Surf movies fall into three distinct genres:
The surfing documentary film was pioneered by Bud Browne (e.g. "Hawaiian Holiday") in the 1940s and early 1950s, and later popularized by Bruce Brown (e.g. The Endless Summer) in the late 1950s and early 1960s, then later perfected by Greg MacGillivray and Jim Freeman (e.g. Five Summer Stories) in the 1970s and beyond (MacGillivray and Freeman later went on to film IMAX movies such as To Fly! and Speed). The genre in itself has been defined by surfers, traveling with their friends and documenting the experience on film. In the 'heyday' of Bruce Brown, Greg Noll, Bud Brown, John Severson, films were projected for rambunctious fans in music halls, civic centers and high school auditoriums.
During the 1980s, the market for surf films surged with the release of more affordable video cameras. By the 1990s, the surfing market became saturated with low and medium budget surf films, many with sound tracks that reflected the mass media driven music culture. VHS and eventually DVDs made the surf film viewing experience an "at home" affair and the 'heyday' of joining your friends or taking a girl to "surf movie night" at the local high school soon quickly vanished. Furthermore, large surf brands began making surf films under their marketing budgets to promote clothing and product sales. Titles like Sonny Miller's, "The Search" for Rip Curl redefined the genre with exotic locales, big budgets and name surfers, such as Tom Curren.
In the late 1990s to the present, there has been a revival of the "independent surf film." Artists, like The Malloys, Jack Johnson and Jason Baffa have reinvented the genre by shooting self-financed 16mm motion picture film and utilizing indy music bands like G. Love, Alexi Murdoch, Mojave 3, White Buffalo and Donavon Frankenreiter, creating what the surf media has called, "modern classics." Some places still screen surfing films on the big screen.
Examples of surfing documentaries include:
The second type of surf movie would be the campy entertainment feature, also termed "beach party films" or "surfploitation flicks" by true surfers, having little to do with the authentic sport and culture of surfing and representing movies that attempted to cash in on the growing popularity of surfing among youth in the early 1960s. Examples of Beach Party films include:
Surfing is occasionally portrayed more realistically within fictional storylines, or use surfing as backdrop, or side theme.
Thoms, Albie (2000) Surfmovies: The History of the Surf Film in Australia ISBN 0958742030
Lisanti, Tom (2005) Hollywood Surf And Beach Movies: The First Wave, 1959-1969 ISBN 0786421045
Warshaw, Matt (2005) Surf Movie Tonite!: Surf Movie Poster Art, 1957-2004 San Francisco: Chronicle Books ISBN 9780811848732
Williams, Randy (2006) Sports Cinema 100 Movies: The Best of Hollywood's Athletic Heroes, Losers, Myths, and Misfits Limelight Editions ISBN 9780879103316 pg 134-136
Chidester, Brian; Priore, Domenic; Zuckerman, Kathy (2008) Pop Surf Culture: Music, Design, Film, and Fashion from the Bohemian surf boom Santa Monica Press ISBN 9781595800350 Chapter 7
Ormrod & Wheaton (2009) On the edge: leisure, consumption and the representation of adventure sports Leisure Studies Association Issue 104: 17-25