In Surfer Dude’s Hands

Delving into the dark depths of Hollywood's worst mainstream surf movie

| posted on September 30, 2013
Surfer, Dude, starring Matthew McConaughey. A major motion picture, seriously.

Surfer, Dude. A major motion picture, seriously.

The other day I decided to live dangerously. Grabbed the tiger by the tail. Bit the bullet.

I sacked up, faced my fears and, for the first time ever watched In God’s Hands.

It was kind of an accident, really. A series of YouTube links had led me to the movie North Shore, and as I was watching that uber-cheesy, highly-quotable, poorly-cameoed yet-ultimately-fun ‘80s time capsule, I noticed a side bar link to a full length version of IGH.

After an internal battle (No! Don’t do it! / Come on, don’t be a wuss), my masochistic side won out. Despite knowing all about the negative reviews—all about the potential discomfort—I clicked on the link anyway. I mean, how bad could it be?

Pretty darn bad, as it turns out.

Even with rock bottom expectations, IGH made me cringe more times than a Milli Vanilli video. During certain points in the film it felt like I was being tortured for watching—just full-on cinematic waterboarding. At the risk of flogging a dead horse, let me just summarize the film by saying that I won’t miss pouty lips, contrived exotica, mumbling dialogue, disjunctive plots, or horizon-staring actors anytime soon.

But watching North Shore and In God’s Hands back to back got me thinking: On a cinematic level, both were bad movies, but for some reason history has forgiven North Shore, while IGH continues to be vilified. This seems kind of unfair given the virtual parade of Hollywood cornball, from Gidget to Point Break. Bad Hollywood surf movies are a durable, seemingly inescapable tradition—why should we pick on In God’s Hands any more than Gidget?

I asked surf historian/journalist Matt Warshaw about this phenomenon, and he reckoned that it all had to do with intent. That those other films had been forgiven over the years because of their light-heartedness, but hatred directed at In God’s Hands hadn’t rubbed off because the film, “shot for deeply profound territory and came up so amazingly short that it was an epic fail.”

Epic fail or not, I have some good news for In God’s Hands. Some epic news in fact. A few months back, with no other reasonable Red Box choices on offer, I rented a DVD called, Surfer, Dude. This was one of the greatest mistakes of my life.

I’m not sure why it’s not public knowledge, or what kind of cover-up has taken place since, but I’m here to report that Surfer, Dude might be the worst mainstream surf movie ever released. A true turd in the toilet bowl that is Hollywood surf cinema.

It was so bad that until I read the marketing material, I had no idea that the film was meant to be a comedy. And if you need objective confirmation, just visit RottenTomatoes.com: A cross-section of 18 critics gave Surfer, Dude a giant goose egg, a rare 0-percent approval rating—the lowest possible score.

What’s especially disturbing about Surfer, Dude is that it features experienced, well-known actors. Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson actually made a conscious decision to be in this film, and one can only guess what brand of glue they were sniffing after agreeing to take part. Comedy or not, their portrayals are not only an affront to surfers everywhere, but have a way of making some of the acting in IGH seem Oscar-worthy.

In God’s Hands might have been a profound failure, but it can at least use an inexperienced actor/screenwriter excuse. Surfer, Dude has no such alibi.

Therefore, I’d now like to nominate a new bottom feeder. A new cinematic flounder for us to step on. I suggest we remove the albatross from IGH’s neck in order to place it squarely in Surfer, Dude’s hands.

  • Gerrie Warner


  • Graham TheGringo Williams

    I don’t know what you’re talking about. I put Surfer, Dude right up there next to Shawshank Redemption, Forrest Gump and White Chicks.

  • http://www.danzelikman.com Dan Zelikman

    100% agree. I have know idea how Surfer, Dude was conceived, but it’s execution deserves to always be in the breath of, “…worst (not just surf) films ever made.”

  • Mere mortal

    Nope. IGH tried to be about surfing. Surfer dude didn’t really try.
    IGH is the worst

  • dl

    The strange thing is that MMcC is, supposedly, a surfer…

  • http://williambayphotography.com William Bay

    Definitely the worst, but can’t we at least put Blue Crush 2 in the mix. I feel BC2 could at least go 30 seconds into Round 1 before just being annihilated with a right hook from Surfer, Dude.

    (Yes, I’m aware that I actually have to admit to watching Blue Crush 2 to bring it to the table. But that’s ok. I’m comfortable with the fact that I’m a man, and like peeing sitting down.)

  • Tim Baker

    Strangely I reckon Surfs Up, the animated penguin movie, is the most authentic surf movie Hollywood has made.

