[The Wavelength Drive-In Cinema is back for 2021, bringing you a range of surf cinema, cult classics and family favourites from the clifftops of Cornwall. Browse the full lineup and get your tickets here. Or, subscribe to Wavelength now to get free entry to a screening of your choice.]
There are different ways of realising you’re old. Being ideologically opposed to surfboards in litres and car boots that close with buttons are two. Another is realising that Point Break is 30 this year, and remembering that when it came out people in your year at school were already, well, fingering. Some even while watching it at the local cinema.
Or so they claimed.
The 1991 film became an instant cult classic for a variety of one-liners and provided light-ish relief from a gloomy global recession with a bit of surf, bit of action and a lot of male beauty. That came in mainly the form of Keanu’s smoky-eyed exhale, and Swayze’s heavenly rig.
Bush Sr was in the White House, economies were shrinking after a mad 80’s boom, houses were being repossessed, interest rates rocketed. Grunge was part of the US response to early 90’s bleak, with the British variant being crusties; less angst, more mud.
Meanwhile, a new drug was proliferating around youths everywhere; adrenalin. Free, hard to overdose on and broadly legal, alongside the rise of crossover boardsports scenes, adrenalin junkies were coming to the fore with pursuits like skydiving, bungee jumping (and a bizarre UK version called bridge swinging) there were even council estate extreme sports, like joyriding.
As for the film itself, unlike so much of its vintage, it’s aged OK-ish. Critics at the time were relatively kind; it wasn’t the monument to surfing’s almost limitless self-regard it would have been if surfers themselves had made it, which is probably why it was such a success.
Meanwhile, rather than becoming hopelessly dated in certain aspects, Point Break is almost proto-modern, in terms of values. As far as flesh goes it’s hard to imagine, even today, such a feast of male titillation with barely a female rump or thorax in view. Rolling Stone‘s Peter Travers wrote, “(Despite) drowning in a sea of surf-speak… without her [director Karen Bigelow], Point Break would be no more than an excuse to ogle pretty boys in wet suits.”
Even the central romantic relationship (besides being white n’ straight, obvs) feels relatively atypical for its time. Tyler is “a muscled, brash waitress with an androgynous name and physical features”, and Johnny’s “feminine edges nudge in nicely to her masculine ones. In nearly every scene they share, they are portrayed by the camera as equals.”
A positively 21st-century blurring of binary boundaries, for a 30-year-old surfie action flick, no?
So that was then, and this is now. Which brings us to ponder, has much happened, since?
1979: Oxford University’s Dangerous Sports Society is formed. More rosy-cheeked toffs in plimsoles daring each other while quoting the venerable Bede than Warchild and Passion for Slashin’ going for a burrito. But branches on the same evolutionary tree, nevertheless.
1991: Point Break is released. That same year in pro surfing would be the last of the old format, before the birth of the WCT. Brad Gerlach, perhaps best representing those seeking an alternative lifestyle, finished no.2 that year and quit the tour, aged just 24. Not that he was robbing banks and skydiving (although his Dad, ’Jumping’ Joe Gerlach was a real-life high dive acrobat).
1992: Kelly Slater wins the world title, and as part of the New School movement, and anyone over 25 was ushered off tour as quick as poss. Surfing wanted young, fresh meat; not as a direct result of Bodhi or Utah dishiness, but not entirely unrelated. The hairy eared and backed were simply not pretty enough to watch wiggle.
1993: Pepsi Max – an extreme sports (read: not for girls) sugar-free alternative to Diet Pepsi is now available in over 40 countries. An ad about living life to the max features a foursome of bandana and fingerless gloved dudes boasting about base jumping and bodyboarding off a waterfall, to wanging guitar riffs. There’s no mention of armed robbery. Pepsi, apparently, is still going today, although nobody knows anybody that’s ever asked for one by name.
1996: Gary Bourette, a real-life Bodhi, is arrested in Huntington Beach. FBI nicknamed him the “San Juan Surfer” for bank robberies in San Juan Capistrano (near Dana Point and Salt Creek), the bandit later robbing five Huntington Beach banks and three in Fountain Valley, according to the LA Times.
1997: Surfing probably reaches peak (trough) potato chip; where wafer-thin boards that didn’t paddle or float kept surfing relatively hard to access, the opposite of today really. Thinking of all those who had a concerted crack, but ultimately got put off after unrewarding year of submerged paddling and a few seconds standing up and got into MTB instead, whether that’s a net positive (to everyone else) or net loss (in those individuals‘ and thus humanity’s collective vibe) is tricky to say, like one of those tree falling in the forest riddles.
1999: No Fear, a brand based on the literal meaning of its name goes huge in surf, moto-x, well everywhere. No Fear did some heinous slogan tee shit about ‘Second place being the first loser’ and lots of stuff about thwarted dreams. Fear, essentially an evolutionary survival instinct to stave off death by predation or maiming by misadventure before reproductive age is rebranded as a baddie that’s somehow the obstacle for you being the real you, like savage hay fever on exam day or gastro at a wedding.
It’s a trope straight out of Point Break’s Ex-Presidents playbook, and the No Fear brand is perhaps the biggest stain on Point Break‘s producers legacy.
