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Big Wednesday

Big Wednesday was released in 1978 and it is essentially a coming of age drama about a group of friends who surf. It also features some great surfing footage and the cinematography from talented director John Milius beautifully captures the skills of the world champion surfers who performed as stuntmen on the movie. The film is about three friends, Matt played by Jan Michael Vincent, Jack played by William Katt and Leroy played by Gary Busey. They grow up through the sixties and they love to surf achieving some fame in the California scene. We trace their lives as they grow older and turn from teenagers out for a good time into adults with responsibilities. The Vietnam War has an impact, they find families and friends and jobs and all the while surfing itself is changing in the background. Matt is the best surfer of the three but his self destructive nature leads him into trouble, Jack is responsible but ends up fighting in Vietnam and Leroy is just completely crazy so Busey was well cast. Their friend Bear, played by Sam Melville, also plays a big part in the story and he shapes boards, building up a successful business only to lose it all again because of his drinking. By the time the three friends are re-united in 1974 the face of surfing has changed considerably and with their youth forever lost they surf the Great Swell together one last time. It is a nostalgic film and while it romanticises a period of surfing history there is plenty of drama too and it could be enjoyed by anyone, not just surfers. The director John Milius was a surfer himself and he co-wrote the film with Denny Aaberg basing it loosely on his experiences in Malibu. Sadly the film was a flop on release but it deserved to do better and the direction from Milius on top form is really good. He captures several great surfing scenes and while the principal actors all either surfed or learned to for the film they had to use real talent for many of the big wave scenes. There are appearances from surf legend Gerry Lopez, Jay Riddle, Ian Cairns, Peter Townend, Bruce Raymond, Billy Hamilton and Jackie Dunn. In the film Lopez leads the short board revolution which is sweeping the scene and leaving Matt and his friends behind. In real life Lopez was born in Hawaii and won the Pipeline Masters in 1972 and 1973 before founding the Lightning Bolt brand of short boards. He appeared in a few other films and recently wrote a book called Surf Is Where You Find It. Although the film is set in California the big surf scenes were actually filmed at Sunset Beach in Pupukea, Hawaii. There are also scenes on the busy Surfrider Beach in Malibu and La Libertad in El Salvador. Big Wednesday is a hugely enjoyable film and well deserving of its cult status. If you’ve never seen it then you should seek it out and give it a go.