Ah, a surfing movie made to depict real surfers, as compared to the “beach movie” group who surfed, but mainly played on the beach. This group also plays on the beach, but the focus is on the surfing. It was 1964 and surfing was hot, but not ready for the British Invasion of that year.
Hawaii is the location for Ride the Wild Surf. While a number of beaches are mentioned or included, Waimea Bay is the main location for the real action. In any case, it is the place for the “wild surf” and the whole meaning of the picture. Note the meteorological basis for the movie. This is a regular event. Storms create a surfing contest most every year. The waves are in the 18-30 foot range at Waimea Bay. This makes them “big.” According to the Willis Brothers [surfers], “Waimea Bay off Oahu, Hawaii, Mavericks off California, and Todos Santos off Mexico are great great big waves.” [Great Big Wave]. Waimea Bay seems to be the place where a surfer must go to make a name for him/herself as being a big wave surfer. At Waimea Bay, a lava ridge apparently extends outward from the bay. As big storms in the Aleutians generate waves to 50 feet out in the ocean, they break on this ridge then flatten only to reemerge as gigantic waves near the shore [Surfline].
Avoided for a long time because of the location’s role in ancient Hawaiian culture, this changed in the 1950s as surfers took the chance on these super waves. As the plot of the film goes, a storm off the Aleutians has sent these big waves toward Hawaii. The progress of the storm and the subsequence waves is followed on the radio. It is big news. Three surfers [Tab Hunter, Fabian, and Anthony Hayes] arrive from the mainland to take their chances at being the last one to ride the “big ones.” In so doing they get to take a chance at getting that last ride’s fame and meet the loves of their lives in Barbara Eden [pre-“ I Dream of Jeanie”], Shelly Fabares, and Susan Hart. Of course, the mainland folk are up against the local surf bums, of which James Mitchum is the main figure.
Side trips are made to a waterfall for some crazy late night jumping meant to prove drunken courage, and an Hawaiian farm in need of some repair because an earlier surfer husband surfed too much. The film shows the diversity of the island’s population, but heavily focuses on Caucasian mainlanders. . The true point of the film is ”surfer culture” and the ethnic mix is not important. Some local Asians sell fireworks, but they are rather stereotyped and made to seem foolish. Hawaiians seem minimized. Susan Hart appears to represent the Hawaiians from her physical appearance, but her mother is clearly not the source of Hawaiian genes.
One of the drawbacks of the film is that the actors seem to wait for the great waves in nearly still waters. The obviousness of these not being out in the real waters of Wiamea Bay strikes a note of cheapness. So much of the film is real surfing; it was unfortunate that they could not do a better job of filming the surfers waiting for the surf.
A great film of an era from the past. It is flawed but then what can you say of a movie that has Barbara Eden as a brunette and Shelly Fabares as a blonde. It violates nature. It has to be confusing to older Boomers.
Updated from: Meartz, Paul D. 2005. Geography in Media: Ride the Wild Surf. Dakota Alliance XV (3): Summer 2005: 7.