Without much effort, we could bang out a list of 10 or 20 moments, some of them decades apart, each with a claim to being the point where surfing finally and forever crossed over from cool to not-cool. Which claim wins? Any of them, all of them, or none, depending on where your head's at, as we used to say in the '60s—back when surfing was, maybe, still cool.

At the moment, my top-of-the-ballot suggestion is that surfing lost its way in 1983, give or take, went enough people had rented and watched Big Wednesday on their VCRs and, for reasons I'll never understand, collectively decided that this absolute fail of a movie was in fact a "cult classic" and ready for surf movie canonization.

Nobody liked Big Wednesday when it came out. The Times panned it ("resoundingly awful"), as did Surfing magazine ("weak storyline and even weaker characters"), and the $11 million film was pulled from the theaters after earning less than $5 million in ticket sales.

Not long after it released, Big Wednesday writer-director John Milius got in touch with cameraman Greg MacGillivray. "I'm calling everyhone who poured their hearts and souls into Big Wednesday, but the reviews stink, Warner Brothers is pulling it, and I'm sorry I let everybody down. I won't leave the house because I don't want to run into any friends.

If you feel about Big Wednesday as I do, we could make a second and possibly longer list about why it failed so impressively upon release—but the reasons can all be rolled up into the simple fact that Milius overshot. Overshot, overcooked, over-everything. Milius believed Big Wednesday had to be meaningful and important. Except the story he told was neither, the sport itself in fact cannot be put front and center and do that kind of lifting, and my guess is that at some point everybody knew this, and the movie, to compensate, the movie, after an opening reel which is fun and silly and sentimental, just gets louder and more obvious and more full of itself as it goes. Vietnam, fractured male friendships, alcoholism, advancing age, even homelessness—"I'm just a garbageman," fallen boardmaker Bear says near the end of Big Wednesday, giving the sport its most durable accidental laugh line—Milius threw everything in there except cancer, and by the time we get to the movie-ending "Day Like No Other," surfing itself doesn't have a chance, we're in for a full Dagwood Sandwich of drama, including a piece of in-water action sequence, by redemption-seeking former surf star Matt Johnson, that doesn't look like a ridden wave as much as it does a coke-fueled vision for a ridden wave. Which it almost for sure was, at some point.

Some numbers:

Fifty-five stitched-together pieces of film, by my count, from takeoff to ride-ending wipeout.

Four surfers and at least four surf breaks: J Riddle, at Sunset Beach, stunt doubles the drop and leans into a bottom turn. Billy Hamilton completes the turn, banks off the top, does another bottom turn, except now he's at La Libertad, El Salvador. Riddle, back at Sunset, sets up the barrel. Cut to in-the-tube POV shot at Lennox Head. Cut to Jackie Dunn at Pipeline, flopped. End with Bruce Raymond wiping out and going over the falls at Sunset.

Full orchestral score, sturm in a double-headlock with drang, piccolo trills, cymbal crashes, a gong or two, a wall of Hollywood action-film soundtrack overkill as cliche as it is loud, Google AI running through an iPhone 7 could process this thing before lunch.

A counter-example:

The final scene in Surf's Up, featuring animated penguins doing airs and crossovers, is as realistic as the Big Wednesday finale and a hundred times more heartfelt. No telling why the Surf's Up producers chose to back the sequence with the New Radicals' "You Get What You Give," but it floors me every time I watch, tight throat, halfway to tears, the whole thing is beautiful and flowing, and just as I've never been more embarrassed on surfing's behalf than seeing what Milius did to us at the end of Big Wednesday, I've never loved the sport more, onscreen at least, than watching the Surf's Up finale.