I like to think that in some other life I was a surfer dude. Though considering that I typically swim like a brick, this isn’t likely. I found out about an old surfing movie called Ride the Wild Surf (1964) while doing some internet surfing of my own. The way it was depicted on this website made it sound worth my time. Turns out it was, but not because it was a good movie.
Having recently graduated from high school, three friends take one last trip together before going their separate ways in life. Jody Wallis (Fabian), Steamer Lane (Tab Hunter) and Chase Colton (Peter Brown) take to Hawaii’s Oahu Island to ride the world’s biggest waves, a long standing dream they’ve shared. Naturally, each one finds a romantic interest to pursue. Steamer falls in love with Lily (Susan Hart), whose mother objects since her husband—also a surfer—left home and family to follow a surf circuit. Jody, the self-described college dropout and surf bum, falls for the reserved Brie (Shelley Fabares) who challenges him to return to college. Straight-laced Chase finds himself repeatedly drawn to adventurous Augie (Barbara Eden). A surfing competition is being held and despite conflicts, injuries, and rocky romances, the three young men compete against ruthless competition to prove themselves a top surfer.
Ride the Wild Surf is just about as cliché as can be. The characters are all very simple and shallow. The story about young people falling deeply love over a weekend and talking about life together is unrealistic and corny. The whole sporting event to prove something to yourself or others is overdone. The cinematography wasn’t always good, the use of a blue screen was blatantly obvious as the actors moved in different directions than the background.
Even the acting was pretty bland. If not for a few exceptions like Barbara Eden, Tab Hunter, and Susan Hart, it would have almost been unwatchable. They bring some life and expressiveness to the otherwise lackluster acting in this movie. You may recognize Barbara Eden who also starred in the I Dream of Jeannie sitcom back in the day. I suspect she is somehow immune to aging, she still looks young and energetic in every other role I’ve seen her in.
Fabian was kind of an Elvis Presley byproduct. Like Elvis often did in his movies, Fabian plays a character with a giant chip on his shoulder, ready to beat the crap out of anyone who would dare accuse him of being a coward. This happened in so many Elvis movies it became a joke. It plays out in much the same dramatically illogical way here; resulting in Fabian's character being irritating throughout.
To its credit, Ride the Wild Surf was filmed on location in Hawaii. Most Hollywood beach movies are filmed in Southern California. The movie really captivates the sport and the culture surrounding it. The surfing jargon and concerns over the dangers sound reasonably authentic. In 1963, weather conditions were such that huge waves were made on the Hawaiian shores. The producers took advantage of this and got some outstanding shots of some truly epic waves. I understand this movie is supposed to have some of the best surf photography of any non-documentary surf film. I don’t know if that’s true, but I certainly was impressed by the waves they captured on film.
So, why watch Ride the Wild Surf? Well, it was interesting to see how “teen movies” and culture in general have changed over the years, or remained the same. Everyone was very trusting of total strangers back then, now we tend to assume strangers have an ulterior motive when we are approached. Steamer follows Lily to her ranch to get to know her better. Rather than having the cops called on him, he is invited to dinner. The way people spoke to one another in this movie surely sounded natural in its day, but it sounds quaint now. For example, in one scene a rival surfer’s nose is accidentally broken by Jody. Our protagonist sincerely apologizes, but the best threat the rival is able to come up with is saying that “maybe I can return the favor someday,” causing anyone who overheard it to look stunned by his brashness. In a contemporary movie we’d expect to hear an articulate death threat that would give the audience a reason to worry about the protagonist’s safety. Ride the Wild Surf seems hilariously tame by today’s standards, and that contract makes it amusing to watch.
Ride the Wild Surf was just about as cheesy a movie as you could ask for from the 1960’s. Granted, it is better than most of the equally low-budget horror movies of its day. The script is lousy, the surfing is phony, and the boy-girl scenes lack chemistry. Anyone over the age of twelve would be disappointed with most aspects of this film. You’ll be just fine if you never see it, but it’s a fun, light-hearted, campy romp of a surf movie that would be good for a “lost in the 60’s” themed party or to see how the “teen movie” genre has changed over the decades.
Have you seen a movie that captured some truly impressive surf photography? What was it? Did you like it? Comment below and let me know!