North Shore Movie Review

North Shore

The Peak... The Dream... The Ultimate Test.


Matt Adler, Gregory Harrison, Nia Peeples, John Philbin

Gerry Lopez, Mark Occhilupo, Laird Hamilton, Robbie Page, John Paragon, Rocky Kauanoe, Lokelani Lau Update Cast

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Many of the lead characters were played by Pro Surfers: Laird Hamilton ("Burkhart"), Gerry Lopez ("Vince"), Robbie Page ("Alex"), and Mark Occolupo ("Occy"), in addition to numerous pro surfers performing in supporting or bit parts (Shaun Thompson, Hans Hedemann, the Ho brothers, etc).

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Released by Universal in 1987 and directed by William Phelps, “North Shore” was as successful at bombing at the box office as it was in encapsulating an unforgettable era of neon-colored wave “shredding.”

By the end of the 1980’s, “North Shore” had not only become a culture-defining cult classic, but is the film that bridges the gap between the Spicoli-isms of “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” (1982) and the dude-laden banter of “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure” (1989). However, unlike the Californian poolside and Circle K hangouts of the said films, “North Shore” is “J.O.J.” (“Just off the jet”) and on the North Shore of Oahu.

Rick Kane (Matt Adler; the fifth-wheel friend in “Teen Wolf” [1985] and the younger brother in Disney’s “Flight of the Navigator” [1986]) is Arizona’s wave tank surfing champion and decides to fulfill his big wave dreams by heading to the world-famous North Shore of Oahu to spend his pre-art school summer seeing if he has what it takes to be one of the best. Upon arriving there, not everything is as it seems: the locals are rough around the edges and everyone’s looking out for their own waves.

Just when it looks as though he’ll be figuratively stuck in a reef cave under the waters of the dangerous beaches of the North Shore, he meets an unlikely friend in Turtle (John Philbin; world-famous real-life surfing instructor). Now caught in the comedic, pigeon-talking current of a well-connected local, Rick finds himself in the company of a beautiful, off-limits Hui girl, Kiani (Nia Peeples; “Fame – TV Series”), and world-class surfboard shaper, Chandler (Gregory Harrison; “Trapper John, M.D. – TV Series”). The film’s tagline, “The Peak…The Dream…The Ultimate Test,” doesn’t lie; Rick is in for the radical challenge of mastering the waves of the North Shore and gaining the respect of Hawaii’s royal wave patrollers, the Hui.

Surfing films appear to be cursed with drowning at the box office before they even start paddling out into the line up and “North Shore” is no exception to this. Sure, surfing films like the documentary classic “The Endless Summer” (1966) and 2002’s “Blue Crush” have shown signs of buoyancy, but even those films don’t fall under the heading of “blockbuster.” In the case of “North Shore,” this hasn’t really mattered too much; it is an absolute cult classic. Nearly every serious-minded surfer from California to Fiji has probably seen this film, and its dialog--mostly uttered by Philbin’s character, Turtle--has become part of the surfing dialect (“Kook,” “Barney,” “Haole,” etc. (A haole is a non-Hawaiian white person.

On the subject of Turtle, he is a hidden gem in the annals of comedic characters from the 80’s: sort of a cross between Jeff Spicoli and--well--the real-life Turtle (more on that in trivia)! Philbin nails it and completely sells this character that, unfortunately, is only really known by fans of the film. Nearly all of the principle cast members of the film have faded into obscurity (writing on this would constitute more than a sentence or two, so check out IMDb), but many of the surfers featured in the film--Shaun Thompson, Derek Ho, Gerry Lopez, and Mark Occhilupo--are still recognized as world-renowned surfers.

Author: Johnny MackUpdate This Review


The 1980's were definitely a unique time in filmmaking--before the "art" of indies and after the arrival of the "blockbuster." "North Shore" captures the culture of the Pacific 1980's landscape with few rivals.

It's pure 80’s “formula,” but that’s one of the things that makes this cult classic what it is. This is not art; it is a studio attempt that failed on a commercial level, but succeeded in the hands of it's fans. “North Shore” might also be the only good “surfing movie.”

Without a doubt, “The Endless Summer” is the best surfing film, but, since it’s a documentary, it doesn’t qualify as a film that is entirely scripted and, therefore, acted out by actors. The writing in this film is full of great comedic dialog and, despite the “formula,” the film has a great soul to it. On the subject of soul, that’s really what this film is all about: making decisions based upon what your gut and heart tells you...

The film is well-cast and boasts two very memorable and strong performances: John Philbin as Turtle and Gregory Harrison as Chandler. The pacing is fantastic and, unlike the overly lush production of surfing films like “In God’s Hands” (1998) and “Blue Crush,” the surfing footage is grounded in reality and manages to teach you a few things about the sport in the process. There’s also a degree of substance to “North Shore” that separates it from the pack such as it spending time with the locals and providing some good topical history on the Hui and their relationship to the North Shore. It also provides some real treats for surfing fans and surfers themselves by giving screen time to many of the legends of the sport that are in the film.
“North Shore’s” biggest weakness is that it takes a good ten to fifteen minutes to get its bearings and doesn’t really become a film of “value” until the forty-five minute mark (basically, the appearance of seasoned actor, Gregory Harrison). Other than it simply being cursed as a being a surfing film in the first place, it might’ve been these factors more than anything else that caused it to wipe out at the box office.

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The Movie Data

Key Crew

Director: William Phelps
Writer: Randal Kleiser, Tim McCanlies, William Phelps
Producers: Bill Finnegan, Tim McCanlies
Locations Manager:

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Release Date: 14 Aug 1987
MPAA Rating: PG
Studio: Universal
Production: Finnegan/Pinchuk Productions, Universal Pictures
Genre: Comedy

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The Movie Trailer
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1987 Universal
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