4 posts categorized "Surfing"

February 09, 2014


Big_wednesdayCo-writer/director John Milius (the screenwriter of “Apocalypse Now”) drew on his experience growing up as a young surfer in Malibu during America’s invasion of Vietnam, to create a generational torch-passing narrative that encapsulates the tribal nature of 60s’ and ‘70s-era surf culture in Southern California. Drawing on threads of anecdotal, mythological, and literary influences — from Moby Dick to King Arthur — Milius focuses the narrative’s 12-year span on three surfing buddies and the patriarchal surfboard-maker that inspires and guides them toward the promised day of reckoning where their camaraderie will be tested on the ocean’s grand stage.

The film’s momentous title references the historically proven statistic that, for whatever reason of Mother Nature’s fickle preference, the biggest shore-breaking ocean swells arrive on Wednesdays.


If casting is everything, then John Milius scored a coup in putting Jan-Michael Vincent, Gary Busey, and William Katt together to play the film’s shared leads. Although both actors were 34-years-old when the film was shot, Jan-Michel Vincent (as “surfing legend” Matt Johnson— based on Malibu surf king Lance Carson) and Gary Busey (as Leroy “the Masochist” Smith), convey their characters’ transition from irresponsible roustabouts to men of substance with believable portrayals. For his part as the oldest-acting member of the trio, the 29-year-old William Katt evinces an easy-going charisma that shifts into steely stoicism after his character Jack Barlowe returns from serving three years in Vietnam.

For as much time as it spends in the water, the film’s core arrives during a humorous draft-dodging sequence where Matt and Leroy go to great lengths to outsmart the goons in charge at the Selective Service office. Matt’s “surfer knot” below his knee makes his gimp act believable. Gary Busey’s partially improvised put-on as a victim of mental illness, expresses Leroy’s vehement opposition to war.


The movie is broken into four chapters (“The South Swell Summer 1962” – “The West Swell Fall 1965” – “The North Swell Winter 1968” – “The Great Swell Spring 1974”) that serve as guideposts leading the audience to the climatic moment when the title graphic “Big Wednesday” sweeps across the screen as a bold presentational announcement.

Milius constantly revisits the ocean’s churning surf as a literal and metaphoric yardstick to underscore the movie’s themes of personal responsibility, loyalty, and the pressures of unpredictable social change. The maverick filmmaker revels in lively surfing sequences to convey the athleticism of the activity as it applies to the skills of the period. Masterful photography from an assortment of camera-mounted resources gives meaning to surfing idioms such as “go-behinds,” “cut-backs,” “shooting the tube,” and the now-outdated practice of “walking the nose.” It didn’t hurt the film’s sense of authenticity that Vincent, Busey, and Katt honed their surfing skills well enough to perform a respectable amount of the surfing on display. However, a group of world-class surfers including Jay Riddle and Ian Cairns performed the dangerous stuff.


If the filmmaker lurches into sentimentality during brief voice-over philosophizing about God and where the wind comes from, it’s a forgivable affectation that honors a personal belief-system authentic to the surf culture of the era. As Bear (Sam Melville) the surfboard-maker says, “No one surfs forever.”

Rated PG. 120 mins. (A) (Five Stars - out of five/no halves)

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February 26, 2012


Endless summerSurf documentarian Bruce Brown invented the form. The self-taught filmmaker had already made six movies about surfing—with names like “Slippery When Wet” and “Water-Logged”—when he completed “The Endless Summer” in 1966. Although you could hardly call Brown’s quirky narrative style “polished,” he stamped surf culture with an infectious wide-eyed regard that made him an ideal ambassador for the then-unrecognized sport. His sensitive filmmaking efforts served as a direct retort against attempts in the media to paint surfing with a pejorative brush.

Things you didn't know about "The Endless Summer"

As its evocative title suggests, the conceit of the film is to skirt the other annual seasons by travelling around the world to whichever surf spot seems most promising, and warm. For his glob-trotting project, Brown chose two of surfing’s cleanest cut envoys, Mike Hynson and Robert August—longboard surfers with charisma to spare. Hynson, with his slicked back blonde hair and slight build, and August with his easy-going demeanor, come across as ideal travel companions for the journey. Dressed in natty black suits and skinny black ties, Hynson and August step gingerly off airplanes in Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Tahiti, and Hawaii to sample regional shoreline breaks, some of which had never been surfed before their arrival.

The "Endless Summer" Surf Package | Outside Online

Lugging their longboards thousands of miles to various potential surf spots allows Brown ample opportunity for his unique brand of colorful editorial narration about the experience at hand. Brown jokes that each wave the boys catch in Dakar Senegal, West Africa costs them about “$9.95” when taking into account how much they’re spending to stay at their hotel. Brown’s detailed descriptions of waves, riding styles, and surfing conditions make up much of the energetic stream-of-conscious monologue that carries along the formless narrative.

Bruce Brown

Peppering his language with surf vernacular about being “stoked,” Brown guides the audience into the mindset of his athletic subjects. We never hear a word spoken by Hynson or August, whose thoughts are filtered through Brown’s hyper verbal interpretation, albeit with the aid of a great surf-rock soundtrack — courtesy of The Sandals.

Endless summer

Brown exhibited a flair for independent film promotion by renting out a Manhattan cinema where “The Endless Summer” had a successful run that lasted for a year. The film is an invaluable time capsule of surfing and cultural significance. If it still occurs as the ultimate example of a vacation-as-vocation movie, then so much the better. Indeed, it has inspired generations of youths to go on personal quests for the perfect wave on foreign beaches ever since.

Rated PG. 35 mins.

5 Stars

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January 30, 2012


SplintersAdam Pesce's absorbing cross-cultural documentary about a small indigenous community in the village of Vanimo, Papua New Guinea provides an intimate view into an island culture revolutionized by one thing, a surfboard. During the ‘80s, a visiting Australian pilot left behind the board he used to surf PNG’s perfect waves. In the years that followed local Vanimo boys fell in love with the sport. They made their own surfboards — called “splinters” — crafted from lightweight wood.

An Tor Orth An Mor: Splinters

In time the young men procured surfboards from visiting surfers, and imitated moves they studied in surfing magazines. They started up a surf club that in turn triggered two rival clubs. For the first time in PNG’s history, Vanimo will play host to the inaugural Papua New Guinea National Surfing Titles where native surfers can compete against pros. The local winner is to be awarded the opportunity to train with surfing athletes in Australia.

Splinters | Reviews | Screen

The film gravitates around Angelus, the son of the first native to surf Vanimo’s waves. Angelus is a gregarious surfer in his late 20s. He is recognized as “the King” of the resident wave-riders. His moves on the waves are world-class. Angelus’s shy disciple Ezekiel also has what it takes to compete on a professional level if his dubious nightlife activities don’t consume him. Angelus too has personal issues that threaten to derail his chances to compete. He owes alimony to his ex-wife whose brother is the leader of a rival surf club. If arrested for non-payment Angelus will be sent to prison.

Splinters (2011/2012) - Covering Media

Such is the drama in a community where women are second-class citizens to husbands who can beat them after they “buy” them. Much to the dismay of the male surfers, siblings Lesley and Susan have broken with tradition to pursue surfing as a way of life. In this northern corner of Papua New Guinea surfing has created a crucible of ideological conflict, and an aspirational way out of the region’s old world trap.

Not Rated. 95 mins.

4 Stars

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