A Collection of the Best Surf Documentaries Ever Made
Surf documentaries provide a window into the lives of surfers around the world. The following list explores some of the best surfing-related documentaries ever made.
Table of Contents
Kissed by God
The phrase “A.I. Forever” you’ve seen it on shirts, bumper stickers, boards, contest merch and pretty much everything else surf related. And there’s a damn good reason for that. Andy Irons fits right in there amongst surfings Titans. Gone too soon but never forgotten. Released in 2017, Kissed By God dives head first into the life and death of Andy Irons, one of surfings best to ever do it.
On its release I was covering the QS’s first 10’000 event of the year – the Ballito Pro in South Africa. Prior to the premiere the froth was palpable. By the end, the film elicited wet eyes in every direction. Starting at the very beginning of Irons’ life and exploring every aspect of his surfing rise, rivalries, and world titles all the while weaving in Andy’s trials with drug addiction and mental health issues.
Interviews with his brother Bruce, wife Lyndie and some of surfings biggest names paint a picture never before seen of the late legend. Unbelievably raw and honest the films portrayal of the people’s champ will no doubt be the most comprehensive account of Andy Irons, a must watch for every surf fan.
Pioneers or hell-men?
A former pro skater Stacey Peralta, the director behind Dogtown and the Z-Boys, turns his focus toward the surf world to give us Riding Giants. A documentary covering the evolution and rise of big wave surfing through the eyes of 3 of the sports biggest icons; Greg Noll, Jeff Clark and Laird Hamilton.
Beginning in Hawaii ‘the bull’ (Greg Noll) shows you just how big his… bootstraps… are as he tackles giant waves on a massive slab of wood. How he could stand up with nuts that big is beyond me.
From there you take a trip to San Francisco to hear from the man that discovered and surfed Mavericks for 15 long years alone, Jeff Clark. Turning toward the tail end of the film one of the greatest waterman to ever exist, Laird Hamilton, takes centre stage as he revisits the vision he had to tackle Tahiti and surf Teahupoo at its ugliest.
Big wave surfing is not for everyone, but watching Riding Giants most definitely is.
Yours and mine, the hero’s of the 90s.
The film, through its narrative, will resonate with every surfer out there. The film chronicles the raise of the ‘Moment Generation’ as it makes use of a library of largely unseen archival footage, shot by Taylor Steele in the early nineties. In-depth interviews with the likes of Kelly Slater, Ross Williams, Rob Machado, Tom Carrol and more bring this throwback feature to life.
Momentum Generation unmasks a collective bunch of misfits who would later become some of the biggest names on the surfing map. Lives and careers we all thought we knew inside and out are explored from the beginning till now. Early-life hardship, tragedy, and competition make for an enduring first hand account of surfings royalty.
If there was ever a surfing docco that’ll make you want to box your grandma… it’s this one!
Life in the early 2000’s in a neglected Sydney suburb, this documentary focusses in on surf cultures roots in the area of Maroubra with the primary finger pointed the way of the Bra Boys surf ‘gang’. It’s dark, punk rock undertone helps highlight what happens when the primal nature of surf tribalism takes hold of a community. A community which back then was still in the hangover of historical oppression mixed with blue collar societal pressures. Making use of old footage a pretty awesome atmosphere is created throughout. If you’ve seen it you know what I’m talking about, if you haven’t you will!
Beyond the gang the spotlight falls on the Abberton family and the high profile murder case in which they’re involved. Directed by Sunny Abberton, the families oldest brother, the documentary is able to bring real emotions to the for-ground as he and his brothers tell the story through their own accounts.
Apparently size does matter.
Want to watch what many people of the brine consider to be one of the biggest and best days in surfing history? Well, we got good news for you, you crazy coconut. Introducing Code Red the mini docco thats massive. Riding along with Billabong surfers Dylan Longbottom and Laurie Towner, you’re off on a strike mission of biblical proportions.
From the moment they first spot the historic blob on the chart to their final waves of the swell the film covers it all. Sure, the storytelling isn’t the greatest but that’s not what you’re looking for. You’re looking for unparalleled surfing action and that’s exactly what you get. Honestly, if CGI was as good as it is today back in 2011 you’d think it was all fake. What makes this one even better it’s free to watch! Rack’em, stack’em and pull in your auntie she’s gonna love this one!
For the first time in a decade, albeit due to a pandemic, South African surfer Jordy Smith spent the winter at home. Now if you’re a South African surfer you’d know the significance of that as it was quite possibly one of the best winters they’ve had in recent memory.
Jordy hit the road with free-surfing style master Mikey February with ‘Shaping Jordy‘ being the result of all they found on the road along the way. Beyond pumping surf you’ll bear witness to what’s shaped Jordy’s character, career and lifestyle since the day he was born.
Bustin Down the door
If you’re new to this thing called surfing you’d be forgiven for thinking it’s all rainbows and butterflies. The truth is it’s more like catfish and whale poo. Seeing as a wave is a commodity it can get ugly out there, it ain’t no skate park so people tend to get a little edgy when you take what might not come back. Now this is especially true when venturing beyond your local and even more so if you were visiting the North Shore back in the 1970s.
Narrated by Edward Norton this docco provides a gripping look at the surf scene along the 7 mile miracle which up until then had only ever been surfed by locals and some Californians. Join in and take note as the film documents the unwelcome arrival of Australians and South Africans back in 1970s which ultimately led to competition never before seen.
