The rise and, well, rise of surf film festivals

Putting the Sundance in surfing.

surf film festivals

Punters queue at the Genesis Theatre for the London Surf Film Festival. Photo: LSFF

What do Lisbon, London, Santa Cruz, Amsterdam, San Diego, Sao Paulo, Biarritz, San Sebastian, Cologne and New Smyrna Beach all have in common? Thriving surf film festivals, that’s what.

In the digital age, when surf movies are available online, and often for free, you wouldn’t think that people would pay to go watch them on the big screen. However, in these far-flung cities around the globe, some miles from any surfable waves, dedicated curators are discovering that more and more people want to experience surf movies together.

RELATED: Quirky and artistic movies showcased at San Sebastian Surf Film Festival

“Surf film releases were always social experiences; as a grom, I remember the excitement of waiting for the next surf movie to come out and then watching it in the village hall,” says Chris Taylor, who, with his partner, Demi, started the London Surf Film Festival.

“It was beginning to feel like we’d lost that stoke, because cool edits were coming out online all the time and we were almost becoming numb to it. We wanted to make surf film premieres an incredible social experience that are a coming-together of the tribes to share in the collective stoke of surfing and surf movies.”

surf film festivals

Floridian filmgoers prepare for another surf movie in New Smyrna Beach. Photo: FSFF

In 2011, the first London Surf Film Festival was held with one showing in a 200-seat theatre. Since then, the growth has been exponential, with this year’s version held across two weekends and in various locations across the capital, including the iconic Regent Street Cinema. Nearly 3,000 people attended the 10 screenings.

The Florida Surf Film Festival in New Smyrna Beach has had similar success and was born from the same desire. “We thought our surf community was fractured and even disintegrating,” said Kevin Miller, who, with John Brooks, started the festival. “We wanted to create a creative space where all the surfers in the area could come and have a good time and interact.”

“I remember as a kid going to the surf movies in town and seeing the pro surfers in the audience and getting a massive buzz from that,” says Brooks, a local firefighter. “This year we had CJ Hobgood and Eric Geiselman turn up and mingle with the audience, and you could see the effect it had on the groms.”

surf film festivals

Huge crowds pack the Cinema Sao Jorge in Lisbon at the Surf at Lisbon Film Festival. Photo: SALFF

Like LSFF, the growth has been spectacular, with the festival taking over the Atlantic Center for the Arts for two days each November as well as holding quarterly screenings throughout the year.

“It’s great to see so many stoked surfers of all ages enjoying the movies,” said filmmaker Joseph Ryan, whose movie Fish won the Best Documentary prize at Florida and has picked up awards in London and Lisbon.

“The festivals also offer a tremendous opportunity for filmmakers. There’s now an audience all ’round the world, watching the films on [the] big screen. Plus, they create a buzz, which helps when we distribute the films online later on.”

With the established surf film festivals growing each year and new ones popping up all around the world, it feels that the stoke of watching surf movies together is well and truly coming back. “You get to sit in a packed-out cinema, surrounded by a stoked crowd of likeminded individuals to have your collective minds blown,” says Taylor. “What’s not to love?”

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