Northern Beaches: Remember these classic surf movies?

Many people who grew up on the Northern Beaches will remember spending their teenage years on the beach surfing. Now well into their adult years, many still like to surf or have taken up stand-up paddleboarding.

Surfing history on the Northern Beaches

The Northern Beaches area, originally mainly holiday homes and market gardens, is regarded as the birthplace of surfing in Australia. It was in the summer of 1914-1915 that Isabel Letham, who was then 15, rode a tandem surfboard with Hawaiian surfing legend, Duke Kahanamoku.

Then, 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.

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.

Below, we dip into some of the classics.

1960s surf movies

The Endless Summer 

Released in 1966, this movie follows the adventures of Robert August and Mike Hynson as they surf at beaches around the world. Their destinations include Australia, Hawaii, New Zealand, Tahiti, Ghana, Senegal, and South Africa.

The Innermost Limits of Pure Fun.  

This classic, released in 1969 and directed by George Greenough, follows several professional surfers as they take to the surf around New South Wales and in California.

Classic 1970s surf movies 

In the 1970s, surf movies were even more popular. 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, this beautiful film was released in 1972. With its acclaimed original soundtrack, the film was shot at beaches in Australia, Hawaii and Bali, and symbolises the spiritual connection that surfers have with the natural environment. Fifty years on, Morning of the Earth was digitally remastered from the original 16 mm film.

Five Summer Stories

Released in 1972, this movie is a cult classic and 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.

Crystal Voyager

Devotees of surfing can watch George Greenhough once again (after his breakthrough ‘Innermost Limits’ film) as he rides the barrel, shooting footage from the waterproof camera strapped to his back. A 1973 extravaganza of surfing, the film is one of the most successful Australian surf movies, grossing over $100,000 (1973 dollars) in its initial release.

Fictional characters in surfing movies

From the 1950s on, we saw a plethora of surfing movies that featured both surfing and the beach lifestyle. Do you remember any of these?

Big Wednesday, 1978

This classic is just one of the many fictional movies that were made on the beaches using surfing as a plot device. The plot follows three friends who share a love of surfing, with the background of the Vietnam War and the threat of conscription an essential plot point. 

Gidget, 1959 

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 definitely an early surf movie classic.

Where the Boys Are, 1960 

Another classic movie about four college girls who drive to Florida during spring break, this movie starred Dolores Hart, George Hamilton, Yvette Mimieux and Jim Hutton. Connie Francis, who sang the title song, Where the boys are, also had a cameo role.

Puberty Blues, 1981 

An Australian cult classic for both book and film, Puberty Blues was filmed on the beaches of Sydney. Part coming of age story and part feminist polemic, this movie starred Nell Schofield, Jad Capelja, Jeffrey Rhoe and Tony Hughes. 

Where to find the new classic surf films

While you might have missed out on the thrill of seeing a classic like Endless Summer on its first release, surfing remains a popular subject for movie makers. For those of you keen to dive into the current canon of surf movies, check out the Red Bull YouTube surf 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, I Live, I Breathe, I Surf.

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