  • Ben

    In God’s Hands is by far the worst surf movie ever made.

  • Barry Haun

    Nazi Surfers Must Die. 80s zeitgeist.

    • Keith Edwards

      That hook is so you…

  • Paul Wellar

    IGH is still by far the worst because it tried to take itself too seriously as an dramatic artistic film.It was pure crap from beginning to end. I actually went up to the theater manager and got my money back. Surfer Dude was a failed attempt at a comedy, nothing more. Still better than the last 4 Adam Sandler movies.

  • Didier

    i think that Surfer, Dude was fun! with weed or not! kkkkkk

  • Pedro

    For the record, point break rocks!

  • kyron

    Any movie from Hollywood with surfing in it is epic… How can it not be?? Just good fun, the cornier the better!!!!!! Yeeeeeewwwwwwwww

  • hose

    Who cares about all that?

  • kalemanzi

    I believe Blue Crush 2 was even worse.

  • don’t need no chokebrain

    but didn’t surfer, dude have an aggro puerto rican? i guess it should have been a brazilian. just joking, all. either dan or keith malloy did the stunt double surfing for mmc. i dug the soundtrack, and found the scene of woody h’s emloyees hackey-sacking to be pretty darn funny. overall, though, it was pretty cheesy. worlds’ better than in god’s hands, though. world’s better. agree about surfs up–my 3 year old daughter has seen that 45 times now, and i watch it every time with her. classic. “do you want to meet my ladies?”

  • yellowslocal

    WHAT ABOUT BLUE CRUSH 2?? I am a surfer from South Africa even and THAT movie does NOT portray what it is like to be a surfer in this magnificent country!! And I even personally know about 15 ‘actors’ or ‘stunt doubles’ in the shit flick..

  • Patrick

    hmmmmm, a movie about “just a surfer dude”, where he rips, but the industry is trying to rope him into some scheme that will benefit their wallet and ruin his idea of what surfing is. He copes with this by getting really drunk with his buddies and smoking a lot of joints. To further complicate things there is a MAJOR flat spell that causes him to flee the country in search of waves in Mexico. If effects him so much that he almost goes crazy but then a hot chick and a sign of swell gives him hope to continue his life as “just a surfer dude.”

    Sounds pretty legit to me. I am not a pro surfer, but I the “surf world” bugs the crap out of me, I like to smoke joints, and I find myself getting pretty weird in August when the waves are flat for weeks on end. Now if only a hot chick would show me her boobs.

    Think a little deeper, man. Matthew Mconnahey or whatever did a pretty good job of telling the world that surfing is being taken over by KOOKS, but that there is still hope for those of us who just like being in the water and enjoying some time away from our regular lives.

  • Simpson

    Surfer dude is by far the worst. The naked chicks in the movie couldn’t even save it for me. I had to stop watching. I heard that Matthew Mchonwhoever thought it was a great movie! IGH is Oscar worthy compared to Surfer dude!

  • Matt

    Dunno what you were thinking writing “North Shore” as a bad film. Because really it’s the opposite. It captivates 80’s themes perfectly, and the commercialized competitive nature in a simplistic manner of one who has dreams to go pro, does it. Better so said in a way that one can never relate to in this day and age because of shit like the internet and facebook w/ other forms of social media that disconnects a person from others.

    North Shore is a classic and always will be a classic. Great surfing, likable cast, awesome soundtrack, and a good mix of morals throughout the movie with several personalities played out in one place.

    IGH, was just fucking awful… most of my buddies thought Shane Dorian was an in-the-closet homo. Surfer Dude was a stereotypical cop out for hollywood, The Outside was nothing relevant to surfing other than the modern day selfish individuals of idiotic choices. Each one with something to enjoy but only to such extents you have to stop.

  • MJF

    Dont want to throw another turd in the mix. But if anyone has ever seen Dish Dogs, back me up. That is the worst surf movie ever mad. Dont even watch it to see for yourself. There is NOTHING redeeming about this “surf” movie.

  • Mumbles

    Surfer Dude is somehow reminiscent of Jeff Spicoli. IGH is somehow reminiscent of the waves in my toilet, barney.

  • Jimmy the Saint

    I’m a little off point here but despite high expectations I found John from Cincinnati the biggest dissapointment of all. I know its not a film so its not really eligible for this thread, but am I the only one who was totally underwhelemed. The opening credits were definitly the best thing about that series.

  • Kurt

    The Japanese film “A Scene at the Sea” is a good movie about surfing. It is understated and thoughtful. Everything these Hollywood surf movies are not.