Why is it that the best surf scenes are in the shittiest movies? For me, Blue Crush is the perfect example. It kinda sucks — a Pretty Woman-ish love story set in Hawaii that’s completely predictable: Girl is a great surfer. Girl can’t afford to surf. Girl meets boy. Girl has to decide between surfing and the boy. Girl overcomes it all, winning the biggest surfing competition and the boy. But fuck, if the surf scenes aren’t awesome. The best this side of The Endless Summer. So much so that I, an avowed surfer, will watch the rest of the movie — which is to say, all the shitty parts — whenever it’s on in order to watch Kate Bosworth’s character take on all of those cresting waves. It’s as if Terrence Malick directed the surf sequences and Garry Marshall directed everything else.
But the proof doesn’t stop with Blue Crush. Most movies that involve surfing are the worst — or very nearly the worst.
Movie: Point Break
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 68 percent
Director: Kathryn Bigelow
Surfer(s): Patrick Swayze and Keanu Reeves
How Surfing Figures Into the Plot: A group of bank robbers led by Swayze’s character are also a gang of extreme athletes and diehard surfers who are being chased by an undercover FBI agent played by Reeves.
Why the Surfing Is So Great: Imagine The Perfect Storm but on the shores of California. In the film’s final moments, Swayze paddles out into a massive lineup of waves. Miraculously, he makes it past the break, only to take off on a wall of water that might as well be the edge of the world. “He’s not coming back,” says Reeves, walking away from the police officers waiting on shore to arrest Swayze. Spoiler: He doesn’t.
Why the Rest of the Movie Sucks: This one is at the top of the list for a reason. It’s like boxed sushi: It doesn’t suck; it’s just not very good.
Movie: Johnny Tsunami
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 62 percent
Director: Steve Boyum
Surfer(s): Brandon Baker
How Surfing Figures Into the Plot: One of the original Disney Channel movies, Johnny Tsumani is the story of a young Hawaiian surfer named Johnny Kapahala who gets a rude awakening when his dad relocates from Hawaii to Vermont — a state seriously lacking in waves.
Why the Surfing Is So Great: In hindsight, it isn’t. But at the time — before helicopters and droids were used to capture surf film footage — this was everything I thought a surf movie could be. I was also 9 when I first saw it.
Why the Rest of the Movie Sucks: It’s a Disney Channel movie, not a Disney movie. Think Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. versus The Avengers.
Movie: Soul Surfer
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 46 percent
Director: Sean McNamara
Surfer(s): AnnaSophia Robb
How Surfing Figures Into the Plot: The movie is based on the true story of Bethany Hamilton, rising surf star, who loses her arm in a shark attack only to later return to competition and win it all.
Why the Surfing Is So Great: Another truism of surf-themed movies is that the best waves are at the end — like the big game in a sports movie, just on water. Soul Surfer is no different. And at its conclusion, it’s hard not to root for Robb as she stands up on her board and takes the drop, with the camera focusing on the fingers on her remaining arm as they graze the back wall of the wave.
Why the Rest of the Movie Sucks: When Carrie Underwood is your second female lead, your movie just doesn’t stand much of a chance.
Movie: Die Another Day
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 58 percent
Director: Lee Tamahori
Surfer(s): Pierce Brosnan
How Surfing Figures Into the Plot: It doesn’t. James Bond (Brosnan) is captured by North Korean agents and has to serve a grueling prison sentence. It just so happens, though, that his undetected arrival onto North Korean shores requires a surfboard.
Why the Surfing Is So Great: The movie opens with three surfers dressed as ninjas while streaking down the face of a wave so massive you can’t help but wonder if there’s still a Korean peninsula to land on. Moments later, we find out that one of those surfers is Bond. It’s such a good sequence that it convinced me, a CGI hater, that fake surf scenes can be awesome, too.
Why the Rest of the Movie Sucks: I think Brosnan is the best Bond ever, so it’s hard for me to say this movie sucks outright, but anytime a villain has diamonds encrusted onto his face, things are bound to get iffy.
Movie: Chasing Mavericks
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 31 percent
Director: Curtis Hanson, Michael Apted
Surfer(s): Gerard Butler, Jonny Weston
How Surfing Figures Into the Plot: It’s essentially The Karate Kid on surfboards — with a kid who seeks out a nearby, older master to conquer the giant surf break near his Santa Cruz home.
Why the Surfing Is So Great: It’s not always about the biggest, most terrifying wave. Some of the surfing in this movie reminds me of what it feels like when I surf. It may be the bunny slope equivalent, but these surf scenes at least make me feel competent.
Why the Rest of the Movie Sucks: When the main character’s best friend is treated like a leper after smoking weed, the movie begins to feel like an unsolicited PSA.
Movie: Point Break (remake)
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 10 percent
Director: Ericson Core
Surfer(s): Edgar Ramirez and Luke Bracey
How Surfing Figures Into the Plot: The movie follows nearly the exact same plot as the 1991 original, though this time the surfers are philanthropic anarchists similar to Robin Hood.
Why the Surfing Is So Great: It’s the closest thing to a Michael Bay surf film — and I mean that in a good way: You feel as though you’re inside the wave, while action and sound batters your remaining senses.
Why the Rest of the Movie Sucks: It includes the line: “If a tree falls in the forest and nobody puts it on YouTube, did it really happen?” I shit you not.
Movie: Dawn Patrol
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 0 Percent
Director: Daniel Petrie
Surfer(s): Scott Eastwood
How Surfing Figures into the Plot: After his brother’s murder, a surfer (Scott Eastwood) is forced to seek forgiveness from the people he despises most.
Why the Surfing Is So Great: Because the director clearly spent most of the budget on sequences such as when a surfer grabs the rail of his board and flips off the lip of the wave and back into the barrel. The trick is amazing, though nearly impossible to pull off in real life.
Why the Rest of the Movie Sucks: 0 percent on Rotten Tomatoes kinda says it all.