While trolling for covers of the Sandals' Endless Summer theme last night on YouTube, I stumbled upon a posting of the film "North Shore" in its entirety. So marked the beginning of the remainder of my evening. Filmed in 1987, "North Shore" is a cult classic among surfers.
For the uninitiated, this guilty pleasure tells the story of Rick Kane, a surfer from land-locked Arizona, who takes his 2 foot wave pool prowess to the North Shore of Hawaii, home to big waves and big egos. He struggles with the decidedly more potent surf, the push and pull between surfing for fun and love vs. fame and fortune and finally, with the Hawaiians' disdain for haoles (mainlanders). Of course, the movie wouldn't be complete without a local girl who captures Rick's eye and is forced to choose between a predictable life in the islands and the a new life with Rick on the mainland.
No Oscar nods here as the movie is very formulaic and the acting is sub par at best. And the vintage 80s electronica music is God awful. Yet, surfers love this movie. But why? Why this one and not other surfing films? Surfers quote this movie with reverence but blast other films like In God's Hands, Point Break, Blue Crush and more recently Chasing Mavericks (although the criticism for this movie is more subdued as it's based on a true story of a legend in the surfing community).
So what's different about "North Shore?" I have my theories. For one, it seems much more legitimate given the involvement of so many 80s surf legends. Shaun Thomson, Derek Ho, Mark Occhilupo, Hans Hedemann, Mark Foo, and of course, Mr. Pipeline himself, Gerry Lopez are all over the film. Gerry in fact served as technical director and both he and Laird Hamilton have prominent roles. Other big names in surfing like Ken Bradshaw, Michael Ho, Robbie Page, Corky Carroll, Lord "Tally Ho" Blears, among many others, have bit parts or make cameos.
Secondly, the film seems to really capture the communal spirit of the North Shore. Surfers from all over the world flock to the Seven Mile Miracle every winter to challenge the big waves at Sunset, Pipe and Waimea. Everybody seems to know everyone and surfing is the common bond. But a big part of that community is the locals. These are the shapers, glassers and sanders who support, and are supported by, surfers.
The real locals, those with Hawaiian ancestry, are also highlighted. Poverty and localism (read: racism) are evident but not with an overtly social agenda in mind.
So is respect. Demanded and enforced by the Hui Nalu but also by Turtle and Rick who push back against the age old stereotypes of haoles chasing waves and women while in the Islands. Regardless, the dichotomy between the soul surfers and the glory seekers is prevalent on the North Shore and in the movie version as well.
So the themes are real in that they're an accurate depiction of life in and out of the water in Hawaii. This is most evident in John Philbin's character, Turtle. He's a local who earns a (meager) living sanding boards. He's dialed in and knows what's what. And Philbin (who not surprisingly surfs in real life) plays the part masterfully -- he walks, talks and acts like he's been on the North Shore his whole life. It's Turtle's classic lines, delivered in pidgin, that surfers parrot. With the exception of Big Wednesday, other surfing movies just miss the mark when trying to portray the surfing life.
The guys who made North Shore really did their homework. So a word of advice to all Hollywood execs planning on making a surfing film: pitch your concept to Turtle. He'll shoot straight from the hip (in pidgin of course) and tell you whether you've got a hit on your hands. But, sadly, he knows you won't listen because as fans of the movie know, "Nobody listens to Turtle."
If you're curious, you can watch the movie here. Enjoy. Until next time, may your waves be head high and glassy.