Before the invention of the VCR, surfers would cram into venues such as the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium on weekend nights to watch surf films. They would hoot, holler and rev up for the next morning's session in the waves.
"We used to go to Pier Avenue High School in Hermosa," said Westminster's Corky Carroll, a former U.S. national champion and surfing hero in the days when hot-doggers--the first of the performance surfers--were the rage.
"Going to a surf movie was our prime social event. And if you were actually in the surf movie, you never had trouble getting a date."
For those early-1960s screenings, the filmmaker would arrive with a projector, a tape recorder for the soundtrack and a P.A. system to narrate.
"The most fun I ever had at a surf movie was when [filmmaker and big-wave rider] Greg Noll was showing a new movie and [Malibu hot-dog legend] Mickey Dora brought in a Sparkletts bottle full of moths," Carroll said.
"As soon as the lights went out, they all flew onto the projector bulb and you couldn't see a thing."
These days, you have to worry about moths only if you leave your front door open. You can watch the world's best surfers rip it up in the comfort of your living room--which may be more convenient than trekking to the theater--but the atmosphere clearly isn't the same.
San Clemente-based Swell.com is trying to revive that blast from the past.
Beginning Friday at the AMC Block 30 in Orange, Adrenaline Theater will debut with surf filmmaker Taylor Steele's "Hit & Run." The film stars some of the world's best surfers, including six-time world champion Kelly Slater, Oxnard's Tim Curran and Hawaii's Shane Dorian in never-before-seen footage from Australia, South Africa, Bali, California and Mexico.
The film runs through Aug. 24 and will be followed in the series by skateboarding, snowboarding, snow skiing, motocross and other action-sport movies. The second movie in the series, "The End," is a skateboarding film by Jamie Mosberg, starring world champion Tony Hawk. It screens Aug. 25 to Sept. 14.
The films will show at 40 AMC theaters in the U.S. and Canada, including the Burbank 28, with show times set for Friday and Saturday nights. Some Saturday matinees will be offered for younger moviegoers. Ticket prices are $6.
"Taylor premiered his last movie in a theater and it was so cool," said Curran, ranked No. 19 on the Assn. of Surfing Professionals' World Championship Tour. "Seeing it on the big screen like that with the music on those sound systems is insane."
Laguna Beach's Pat O'Connell, No. 39 in the world, thinks the big screen will mean a big boost for the sport.
"I think it's a great way to get people interested in surfing who aren't necessarily surfers," he said. "It's so awesome in a theater."
A number of factors contributed to the decision to take the hugely popular extreme-sport videos to 35mm and the booming sound systems of today's theater experience, according to Bonnie Crail, a partner and managing director of Disson, Furst & Partners, which owns Adrenaline Theater.
"This thing has been bouncing around in the head of [DF&P executive] Dan Hirsch, who's an avid snowboarder," Crail said. "He was inspired in part by the 'Rocky Horror [Picture] Show.'
"It was a confluence of things that brought it to fruition: the explosion of alternate sports, thanks to television; the success of 'Blair Witch [Project],' which did very well on a very limited marketing budget; and the popularity of the extreme-sports videos."
Last winter, during a test run at the Orange megaplex, a motocross film outsold every traditional motion picture showing at the same time and prompted more showings later in the night, Crail said.
"We did the test with a film called 'Crusty Demons of Dirt,' " Crail said. "We put some posters and fliers in surf and skate shops and had 24 spots on KROQ.
"The first night was a Friday, and the 9:30 show sold out and the 11 o'clock show almost sold out. The 9 o'clock Saturday show was sold out by Saturday morning, so we added an 11 o'clock show, and it sold out. That showing outsold 'Toy Story 2,' the new James Bond film and 'End of Days.'
"Everyone was yelling and watching the film standing up."
Apparently, the timing may be right for a return to a time when you could stand up in a theater and scream "Cowabunga!"--or "That's the sickest wave I've ever seen," the current translation of "Cowabunga"--and nobody would tell you to shut up.
Adrenaline Theater opens with surf filmmaker Taylor Steele's "Hit & Run" on Friday at the AMC Block 30, Orange. (714) 769-4262.
"The End" (skateboarding) runs Aug. 25 to Sept. 14; "TB9" (snowboarding) runs Sept. 15 to Oct. 12; "Further" (skiing) Oct. 13 to Nov. 9; "The Resistance" (snowboarding) runs Nov. 10 to Dec. 7; and "Crusty 6" (motocross) runs Dec. 8 to Jan. 31. Information: (800) 882-1238 or http://www.adrenalinetheater.com