Ride the Wild Surf
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"In Hawaii there's a place known as Waimea Bay/ Where the best surfers in the world come to stay." That promising line is heard in the opening theme song for Ride the Wild Surf (1964), a surprisingly fun and authentic surf outing that should lay to rest ideas of bad beach movies. Ride the Wild Surf teams Fabian and Tab Hunter with future soap opera actor Peter Brown (Days of Our Lives, The Young and the Restless) as California surfing buddies who head out to Hawaii to catch some of that great Pacific action. They quickly find more than just crankin' waves in the forms of Barbara Eden, Shelley Fabares and Susan Hart. Events reach a fever pitch when the surfers enter a competition and find themselves against the all-but-unstoppable reigning champ, James Mitchum (Robert's son).
Ride the Wild Surf was originally planned as a much different film. For one thing, it was supposed to star Jan and Dean, the surf vocal duo who put four songs in the Top 40 in 1963. Unfortunately one of Dean's friends was somehow implicated in the kidnapping of Frank Sinatra, Jr. (which occurred in November 1963 while Sinatra Sr. was filming Robin and the 7 Hoods) and that caused the studio to nix them. You can still hear Jan and Dean sing the title song which Jan wrote with Beach Boys genius Brian Wilson and Roger Christian.
So instead of Jan and Dean as the leads in Ride the Wild Surf the studio used Fabian and Tab Hunter. Fabian was one of the most popular of the so-called teen idols that appeared in the wake of Elvis. He made his first film at the age of 16 with the wannabe Elvis title of Hound-Dog Man (1959). Fabian's music hits trickled off in 1960 as he began making movie appearances, usually in B-movies like Fireball 500 (1966) and A Bullet for Pretty Boy (1970). By the way, in Ride the Wild Surf that's famous surfer Mickey Dora doubling for Fabian despite the fact that Dora had never surfed Waimea before.
Tab Hunter was a different story. He spent much of his real-life teen years in the Coast Guard and after being discharged started to appear in action flicks like Raoul Walsh's Battle Cry (1955) and William Wellman's Track of the Cat (1954). Later in the 50s and early 60s, Hunter's roles were a bit more glossy and he worked sporadically in European films and TV until a long-time fan - director John Waters - convinced him to star in Polyester (1981) opposite Divine.
The person responsible for the great music and much of the surfing authenticity in Ride the Wild Surf was Stu Phillips, the arranger/composer behind lots of great 60s pop records (Shelley Fabares, The Marcels, The Ronettes, Nina Simone, The Four Preps). He later created the popular Hollyridge Strings, worked on films like Macon County Line (1974) and Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (1970) and composed for the Monkees and TV series Gidget before going full steam into television (Battlestar Galactica, McCloud and numerous others). Throw this wonderful music in with some real surfing footage, an attractive cast and a sometimes surprising storyline and Ride the Wild Surf emerges as one of the Sixties' hidden delights.
Producer: Art & Jo Napoleon
Director: Don Taylor
Screenplay: Art & Jo Napoleon
Cinematography: Joseph F. Biroc
Editing: Howard A. Smith, Eda Warren
Music: Stu Phillips
Art Direction: Ted Haworth
Cast: Fabian (Jody Wallis), Shelley Fabares (Brie Matthews), Peter Brown (Chase Colton), Barbara Eden (Augie Poole), Tab Hunter (Steamer Lane), Susan Hart (Lily Kilua), James Mitchum (Eskimo), John Anthony Hayes (Frank Decker), Roger Davis (Charlie).
by Lang Thompson