Sea of Darkness
For many this ones consider to be the greatest surf documentary ever made. But… you’ll be hard-pressed to find it.
The film revolves around a handful of Aussies and Americans back in the mid-70s who through some way or another managed to wind up in the wilds of Indo. Among them, the infamous, Mike Boyum. His magnetic nature draws a group of commercial divers and soon to be surfing juggernauts, to his newly erected land camp out at one of the worlds most iconic waves, G-Land. Featuring the likes of Jerry Lopez and Peter Mccabe the footage documenting some of the first to ever do it out there is truly mesmerising.
Boyum’s surfing Disney World eventually comes crashing down when the camp is seized by the authorities. Boyum in-turn burns the camp to the ground as he heads for the high seas.
Surf discovery and drug smuggling the main themes throughout the film make for a pretty wild ride. Admittedly, the production value is subpar but the tales of untouched set ups, newly discovered breaks and head shaking twists easily makeup for it. Get the popcorn mate this ones a goodie, assuming you can find it.
Director Peter Hamblin, the creative behind ‘Let’s be Frank‘, shadows legendary Hawaiian surfer Carissa Moore on the 2019 WSL Championship Tour season, as she faces all manner of highs and lows in her quest for an elusive fourth world title. Explore the athlete and find out what the makings of a champion are.
The documentary is a fun and full profile on one of surfings most successful athletes. Beyond one of the meanest forehand snaps in the game the feature has some noticeable depth, diving into who Moore is as a person while taking a proper look into what stokes her competitive fire. A true surfing inspiration and role model you can’t get much Moore than this in a profile.
And two if by Sea
CJ and Damien Hobgood are identical twins whose sibling rivalry and struggle to establish their own identity built them into what and who they are today. Imagine more than a decade of competing at the highest level, now imagine doing that against your brother, shit’s gonna get crazy. This crowd funded feature will knock your booties off.
Not like the surf porn buffet you have at the scroll of your thumb nowadays, void of real attention, this film grips you by the short and curlies. Yes there’s good surfing but you’d expect that from CJ and Damo. This film looks at the dynamic and chaotic world between the twins and competitive professional surfing. Brutal honesty in extraordinary detail full of dark secrets and hurt feelings.
As is tradition when documenting surfing legends some of the industries heavies weigh in such as; Kelly Slater, Carissa Moore, Parko, Mick Fanning, Taj the list goes on. Explore the world through the lives of surfings favourite Floridians. It took 6 years to make but it sure was worth it.
A look at what happens when a creative San Diego surfer invents a board with a brand-new shape, and the whole surfing world hops aboard for a game changing journey.
Every surfer under the sun new or old will agree that the fish has had a huge impact on surf culture. I prefer my fish less performancey while others want the exact opposite, either way your quiver ain’t complete without one. In this 80-minute feature you’ll roll back the clock as you learn about the origins of the surfboard’s innovative speed and style-focused design.
Whilst getting your dose of surfing history pioneers like Steve Lis and Skip Frye, two men who literally ‘shaped’ surfing through their designs, share their voice and opinion. Who knew a knee boarder (Steve Lis) would have such a big impact on surf culture. Featuring two of the surfing worlds most loved Rob Machado and Dave Rastovich Fish is a pretty sweet ride.
Let’s be Frank
Frank James Solomon, is up there amongst the surfing celebs. He may be more free surfer than competitive surfer but that doesn’t mean he can’t throw down with the best. Determined to be a pro surfer from a young age the man simple didn’t let anything get in his way.
Let’s Be Frank draws together a cast of iconic surfers, including John John Florence, Jamie O’Brien and Pat O’Connell to construct one of the more unique surfing documentaries out there. To be Frank, it’s one of a kind. This genre busting, multi-layered story of big waves and show downs is refreshing cause it’s just not normal.
Director Peter Hamblin slaps beautiful cinematography from the shores of South Africa, Mexico, Hawaii and Ireland with an engaging storyline. Enjoy the lived experienced of one of the most respected big wave chargers out there. As the movie poster suggests – this is not your average surf film.
Modern Collective, the movie that put Kai Neville on the pedestal as the man in film. Beyond Kai making his mark and taking the reins it was the surf worlds first look at the future. Watch out grandpa here comes six of the world’s most innovative surfers taking on world-class breaks suited to aerial surfing; Jordy Smith, Dane Reynolds, Dusty Payne, Mitch Coleborn, Yadin Nicol and Dion Agius.
Forget what you thought you knew, this one was out to break barriers, brains and surfing. Blowing up living rooms packed with groms around the globe Modern Colletive did the job it set out to do, change the game.
Step Into liquid
Back in 1966, Endless Summer came to a cinema near you bringing along with it an explosion in the surf industry. Why’s this relevant here? Well, Dana Brown thats why. Dana the director of Step Into Liquid is the son of Bruce Brown who directed Endless Summer. Seems like it runs in the family. If you ask me Dana’s movie kicks Bruce’s ass!
Step Into Liquid is up there with the best as one of the most complete documentaries the surf world has ever seen. Similar to Momentum Generation and with the aid of some pretty incredible footage it shares insight into the world of the early 2000s elite. Surfers include Laird Hamilton, Kelly Slater, Layne Beachley and Taj Burrows. Simply put it’s a classic.