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The Best Surf Documentaries: 8 Films To Inspire And Entertain

Surfer in the sea

This year I’ve been surfingmore than ever. As most surfers will tell you, once you get the bug, you’re hooked and you’ll want to get in the water at any given opportunity. But what about when the swell doesn’t play ball, as it frequently doesn’t? Well, that’s the time to get fully submerged in some epic surfing documentaries and movies to keep the fire stoked for when those perfect peelers start rolling in again.

So that’s exactly what I’ve been doing in between surfs. And it’s been great! I’ve been getting properly stuck into some of the best surfing documentaries ever made and have found that many of them offer more than just a bit of inspiration to get out there more and to up my game. These surf documentaries provide insight into the surfing world and are an education for all surfers. But they also raise some deeper questions that are relatable to all humans, surfer or not. 

Best Surfing Documentaries

So after a year of getting inspired, educated and enlightened by watching the world’s most talented surfers on the big screen, here are some of the best surf documentaries that are well worth investing your time in.

Momentum Generation

Location:Hawaii and worldwide
Year of release:2018
Duration:1 hr 43 mins
IMDB rating:8.2
Where to watch:Prime Video

Momentum Generation follows the lives of a group of aspiring young surfers finding their place in the ever-changing surf culture of 1990’s Hawaii. No-one could ever have foreseen the impact that these troubled kids would have on the world of surfing and the lives of those within that world. They are known as the “momentum generation” and they changed the face of surfing forever.

But this is more than just a historical sporting record. It’s a surprisingly moving story of friendship, cut-throat competitiveness, love and loss, and how a life of surfing can shape all of those things. It leaves one feeling heart-warmed and in awe, yet deeply questioning (in a good way!) personal motivations to pursue dreams and achieve goals.

Into the Storm (En la tormenta)

Year of release:2020
Duration:83 mins
IMDB rating:7.8
Where to watch:BBC iPlayer

Motivated by the need to escape a bleak and predictable future in a crime-ridden Peruvian neighbourhood, teenage surfer, Jhonny Guerrero, takes on the challenge of his life. He aims to get to the top of his game, against all odds and with many obstacles to overcome. Surfing to Survive is a story of struggle, drive and hard work, and a stark reminder of the importance of having the right people on board to help make personal dreams attainable.

This is an important documentary, on so many levels, to be watched by surfers of all ages and abilities. You’ll come away feeling inspired, humbled and touched by the depth of emotion that underpins this boy’s journey through his teenage years.

Riding Giants

Location:Hawaii, California, Tahiti
Year of release:2004
Duration:1 hr 45 mins
IMDB rating:7.9
Where to watch:Prime Video

Big wave surfing is something that the majority of surfers don’t aspire to do. It’s a high-risk, adrenaline-fueled sport that seems oceans away from what most of us understand of surfing. And yet, as a recreational surfer, there’s something utterly compelling about watching brave men and women take on the world’s biggest waves. Surfer or not, Riding Giants will leave you hiding behind a cushion, jaw dropped and wincing. But you’ll keep watching those horrifyingly violent wipe-outs, intrigued at the mentality of those who take them on.

By all accounts, it’s not the sort of surf documentary that will leave you feeling mellow, chilled and ready for a cruisy longboard session at your local break. Far from it. But you will come away having learnt a great deal about the history of big wave surfing and the pioneers that paved the way for the current record-breaking athletes. If you need a reminder about the power of the ocean, this is most certainly the film for you!

The Endless Summer

Location:California, Africa, Australia, NZ and Hawaii
Year of release:1965
Duration:1 hr 35 mins
IMDB rating:7.7
Where to watch:YouTube | Prime Video

For such a fun and carefree sport, I find it interesting that so many of the best surfing documentaries have a somewhat weighty edge to them. The Endless Summer, however, couldn’t be further from serious if it tried. It’s a sheer delight to watch; jolly, joyous and feel-good from start to finish.

The upbeat soundtrack accompanies Californian surfers, Mike Hynson and Robert August, as they travel around the world in pursuit of the perfect wave and an endless summer of wave riding. Set against a classic 1960’s backdrop and with a jovial and punchy narrative, this laugh out loud romp is guaranteed to make you want to jump in a V-Dub and hit the road with your longest board strapped to the roof. I’m looking forward to watching Part II already!

Bethany Hamilton: Unstoppable

Location:Hawaii and worldwide
Year of release:2019
Duration:1 hr 40 mins
IMDB rating:7.4
Where to watch:Netflix

Though it may have a slightly lower IMDB rating than other picks in our list, Bethany Hamilton: Unstoppable is one heck of an inspirational movie. Following the life and career of pro-surfer Bethany Hamilton, who lost an arm as a teenager in a shark attack, Unstoppable is one of the best surfing documentaries to watch if you need a bit of a kick up the backside. It’s not a sob story of an underdog grappling with lost dreams, but an immensely positive celebration of a brave and driven human being who stops at nothing to attain what most wouldn’t even attempt with all limbs intact.

