his newly established land camp at G-Land. The footage from those days, featuring the likes of Jerry Lopez and Peter Mccabe is just magical and for a while, everything seems to be going swimmingly. However, when the camp is seized by the authorities, Boyum torches it and heads seaward, with a few others in tow, on a tour of surfing discovery, shipwreck salvage and drug smuggling.
With tales of untouched Indo reefs, trained servant ants and a hairbrained police chase across New Caledonia, what this film lacks in silky production value, it makes up for in wild twists and outrageous subplots. Like Bustin’ Down The Door, it also reveals a world that’s almost unrecognisable to today’s travelling surfers.
Whether the film will ever be released to the general public remains to be seen. Last year Martin Daly, who now owns exclusive rights after buying out the other producers, told Stab that he’s working towards releasing a ‘cleared’ version at some point in the future- although that sounds suspiciously like he’s thinking of taking all the interesting (read: incriminating) bits out. Until then, the film will no doubt be continued to be enjoyed by those who manage to retrieve it from shadowy corners of the internet.
While Sea Of Darkness is equal parts earthy romanticism and delinquency, Bra Boys depicts the complete anthesis of the saccharine surf culture of the 60’s and 70’s, illustrated in classics like Morning Of The Earth and Pacific Vibrations.
Set in the early 2000’s in a rundown Syndey suburb, the film focusses instead on what happens when surf culture’s inherent tribalism is amplified by historical oppression and contemporary social pressures. It tells the story of the Bra Boys, a gang from Maroubra Beach, with a particular focus on the Abberton family and the high profile murder case in which they are embroiled.
The film was directed by Sunny Abberton, the eldest of the three, meaning it does lack a certain rigorous objectivity. However, as you might imagine, having one of the central subjects double as the filmmaker does allow for a level of access and intimacy rarely seen in documentaries.
While the story of the brothers’ personal lives is dramatic enough, the groundbreaking footage of their poioneering big wave exploits, featuring early sessions at both Ours and Cylcops also adds massively to the film’s appeal.
Bra Boys garnered huge mainstream success after its original release and a quick google reveals that the story has continued to unfold since 2007. Jai reportedly converted to Islam soon after production wrapped and last year fell foul of the law once again, facing charges of armed robbery, which have seen him back behind bars. Koby has mostly kept his head down in the intervening years, charging big waves and cruising with his family in Bali. However, he hit the headlines again recently after accidentally burning his house down. And, if the Daily Mail’s to be believed, those tales are the tip of the iceberg when it comes the scrapes the new generation of Bra Boys have been getting into.
Basically, it sounds like it’s time for a sequel.
One California Day
At this point, if you’ve followed our recommendations and watched all of the above, One California Day will be the lovely bit of surfing rest bite you’re craving.
It centres on six different coastal regions of California and the rich lineage of stylish and creative characters who hail from each. Although only 12 years old the film has already taken on a nostalgic hue. It is, after all, set back in a time when Joel Tudor was more well known for his beautiful surfing than his outspokenness on Instagram and the Malloy’s still had time for canoe missions around Baja.
It’s also clear, when watching over a decade on, that many of those featured paying hommage to their predecessors- including a fresh-faced Alex Knost and a largely unknown Tyler Warren- have themselves made a huge impact on contemporary surf culture, giving the film a note of historical significance, despite its tender age.
While there are no particularly dramatic or hard-hitting storylines, OCD does an excellent job of exactly what it set out to do; serving as a reverent celebration of the subtleties of the surfing experience.
Code Red is a mini-documentary featuring arguably the craziest day of surfing ever. Narrated by ‘Bong riders Dylan Longbottom and Laurie Towner, the film follows the pair from the moment they first spot the historic blob on the chart to their final waves of the swell. While the storytelling is a tad pedestrian, the surfing action is unparalleled, with some of the waves verging on the genuinely unbelievable.
In fact, there’s no string of superlatives we could weave together to do it justice, so it’s probably best to just scroll back up and watch this one for yourself. Luckily for surf fans with tight purse strings and a penchant for the perilous, this is the only one from our list that is entirely free to watch.
After you’ve retrieved your eyeballs from the floor, you will inevitably be left with two burning questions; one, how did nobody die? And two, why on earth did Laurie Towner get dropped by Billabong two years after this film’s release? Answers on a postcard please.
Dogtown and Z-Boys
This is technically much more a film about skateboarding than surfing- or rather a little history lesson on how one came of the other.
It centres on a group of teenagers from Santa Monica who, while passing their afternoons once the wind turned onshore, accidentally created an entirely new sub-culture from an almost forgotten toy.
The film documents the evolution of skateboarding throughout the second half of the 20th century, charting the group’s journey from young tearaways to skateboarding superstars. It’s super well cut using archive footage, an array of imagery and anecdotes from icons such as Skip Frye, Craig Stecyk, Stacey Peralta and more.
As well as being a damn good origin story, the film explores the impact of masses of cash and fame on a group who originally assembled through a shared love of skating backyard pools, with the results forming a blueprint that has repeated itself many times since in both surf and skate culture.
Gaza Surf Club
Gaza Surf Club examines the lives of a group of surfers based in an occupied area of Palestine and their efforts to escape the siege through wave riding. The film focusses on the stories of Ibrahim Arafat, who dreams of travelling to Hawaii and 15-year-old Sabah Abu Ghanem, who is the only female surfer in the country.
It’s both a deeply troubling and thoroughly heartwarming portrayal of a surfing experience about as far removed from our own as we can imagine, filled with profound quotes and displays of remarkable resilience.
The waves and quality of surfing featured certainly aren’t as world-class as some of the others on this list, but to fixate on that would be to miss the point entirely. Gaza Surf Club is much more than just a standard surf doc- it offers viewers an entirely new lens through which to view and relate to the deeply complex and seemingly never-ending Isreal Palestine conflict.
While, as this list demonstrates, the last two decades have been dominated by documentaries that explore surfing’s cultural roots, pioneering characters and competitive rivalries in Hawaii, Australia, The US and Europe, films like this (and this) point to the possibility that the next decade’s top picks will instead feature unique stories unearthed from the world’s great emerging surf cultures.
Cover photo: MR, courtesy of Quiksilver.