Searching for Tom Curren is almost certainly the finest surf film ever made. It stars our little sport's most eccentric surfing genius at the height of his powers, and it was made by the late Sonny Miller, another of our maestros, also at his own artistic zenith. Plus, it was filmed in the mid-90s, and maybe this is just the nostalgia speaking, but has there ever been a better period for non-ironic soul-tinged edginess merged with balls-out progressive surfing? I say no.
The quality of Rip Curl’s “The Search” video series, especially Searching for Tom Curren, is unassailable, even for the bearded-est, crustiest soul rangers shaking their fists at the surf industry from their wind-lashed cabins on the Washington coast. Ask two separate generation of American surfers, say, late boomers to late Gen-Xers, who their favorite surfer is, and they're almost certain to say Tom Curren. Tom Curren is Kelly Slater’s favorite surfer, for god’s sake.
Why not pop in a DVD of Searching for Tom Curren right now, kick back, crack open a beer, and bathe in the joy of mid-90s surf movie perfection?
Well, probably because you aren’t one of the seven people on earth who own the movie on DVD. No matter, we can remedy that. There’s always Amazon. Let’s click over there to see if we can’t rustle up a copy…
Hmm. That can’t be right. The only copy of Searching for Tom Curren on Amazon is in VHS format? For 80 bucks? Maybe ebay’s the call:
Oh come on man, this is the same VHS tape. Let’s try another ebay listing:
Ha, this one’s $180, and advertised as a non-rental, as if that means it wasn’t watched and rewound a zillion tape-stretching times. Hmm, there’s one more ebay listing, let’s see:
Well, alright, this one’s at least on DVD, and part of a “The Search” collection, AND it’s autographed by Tom, but still, no way am I shelling out that kinda coin when surely this thing is torrented somewhere.
But, that’s pretty much it for the selection of Searching for Tom Curren available for sale online. Go ahead and take a trip down to your local surf shop and watch them stare at you blankly if you ask if they’ve got a copy for sale somewhere. Actually, now that I think about it, those ridiculously priced copies above are likely being sold by surf shops who’ve been clinging to a battered cardboard box full of VHS tapes.
After my Amazon disappointment, I started texting and calling surf friends. “Any copies of Searching for Tom Curren,” I asked. “How ’bout anything from ‘The Search?'”
One friend had Feral Kingdom on VHS, but it was a busted tape that wouldn’t rewind. Nobody else had any other movies from “The Search” era, and nobody had seen Searching for Tom Curren for years.
Curious, I got in touch with a marketing big wig at Rip Curl and asked why “The Search,” one of surfing’s most hallowed pieces of videotaped history, is so hard to find. I was literally told “no comment.” I tried to contact whomever runs the Sonny Miller tribute pages on Facebook, also to no avail. (Speaking of Facebook, there’s actually a “Re-release Searching for Tom Curren on DVD” community page). I tried some surf media luminaries, and lo, they held no hope either. Despite cranking the juice up to 11 on my surf culture research antennae and aiming it right at the heart of 90s surf intelligentsia, I got nothing but static in return.
Finally, mercifully, a DVD of Searching for Tom Curren surfaced a few weeks back, forgotten in the disc tray of a friend’s ancient Xbox. At a recent office trip, I sat down with the rest of SURFER’s staff to watch the movie I’d been patiently tracking down for months.
My god it’s good.
How long has it been since you’ve watched? Sure, you remember the J-Bay part, but do you also remember the bagpipe-driven Haleiwa segment? Curren corkscrewing through scary-bumpy Haleiwa on the logo-less Maurice Cole rocket? How about when you realized that Curren was the best Backdoor surfer in history?
I have no idea whether or not Searching for Tom Curren or any of “The Search” movies will ever be re-released on DVD, or made available online, or frankly, if I’ll ever get to watch any of them again. And while I’d love it if Rip Curl or the Sonny Miller estate, or whomever gets to make that call, decides to start pumping out commemorative editions, I suppose it’s fitting that the few copies of Searching for Tom Curren are so devilishly hard to find.