Ride the Wild Surf

Fabian (Jody Wallis), Shelley Fabares (Brie Matthews), Tab Hunter (Steamer Lane), Barbara Eden (Augie Poole), Peter Brown (Chase Colton), Anthony Hayes (Frank Decker), Susan Hart (Lily), James Mitchum (Eskimo), Catherine McLeod (Mrs. Kilua), Murray Rose (Swag), Roger Davis (Charlie), Robert Kenneally (Russ), Paul Tremaine (Vic), Alan LeBuse (Phil), John Kennell (TV Commentator), David Cadiente (Ally), Yanqui Chang (Mr. Chin).

Ride the Wild Surf stands head and shoulders above all the sixties beach-party movies. This was an earnest and ambitious attempt by Hollywood to capture the surf culture and what attracted young men to the sport. There are no singing surfers or goofy motorcycle gang members in this film as it opens with a narrator explaining why young men from all over the world come to Hawaii to surf. Then the wave action takes over never letting up making Ride the Wild Surf the best Hollywood surf movie of the sixties. Kudos to a excellent cast, stunning photography by Joseph Biroc, and one of the all-time best pop surf songs “Ride the Wild Surf” sung by Jan and Dean over the closing credits.

Fabian, Tab Hunter, and Peter Brown play surfers who travel to Hawaii to conquer the big waves at Waimea Bay and in the process take a step to becoming more mature adults. They also find romance with, respectively, Shelley Fabares, Susan Hart, and Barbara Eden. It makes an honorable effort to portray surfers and the sport of surfing sincerely and to showcase the big waves of the North Shore of Hawaii.

Though the story line to drape the incredible surfing action around is thin, the screenplay is peppered with some sharp and hip dialog while all the actors play their roles believably. Peter Brown and Barbara Eden are the most interesting couple as Eden’s perky lovelorn auburn-haired tomboy tries to melt the veneer off of Brown’s uptight college boy. Susan Hart, a local beauty with an overly protective mother, and wannabe pro surfer Tab Hunter make the most handsome duo though a blonde Shelley Fabares as a vacationing coed and the usually shirtless Fabian as a college dropout turned surf bum give them a run for the money. Jim Mitchum, who is the splitting image of his dad Robert Mitchum, makes a quietly menacing heavy. The movie is a smorgasbord of flesh as the boys are all tanned and muscled and the girls are curvaceous and bikini-clad.

Though handsome Fabian, Tab Hunter, and Peter Brown pursue beach babes when not in the water there is also a surprisingly strong “homo-erotic undercurrent” throughout. The scenes of these barechested surfers bonding or comforting each other while tackling the huge waves of Waimea Bay and the gals are nowhere in sight have become gay porn staples.

Ride the Wild Surf really excels showing what it takes to be a top-notch surfer and to challenge the big waves of Hawaii. Joseph Biroc expertly filmed real surfers including Mickey Dora, Greg Noll, and and Butch Van Artsdalen challenging the big waves at Banzai Pipeline, Sunset Beach, and Haleiwa. This footage is spread generously throughout the film climaxing with big wave thrills at the “King of the Mountain” contest at Waimea Bay. It is by far the most exciting and best surfing sequences in any Hollywood surf movie of the sixties. However, some of the scenes of the actors on their boards were filmed in a studio tank where one minute the water is like a sheet of glass and then all of a sudden it cuts to huge swells that come out of nowhere.

The shots around the island of Oahu are stunningly picturesque especially the scenes at Waimea Falls. The movie captures the beauty of the islands spectacularly. Trying to distance itself from the beach-party films there are no musical guest acts only Jan and Dean singing the hit title song over the end credits. Broadcast infrequently, Ride the Wild Surf thankfully is available on DVD.

 

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