Surf movies for when you can’t be in Bali


Bali’s tourism industry owes a lot to surfing, after all it was the surf at Kuta Beach that first drew Aussies here in the 60’s and 70’s. The surf movie is a part of the culture too, with epics like The Endless Summer, Morning of the Earth and Riding Giants leaving viewers not just with a sense or awe, but with a vivid memory of the place they were filmed.


Here is a Jakarta Post article that talks about surfing in Indonesia and surf movies in general.

Riding an exciting wave of surf movies

Features – May 06, 2007

Cynthia Webb, Contributor, Gold Coast, Australia

When they’re not actually surfing, surfers like to talk about it, read about it, or watch movies about it.

Yes, they could be accused of being fanatical about their sport. But that’s because it’s such a thrilling activity when conditions are at their best that all else pales in comparison. It is not so much a sport, more a way of life.

Indonesia is now catching up with the rest of the world surfing community, producing a small crop of talented younger-generation indigenous surfers, both male and female.

In the last few years, staging of the Indonesian Surfing Championships started up. Of course there have long been international professional surfing contests held in the country and a continual stream of visiting foreign surfers.

Bali is one of the world surf capitals, and Indonesia has many hundreds of great surf spots. There is already an Indonesian-language surfing magazine (******)

Although Indonesian shopping malls feature surf clothes and accessory stores, a relatively minuscule proportion of the Indonesian population are involved in surfing and most people wearing surf-label clothes have never ridden a surfboard.

Spreading the word

Many foreign surf filmmakers have previously shot movies in Indonesia, and are continually doing so. The amazing waves of the country are legendary among the world’s surfing community.

Last year, Indonesian surfer Ivan Handoyo briefly screened his surf film, Thank you and goodnight Mother in Jakarta. It’s a film about himself and his peers and their love of surfing.

Another surfer based in Jakarta, David Arnold, is currently working on a more ambitious project, a film about Dede Suryana, a young surfer from Cimaja, West Java, whose talent has attracted the attention of some international personalities in the surfing industry.

The film is different in that it also focuses on the cultural situation confronted by surfers who take up this still-unconventional sport in Indonesia.

When the cult of surfing got started in Hawaii and California in the 1950s, it quickly spread to other nations that had “beach culture”, such as Australia and New Zealand, Brazil, Peru, the UK, France, and Japan, and was fostered by the early surfing magazines and movies.

John Severson started publishing Surfer magazine in California, and in 1963 produced the surf movie The Angry Sea. It was shown in 16mm, in surf life-saving clubhouses or rented halls.

Cheap posters were put up around the town by the traveling film exhibitor, who was usually a surfer himself, and a bunch of eager surfers crowded in to gasp at their first sight of the huge Hawaiian waves and learn more about their new and rapidly growing sport.

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They marveled at the more advanced surfing techniques of the Californian “hotdoggers” and the Hawaiian big-wave riders. From these early films, they learned how to surf.

Another leading surf film pioneer was Bruce Brown, and his films have gone into the cult history: Surfing Hollow Days, Waterlogged, When Wet, Barefoot Adventure, Surf Crazy, then in 1966 the more ambitious The Endless Summer.

For the latter, Bruce and a couple of young Californian surfers traveled the world in search of waves. This film was the first authentic surfing movie documentary to get a big-screen international release.

He followed it with The Endless Summer II in 1994. Other early 60s surf movie directors from the U.S. were Bud Browne and Grant Rohloff, and George Greenough.

In Australia, there was Bob Evans, and also Albert Falzon, whose 1971 film Morning of the Earth was filmed in Bali and is now a cult film full of hippy-era atmosphere and folksy music, combined with great surf footage.

The popular soundtrack is still available in record stores. Morning of the Earth started an ever-increasing stream of surfers coming to Bali, dubbed “the Island of the Gods”.

Unconvincing to real surfers

In New Zealand, there was Andrew McAlpine’s 1967 film, Children of the Sun. Old surfing movie posters are now highly collectible memorabilia and sell for surprising prices on eBay and in surf shops.

Hollywood produced the movie Gidget in 1959 starring Sandra Dee, James Darren, and Cliff Robertson. It came from a book written two years earlier by Frederick Kohner, and told the story of his teenage daughter, who had become friends with a bunch of surfers at Malibu beach, California.

She learned to surf and they nicknamed her Gidget, (girl/midget). This was the first Hollywood feature film to show general audiences surf culture, although it featured some unconvincing surfing footage, done with back projection and blue-screen techniques.

However, it contained elements of truth. It had a character named Kahuna who was already an aging and disillusioned beach bum, who was facing what all surfers must face — getting too old to continue to excel at their favorite activity and the problem of what to do next.

