Surf School is tagged “American Pie at the beach… in Costa Rica.” But it’s actually less Pie, more Road Trip mixed with Can’t Hardly Wait. A high school buddy movie about outcasts trying to win the fictitious High School Surfing World Championship, it takes dated stereotypes to the extreme.
Larry the virgin (Lee Norris) is an uber-dork and former Home Economics Man of the Year who finds himself in bed with Helga, Belga, and Selga. Foreign exchange student Chika (Eriko Tamura) wears kimonos. And goth girl Doris (Laura Bell Bundy) hides her long, beautiful blonde hair beneath a black wig. Sisqo’s Mo, the token black guy, calls her “Po,” as in “potential.” Clearly, subtlety is not Surf School‘s strong point.
The unlikely leader of this pack is East Coast transplant Jordan (Corey Sevier). He transfers to Laguna Beach to continue his high school lacrosse career and stay in shape for the coming college season, an inexplicable decision, given that lacrosse a springtime sport. He also doesn’t surf. In the vernacular of Laguna Beach, this deficiency makes him a “Barney,” which means he can’t hang with the cool kids (read: stoners who believe “Surfing is… god”).
The crew travels to the mythic championship in hopes of changing their “non-cool” status. The film borrows (okay, steals) from any number of past high school movies: the kids’ trials range from goofy to unbelievable, and never matter much. Director Joel Silverman’s master stroke, intentional or not, is his inclusion of minor characters drawn simultaneously from his generation’s fond memories and a high school viewer’s imagination. Aging hippies Boris (Taylor Negron, veteran of Silverman’s Death to the Supermodels) and Tillie (Diane Delano) fit this bill perfectly.
The surfing kids take up residence at a hotel run by this pair, who were banished to Costa Rica because of some protest gone wrong back in the ‘60s. Boris and Tillie are dirty and painfully unattractive, with libidos far exceeding those of their teenaged guests. It’s as though Silverman asked a group of 13-year-olds to describe a “hippie” and then created the aging flower children based on their answers.
A similar focus group appears to have influenced the creation of surfing-pro-turned-alcoholic Rip (Harland Williams), the kids’ instructor. He first appears passed out on the beach, bottle opener and other paraphernalia tangled in his long dreadlocks. After agreeing to give the children some lessons, he goes on to offer cryptic advice, such as “Find the wave’s G-spot” and “Waves are like women, curvy and slippery when wet.” Who even talks about G-spots anymore?
All this seeming nostalgia is creakier than it is evocative of times past. By the time Jordan and company win the surfing contest and start making out with each other on the beach (heterosexually, of course), older members of the audience will be longing for Dazed and Confused. But their kids might be happy. No one would mistake Silverman for Scorsese, but he does appear to understand his audience. As long as you’re not old enough to drive yourself to the theater, you’ll enjoy yourself.