The documentary evokes an intriguing lack of emotion, despite the heavy subject matter. But maybe that’s the point; to achieve the unimaginable one can’t let anything get in the way, least of all mourning the loss of something that can be lived without. This woman truly is unstoppable and an inspiration to every human being on this planet.


Year of release:2003
Duration:1 hr 30 mins
Where to watch:YouTube

Another light-hearted celebration of everything surf is Sprout. Created by renowned filmmaker, Thomas Campbell, this spell-binding film is as silly as it is stylish. Arty and awesome in equal measure with a superb soundtrack to match the top-class riding of an exceptionally talented group of sproutlings. It is “an exploration into the riding of water mountains and molehills,” and seeks to remind us that it doesn’t really matter what or how we ride. Loving it, appreciating it and being open to the possibilities that time spent in the ocean can present to us, is what’s most important. A classic ‘must watch’ surf film that will send you into a relaxed and contented state, especially when viewed post surf, cool beer in hand!

North of the Sun

Year of release:2012
Duration:46 mins
IMDB rating:8.4
Where to watch:Vimeo On Demand | Prime Video

If you’re in need of some inspiration to get your priorities back on track then a dose of North of the Sun may just be the required tonic. This independent adventure film, which won the Banff: Grand Prize, People’s Choice Award in 2013 (amongst many other awards) documents the day-to-day lives of Inge Wegge and Jorn Ranum in their pursuit of paradise. Their adventure takes them to a remote beach on Norway’s northern coast. Great surf and simple living fill their agenda, as well as dealing face-on with the frigid seclusion of a sunless arctic winter.

North of the Sun isn’t just another arty clip of thrill-seeking surf bums. It’s an invitation for us to step back and consider the reality of winter survival with nothing but a beach full of trash. The pair do just that and more. Their incessant thirst for life leads them to thrive in a world where frozen wetsuit boots are chosen above cosy dry slippers!

Whilst the beautifully stark and often gloomy picture might leave you pondering over the depth of the adventure, the film itself is heartwarmingly cheery and endlessly optimistic.

Surfer or not, we can all enjoy the sentiment behind this brilliant film and look forward to seeing where their next project will take them.

Andy Irons: Kissed by God

Location:Hawaii and worldwide
Year of release:2018
Duration:1 hr 40 mins
IMDB rating:8.2
Where to watch:Prime Video

This moving surf documentary follows the highs and lows of pro surfer and 3 time world champion, Andy Irons. It’s a harrowing account of the trauma and struggles of living life with serious mental illness, but it also sadly highlights the reality of the drug problem within the surfing world.Despite it being one of the heavier surf movies we’ve seen recently, Andy Irons: Kissed by God is also a celebration of a phenomenal surfer who pushed the limits of surfing and comfortably challenged (and beat) Kelly Slater.

If you grew up with eyes glued to the world tour during the noughties, then this documentary is an absolute must-watch. It’s as impressive as it is eye-opening and heart-breaking. It also comes highly recommended to anyone living with mental illness and addiction. Less avid surf-fans out there, however, may find it a little long-winded, though this doesn’t take away from the overall hard-hitting impact it will likely have on all viewers.

For more information about supporting young people struggling with addiction, mental illness and learning disabilities, check out the Andy Irons Foundation.

So there you have it: our selection of the best surfing documentaries we’ve seen. Thankfully, the surfing movie list doesn’t stop there. We’ve got a load more entertaining and inspirational surfing documentaries to get through this winter, and we can’t WAIT! These include:

  • Five Summer Stories

  • Stephanie in the Water
  • Soul Surfer
  • Strange Rumblings in Shangri-La
  • View From a Blue Moon
  • Surfing Hollow Days
  • Bra Boys
  • One California Day
  • Gaza Surf Club
  • Dogtown and Z-boys
  • Girls Can’t Surf

Looking for more inspiration? Take a look at these adventure documentaries.

About the author


Joey is based in Cornwall, UK, and runs Cool of the Wild. She can’t get enough of being outdoors – whether that’s lounging around the campfire cooking up a feast, hitting the trail in her running shoes, or attempting to conquer the waves on her surfboard – she lives for it. Camping is what she loves to do the most, but has also spent many hours clinging to the side of a rock face, cycling about the place, cruising the ski-slopes on her snowboard, and hiking small mountains and big hills.

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