During the 60s the surfing craze exploded; Hollywood continued with several “beach party” and beach culture films, but they were totally lacking in authenticity and were obviously made by people who knew nothing about surfing.

We saw stars such as Elvis Presley, Annette Funicello, Frankie Avalon and Fabian attempting unsuccessfully to look like real surfers. They were wearing makeup and didn’t even get their hair wet!

Film directors didn’t bother to match the shots and so surf conditions changed wildly in the background during scenes — something obvious to surfers, but not to the uninitiated. No wonder these films were scorned by the real surfers.

Genre firmly established

The theme of aging surfers appeared again in 1978, in arguably the best Hollywood surf film. Big Wednesday was directed by John Milius who had been part of the Malibu surf culture in the early days.

Milius knew what he was talking about, although he had fortunately made the leap into a successful career in nearby Hollywood as a screenwriter and later a major film director. (He also directed The Wind and the Lion, Conan the Barbarian.)

Big Wednesday had authentic surfing footage from Greg MacGillivray, an experienced surf photographer, and one of the surfer stand-ins was world champion Peter Townend from Gold Coast, Australia.

It was John Milius, as screenwriter, who wrote the famous and bizarre surfing sequence into the Coppola’s film about the Vietnam War, Apocalypse Now.

Who can forget the lines, “I love the smell of napalm in the morning” and “Charlie don’t surf” in the scenes where surfer Colonel Kilgore, (Robert Duvall) sporting a surf t-shirt under his uniform, sends a surfer/conscripts out into the water, (in small waves) during a napalm attack on the nearby village.

In the last 16 years there have been several big-budget, high-quality movies and documentaries on the world’s big screens, which feature surfing.

Director Catherine Bigelow’s 1991 hit was Point Break — a thrill-a-minute film about a gang of fanatical surfers who robbed banks in their spare time, wearing masks of ex-American presidents.

On the run from the law after some suicidal sky-diving, their fearless leader (played by Patrick Swayze), chooses to die doing what he loves most, at Bell’s Beach, Australia, in the big swell of the decade.

Gary Busey, who also played in Big Wednesday, was also cast and the undercover cop was played by Keanu Reeves.

In 1995 a small budget British film named Blue Juice starred Catherine Zeta-Jones and Ewan McGregor, both of whom went on to much bigger things.

Hollywood came to Bali to shoot Zalman King’s feature film about professional surfers, In God’s Hands (1998), which featured a trance dance party shot at Bali’s top spot, Padang Padang.

In 2002, Blue Crush featured women surfers in Hawaii, trying to overcome male prejudice to succeed, and contained some incredible footage of the world’s top women surfers as stand-ins for the stars.

The big-screen documentaries were The Billabong Odyssey, Step into Liquid, (directed by Dana Brown, the son of surf films legend Bruce Brown) and Riding Giants. The latter tells the entire history of surfing to date.

In this film, lifelong surfers now in their mid- to late-60s and beyond, based in Hawaii and California, are seen explaining that surfing is the love of their lives, and that falling in love with the ocean, is a “till death do us part” kind of commitment.

Sometimes the danger of surfing does bring death, even to top-level surfers, and quite a few have been killed by their beloved. The risks include huge waves, fierce rips, sharks or jagged, dangerous coral floors beneath some famous spots such as The Pipeline, (Hawaii), and Teahupoo (Tahiti).

Nowadays surfing movies on DVD are a major industry and international video outlets and surf shops stock them.

From early classics, to the newest films showing current hot young surfers, they’re eagerly watched by both “grommet” (novice) surfers and aging surf pioneers, many of whom have gone back to riding their long boards again and are now teaching their grandchildren to surf.

The writer was twice Women’s Surf Champion of New Zealand, during the “classic” era.

Bali has an active surf community and local newspaper, Magic Wave. The local Balinese surfers can tear up their home breaks, but rarely venture to places such as Australia and Hawaii. A experienced surfer told me that the locals look great on a wave they know and have 1 or 2 moves. When somebody like Kelly Slater comes out to Bali and surfs next to them they look average. ‘Sure!’ you’d say, ‘he’s World Champ’, but its the advantage of getting around the locals miss out on. Many tourists often donate their gear to local surfers after their Bali holiday is over.

A movie can have a massive impact on a place for years to come. I don’t know the places in Italy that Cary Grant went to, but many people do. Same for surfing. All it takes is a movie to highlight a place (‘this was the break Taj Burrows surfed at’, ‘here is the warung Laird Hamilton ate at before that monster set’ etc.) and surfers will come from far and wide. Bali is overdue for an epic surf movie to highlight all that the island and its surf has to offer.

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