Surf Movies Are Good For You - Stab Mag

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Andy Irons surfing was brought to the world by feature-length surf movies that inspired multiple generations.

Surf Movies Are Good For You

Time well spent.

news // Aug 30, 2021
Words by Ethan Davis
Reading Time: 3 minutes

Surf movies almost seem nostalgic. Antiquities that stir fond memories of grommet-hood and obsessively replaying DVD’s of favourite surfers’ sections. Occasionally a song will be played in some far-flung pub in an obscure corner of the world that triggers the exact part from a cherished surf film that had been watched on loop long ago. Such deep retrievals of memories are a testament to how a carefully curated soundtrack, waves and storytelling can etch themselves in the mind unforgettably. 

In a contemporary surf sphere saturated by free-surf clips, vlogs, kook slams, and generally lower-grade surf content, the feature-length surf movie feels like a dying art form. Part of it is the democratization of film-making equipment, part of it is that our attention spans seem to be getting shorter, part of it is just that a click for clickbait is just as valuable as a click for a thoughtful albeit expensive and painstaking creative project. 

Sometimes, stubborn and gifted creatives find a way to make surf movies that have a quality that is so organically engaging that they can arrest our attention for more than fifteen minutes. In an economy where every product and service is vying for our attention with features short-circuiting dopamine hits, that is no easy feat and is something the creatives behind them should feel proud to hang their hats on. 

In an attempt to save the surf movie, perhaps it is worth remembering their role in surf culture and in our personal surfing journeys.

Surf movies are good for you because they inspire and motivate you to surf better. They get you psyched to travel and find waves. They remind us that a world exists beyond our immediate surroundings filled with desirable and exciting possibilities. Occasionally, they find a way to portray the banal in such a way that even surfing a shitty beachbreak can become an exciting prospect (re: Chapter 11). As someone who grew up surfing in Sydney, seeing Dane destroy relatable, shitty, crowded beach breaks in Ventura lights a fire inside me more so than watching 12-second tubes at Nokanduis. It’s the relatable inspiration I need on any given blown out Tuesday. 

Surf films also function as a way of connecting us to the culture and collective consciousness of surfing. Core audiences are disgusted by the mainstream appropriation of surfing in commercials, reality TV series, and on tinder profiles. They should be flattered — Beyonce’s doing it, Diddy’s doing it, the surf jew can’t get enough of it. The mainstream appropriation of surfing is a response to the attractiveness of an already existing culture. But good surf movies invent the next iteration of the culture — they don’t pander to the establishment, and your knowledge of them will make you look edgy and cool. 

Surf films also present an opportunity to absorb information that makes us better surfers. Getting granular on a technical analysis of a good turn is nerdy, but it’s one of the best ways to improve. If you spend enough time translating Italo’s biomechanics into your own, you might find yourself making spooky but tangible improvements in the water. Better yet, use your visual cortex to imagine how it would look and feel and you’re effectively doing the same thing as though you are actually surfing. 

Observational learning, visualization, and imagination are remarkable capabilities of human brains. On some level, the brain doesn’t know the difference between reality and illusions — it is a simulation device that seamlessly conjures up images, memories, and feelings with no external stimuli. Under an fMRI, the same parts of your brain light up when doing an activity, as when you just imagine doing that activity (minus the signal down the spinal cord). Obeying neuroplastic principles means the brain can rewire more optimal networks to help you surf better just by imagining you’re surfing. Watch surf films, nerd out over them, and surf better (results may vary).

Surf films function on a number of levels to connect us to culture, to motivate and inspire, and to teach us how to be better surfers. Surfing is our north star and surf movies keep us pointed in the right direction.

Don’t let the surf movie die. Surf movies are good for you.


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