Of any medium, surfing lends itself best to being documented in film. Still photography is perhaps second-best – it freezes a moment in time and leaves little to the imagination about the size of a wave, the spray thrown in a turn, or the gravity of a maneuver. But, as someone once explained to me, surfing is one of the few sports where the venue itself is constantly in motion. And so, besides the athletes themselves, some of surfing’s most venerated characters are its filmmakers.
The canon of surf film is rich, deep, and highly diverse. There are big-budget Hollywood films, projects whose funds were scraped together by the director and a few friends, and everything in between. Some films tell stories, others are simply a compilation of punchy action clips that taken decades later defined an entire generation. Below is our best effort to compile a definitive list of the films in surfing that broke new ground, took the sport a different direction, told a story that had never been told, or contributed to the ever-expanding patchwork that we call surf culture. These are the films every surfer must watch before they die. Period. And if we missed any, feel free to let us know in the comments.