2000: In perhaps the definitive tussle for the soul of youth-ish, the establishment appears to have vanquished the anti. House prices, which seem to be perpetually at the very centre of literally everything (I wouldn’t actually be surprised if they also govern swell activity) are back on a steady climb, for seemingly ever. People figure out that if they can somehow buy one now-ish, it’ll be worth quite a lot more pretty soon-ish.
As fun as losing/finding oneself in Tibet is, the sooner you get that 3 bed Victorian bay window terrace with high ceilings and good access to transport links and primary schools paid off… etc, etc. RIP counter-culture.
2002: The surf world’s attention has been firmly fixed on the mesmerisingly perfection of the Superbank for a few years, even 3ft sand points have now somehow become super with a little help from cosmetic sand surgery by the local council. Slabs become the holy grail for rock bottom waves, tubes can no longer round, they must be square. Everything is enhanced to meta. As if Pipe wasn’t Pipey enough, we needed a thicker scarier version that you sit yards away from with dry hair, called Chopes.
2004: Peak puff. Puffy everything, shoes, shorts, jeans, New Era caps all starts to look a bit… clown-ish. Surfers seem to be trying to look like NBA starlets. Surfing is also at peak self-hating, ‘just another sport’ stage, almost in response to the lameness of Bodhi 90’s progeny and their clichés, embracing a much more clean cut, urban acquisitiveness. There’s little room for beach bonfire mantra.
2007: WAM officially kills the synoptic surface pressure chart. Instead of looking at lines on a chart that signify wind, if you know how to read them, a user friendly model now shows colours in 12 hour periods that represent predicted wave heights. They’re not as accurate in the long term as Bodhi staring out to sea in SoCal and predicting a 50-year storm six months later in Australia by feeling it in his waters, but they’re a step in the right direction.
2009: Like the original Bodhi Siddhārtha Gautama, surfing turns to the east to find itself, only this time Bali. Rather than wait tables just to surf a dribbley point in a wetsuit on the west coast like Tyler, Bali becomes the epicentre of a renaissance of surfing neo-colonialism for obvious reasons. Why come last in the rat race at home, when you can head east and pay a brown servant pittance to scrub the skids off your toilet bowl and clean up after your kids (little treasures), while you can concentrate on the most important thing; you. A bit of yoga to take care of what’s on the inside, a few squiggly tatts over Tuesday night tacos to really define what’s on the outside.
2011: Peak pointbreaks. It’s Dane at Rincon (or anywhere), it’s Al K down Ol Mex way… Points are now the new slabs. Those slab chuffers in Monster caps with their ears tucked in, turning over tractor tyres in post warehouse gym spaces between stints in rehab are frankly trying too hard. By now, it’s points, tints, singles; dreamy, peeling, reeling, tapering points… and anchors. Everything has an anchor, everything goes lo-fi, surf brand logos on clothing are the new swimming pool turd. Moleskin notebooks are used to record some of the worst ode to breaking wave poetry ever written, which in turn is then used as a spoken word intro to self important Vimeos on #ColdWaterSurfing. If there’s anything that really defines surfing in the previous decade, it’s harking back to a time that never existed.
2013: A new era is upon us. It’s digital, and it’s delicate. The ute are said to be as uninterested in adrenaline as they are in turning on tuning in and dropping out, which is so Dad dance. Sticking it to the man? Not so much. More DM-ing each other to see if they’ve any more caffeine pills to help facilitate another all nighter exam cramming session. There are, after all, but 3 of those sweet unpaid intern positions available, and 40,000 applicants. Meanwhile, a pair of bald 50 something painter decorators called Terry and Gary are taking it in turns to do polar bear forearm rails of chang in a Wetherspoon’s disabled bog on a Tuesday, keeping the dream alive.
2015: The theatre of Culture War has spread to include Bells, which is blasted as not even being the best wave at Bells. Bodhi fans ignore as yet more Millennial snowflake bleeting. “Maybe if you didn’t spend all your money on avocado on toast, you’d appreciate Bells…”
2016: Good fortune, and the great American people give us President Trump, an instant shoo-in for an Ex-Presidents mask. It’s impossible to imagine Trump not making the foursome, his face being the most Ex Pres mask demanding Presidential face since, well anyone. If it turns out to be his only legacy, it’ll all have been worthwhile.
2020: Rather than exclusion, the bad old impenetrable, hard to access, pass time of old, surfing has actually become compulsory. The chief agents of change are government furlough schemes, and a three month blocking high pressure in the western approaches in March/April/May, bringing an early spring and blue, clear water to the entire Atlantic coast.
Australia closes borders internal and external, meaning Bodhi wouldn’t be able to do the 50 year swell anyway. Weirdly, that swell pretty much did hit Oz in July 2020, although not at Bells.
2021: Humans have successfully set fire to the sea, while Canada‘s northwest rainforest is hotter than Jeddah in July. Point Break is 30.
Have a great summer!
Join us in a beautiful clifftop location overlooking Watergate Bay in West Cornwall throughout the summer for a series of drive-in screenings of Point Break Click here to buy a ticket, or subscribe now for free entry.