The 5 Best Worst Summer Beach Movies of All Time

For my generation, summer evenings were often spent at the local drive-in watching whatever blockbuster or B-movie that happened to be on the marquis.

If we were lucky, we might have caught a masterpiece like Godfather II (as I did in 1975 while my family was passing through New Mexico) or Jaws, the best summer beach movie of all time.

More than likely however the fare were B-movies and cult favorites such as Women in Cages, Malibu Beach, Foxy Brown, and Macon County Line.

For surfers of course nothing was better than catching a beach flick that was so bad it was good—a flick like Muscle Beach Party—that made surfers look like the idiots everyone thinks we are.

Muscle Beach Party

Starting with the release of Gidget, starring Sandra Dee and La Jolla’s Cliff Robertson in 1959, the summer beach movie has been a Hollywood B-movie staple. Here are the best worst summer beach movies of all time.

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5. Point Break (1991)

This 1991 surf action flick should have been the best surfing movie ever made. Directed by up-and-coming action director Kathryn Bigelow (who went on to win an Academy Award for The Hurt Locker), and with Patrick Swayze as Bodhi and Keanu Reeves as Johnny Utah, with stand-in surfing by Dino Andino, it was the film that made us all embarrassed to be surfers.

With a story set in Huntington Beach that echoes some of the scenes in Kem Nunn’s novel Tapping the Source, Swayze plays an undercover cop whose boss Gary Busey (before he was sideswiped by his motorcycle and suffered permanent foggy brain), figures out that a string of bank robberies must be perpetuated by surfers since the robbers have tan lines!!

Although the action set pieces are truly spectacular (Bigelow is an action genius), the dialogue is wooden and everyone is a drug dealer, machine-gun salesmen and or bikini model-philosopher. Oh and the surf always seems to be blown out and everyone mostly surfs only at night. Point Break manages to make Bell’s Beach, arguably one of the world’s most visually stunning surf spots, look ugly.

4. The Van (1977)

This low-budget lackluster B-movie could have been one of the great time teen exploitation films of all time (along with Fast Times at Ridgemont High), but the forgettable cast (except for the inclusion of Danny Devito in a role replay of his Taxi casting), killed its chances. The plot goes something like this: a bro named Bobby graduatess from high school, spends the summer cruising for chicks, working at a car wash (apparently this was the last time in history that car washes weren’t staffed by ex-cons), and finally buying and driving his killer custom van (think 70’s dream machine–waterbed and shag carpeting).

Unfortunately Bobby can’t get the stuck-up valedictorian to like him, but after scoring with beach babes, he and the smart chick hit it off while cruising a custom van gathering at an L.A. County beach parking lot where they meet all kinds of groovy 70s van people–including the obligatory black guys in fedora hats– and fall in love. You couldn’t make this stuff up, so sit through The Van because you’ll laugh for all the right reasons.

3. Beach Blanket Bingo and all the Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello movies:

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This is what you’d get if a retro version of Jersey Shores were reimagined as Laguna Hills but with dancing and dumber stars. That pretty much sums up all the Beach Party movies of the mid-60s. All are terrible enough to qualify as essential cult favorites. The only problem is that you have to be really drunk to enjoy watching them.

2. In God’s Hands (1998)

Arguably one of the worst movies ever made and definitely the worst surfing movie ever made (and that’s saying a lot given the plethora of awful surf movies out there). I’m not even sure what the plot is supposed to be about and more than likely the screenplay consisted of endless pages of undecipherable scribbles. Ironically sexploitation director Zalman King  made this straight so Matt George and Shane Dorian spend the movie  mumbling incoherently as they traipse around the tropics. Apparently the movie is supposed to be about something meaningful but only in a faux Euro-serious way. Even the surfing sucks.

1. Roller Boogie (1979)

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Hands down Roller Boogie is the best worst beach picture of all time. Who could have imagined that at the same time Tony Alva and his gang were in the midst of the gritty skateboard explosion in Venice Beach or Dogtown, legions of gay roller skaters were cruising the boardwalk in spandex short shorts and rainbow suspenders.

Dude, this is the funniest, campiest teen exploitation film ever! Linda Blair is so bad, the plot so preposterous, that Roller Boogie actually works as contemporary Will Ferrell-style 70s exploitation film remake.

