Dazzling Blue #48: The Power of the Surf Film

Dazzling Blue #48: The Power of the Surf Film


Some years back, I was talking to my friend Jeannie Chesser about her move from Florida to Hawaii in 1970. We were standing in the Ala Moana Bowls parking lot, post surf. The swell was four foot; the sun was golden in both color and feeling. Jeannie told me that her move was inspired by the surf film Five Summer Stories. She has been an Oahu resident for 47 years now. Those waves that called to her in the film, she rides them nearly every day. Her son, the late Todd Chesser, was one of the world’s finest big wave surfers in the ‘90s.

            A reprise of this story came a couple of years later. Alexandra Florence, mother of Ivan, Nathan, and 2016 world champion John John, told me how much surf movies meant to her when she was growing up surfing and skating in New Jersey. Were they in the back of her mind when she bought a one-way ticket from La Guardia to Honolulu in 1986? Hell yes.

           I too have been electrified by the power of the surf film. Growing up in the valley, surfing a lot of torrentially onshore Zuma after school in the ‘80s, I used scenes from Jack McCoy movies to elevate my surfing experience. The waves may have been severely lacking, the beach depressingly empty, but in my head I was Cheyne Horan weaving through the Duranbah tube under bright sun with a thousand hot girls on the beach in Stormriders. I even employed the soundtrack to bring me closer: “People” by the Kiwi band Mi-Sex.

            It’s a wonderful thing, the way a surf film can change a life. In Jamaica a decade or so ago, I was surfing with the Wilmots, that island’s greatest surf family. They exhibited flashes of Rob Machado, Kalani Robb, Ross Williams. I was pretty certain that those surfers had never spent time in Jamaica. I wondered how the Wilmots learned this stuff. The answer came that night at dinner. On the TV, Momentum played, starring, Rob, Kalani, Ross, etc.

            “This is one of our favorites,” said Ishack, the oldest of the Wilmot kids. “We’ve watched it about a thousand times.”