The hero dreams of becoming an Olympic gold medalist in roller dancing! He is championed by Linda Blair (who can’t act) and at some point the plot goes Andy Hardy but with a skate competition instead of a dance. A crooked developer and his goons are thrown in towards the end to give the film some social redemption.

There is even a chubby beach beat cop who channels the Village People’s Victor Willis in short-shorts and a tight white t-shirt. The best part is the chase scene on roller skates in which the good guys (the skaters) pelt the bad buys with fruit (wink-wink) and then skate through a skateboard park that is only inhabited by the already mentioned spandex wearing roller skaters. The best part of the Roller Boogie experience was watching it along with my 13-year old son who laughed in amazement right along with me. So parents feel free to boost your core score by watching Roller Boogie with your teens. And since this disaster is filled with buxom Farrah-hair roller boogie hotties in French-cut bikinis, my son asked, “Dad were all the girls like that in the 70s?”

Next week I’ll look at the best summer beach and surfing movies of all time and look forward to hearing about your favorites as well.

Beach Party (1963)

Beach Party (1963) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Adventure Mexico

The mud hole looked like a lake. I wasn’t about to risk losing a rental car by driving through it in order to surf point waves with no crowd.

I figured it was better to walk barefoot through the black, smelly water that harbored snakes, horse poop, clouds of mosquitoes, squishy stinky mud, sharp sticks and then traipse through a mile of dank marsh to find waves, then risk getting stuck in the pit.

The lake we decided not to drive through.

While Daren Johnson and I evaluated our chances of driving through the water feature created by Hurricane Carlotta, our sons Josh, 15, and Israel, 16, ran through a trail in the mangrove forest and crossed the dunes to check if there were any waves at the point that was a couple of miles away.

About 15 minutes later they returned. Both were out of breath, sweating and clearly not having a good time.

“The surf is flat,” said Israel. “Let’s go somewhere else.”

“If we go somewhere else it is going to take us hours to find waves,” said Daren. “Let’s surf here.”

So we parked the car on the only dry spot we could find, loaded our backpacks with food, water and sunscreen, took off our shoes and hiked barefoot through the swamp, mangroves, dunes, and finally what seemed like an endless beach.

As we neared the point I could see set waves breaking off the rocks.

Half an hour later we had settled into the lineup and caught dreamy rights with just a couple of other surfers in the lineup.

I caught a couple of waves that were as good as any I’ve ever surfed—looping barrels that I raced my 6’6” Novak quad down the line on to stay in position.

On my recent trip to Mexico, I spent a lot of time walking through the rainforest, swatting mosquitoes, being attacked by no-see-ums, and hoping that I’d come around the bend to find perfect waves.

During one foray into the forest to find a point the locals assured us had good surf, we found a local guide to navigate the rocky and hilly trail.

The sun was scorching and the humidity was overpowering. Pedro, our guide was barefoot and wore a thick long-sleeve rugby shirt.

“I crossed the desert in Arizona during the summer on my to Washington,” he said when I asked him if he was hot. “So this is pretty easy.”

Israel and Josh scrambled to keep up as Pedro ran up hills through the forest. With my long legs I was able to hang on.

After about 45 minutes we arrived at a giant jumble of rocks.

“The waves are down there, “ said Pedro pointing to the point. “Just climb down the cliff.”

I wasn’t too interested in risking injury sliding down the rocky precipice to find a few waves.

“We’ll paddle around the point Pedro, ” I said pointing to a small beach to the right of the point that was a safer entryway into the surf.

While we caught waves, Pedro patiently threw out his fishing line from atop the boulders.

On our return Pedro ran through the forest. I barely kept up. Josh and Israel fell behind.

We arrived back at the tiny village an hour later exhausted but were elated to find the beachbreak looking fun.

A couple of local kids were snagging the 3-4’ offshore A-frames.

Josh and Israel paddled out while I made arrangements for a local family to cook us up some freshly caught fish.

Out in the water the locals were stoked to see us. Very few traveling surfers visit the isolated village that depends mostly on government subsidies for growing a smattering of crops and protecting the leatherback sea turtles that nest there.

Out in the lineup I gave some wax to a grom.

“Thanks,” he said. “We don’t usually surf with wax on our boards.”

After catching a few waves, Esteban, the proprietor of the beach shack, waved us in.

Grilled fish, beans, rice and cocoanuts were waiting.

Just another adventure in Mexico.


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