Surfer and budding film producer-director Peter Clifton, of Sydney, was 25 when he made The Surfing Years, with funding from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. The hour-long TV special debuted in late 1966. It follows three surfers and a pair of young women on a cramped one-car road trip from Whale Beach, Sydney, to Noosa Heads, with stops at Crescent Head, Byron Bay, and Surfers Paradise. We get a few wave-riding segments, but mostly the film just unhurriedly tracks along as the surfers travel up the coast, with lots of ponderous voice-over remarks from the cast about what it means to be a part of Australia’s younger generation.

Clifton went on to make made a full-length surf film, Fluid Journey, then changed his focus to music documentaries, directing Popcorn (1969), The London Rock and Roll Show (1972), and, most famously, Led Zepplin’s The Song Remains the Same (1976).

The two reviews, below, have been slightly edited.

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“Nomads Who Follow the Sun,” Gavin Souter, Sydney Morning Herald, Dec 14, 1966

It is a world of waves and sand, of sun on the skin, of glass-green water and foam. There is always another beach where the surf is rolling in on the long, long coastline. Now is now. Nothing else but this world matters. These are “The Surfing Years” for the boys with the boards, and the story of this time is shown in Peter Clifton’s hour-long color documentary of the same name.

“It is about groups of young people, nomads, who lead an in-between existence,” said Clifton, young himself at 25. “They are between school and work, not sure of what they want to do to experience life. They will work for a while to pay for a car, petrol, surfboards and food. Then they move on, following the sun and the surf. There are hundreds of kids like this. They have the surfing cult in common, but they are individuals, although aware of society. The surfing years are from 17 to 21, and I chose my cast to symbolize this.”

Peter Clifton found his actors living around Whale Beach. Tony Bradley, 17, had just left school. Chris Beacham, 19, had done competition surfing around the world. Dick van Straalen, 21, was “almost at the end of his surfing time,” as Clifton put it.

The girls, Anou (she goes by that name alone) and Victoria Thompson, were 21 and 19.

“You’re interested in surfing,” Clifton said to all of them. “How would you like to come away and drive up to Noosa Heads, in Queensland? I’ll surf with you. We’ll discuss the life and make a film about it.” With his director Peter Thompson, and with Bill Constable, a cameraman, Clifton and his surfers set off in two cars.

The film, which goes on ABC-TV on December 17, shows not only the beaches but the discotheques and hotels of Surfers Paradise, waterfalls in the mountains behind Currumbin, supermarkets where some surfers “hustle” things, stealing what they can.

The story ends with the surfers on an empty beach. There is no perfect wave. The sea is flat calm, the scene desolate. “What will happen?” said Clifton. “It doesn’t matter. If they don’t surf today, they will tomorrow, for these are ‘The Surfing Years’.”

“A Cult of Poverty,” Harry Robinson, Sydney Morning Herald, Dec 17, 1966

“From 13 to 16—that’s when girls are the most wild. After 16 most things are legal and it takes a lot of the fun out of doing it.”

“Surfing is a society by itself, but that doesn’t mean it sets any standards on morals or how you should behave.”

Both quotes are from “The Surfing Years,” to be screened on ABC-TV at 8:00 tonight. They are spoken by youngsters who are shown on surfari from Sydney to Noosa in Queensland. It’s worth seeing even if you don’t dig the surfie bit, or get caught up with wave perfection, or become involved in shots of the lads as they stare at the sea in broody moodiness.

Made by producer Peter Clifton, director Peter Thompson, and photographer Bill Constable with ABC backing, “The Surfing Years” peels away all the romantic glitter of the cult. Perhaps the three young filmmakers didn’t mean it that way. Their opening says these are the years for “neither child nor adult.” It’s implied here and there that one day the drifters will grow into people.

But the weight of evidence they have included in the film adds up to a way of life marked by poverty of mind and spirit. We are shown the young gods stealing food from a supermarket in Coffs Harbour, diddling a motel for extra breakfasts, and cadging meat at the backdoor of a butcher’s shop. One of the lads says, “Older people usually look after young people, not that we take advantage of them. It’s just there to accept.”

Well, what about the rich life out there on the water with the big ones rolling in? That is captured in some rhythmic film. You certainly do feel the joy of the sport. That and no more.

Constable’s camera work is first class, showing the still photographer’s eye for composition and the movie man’s fluid imagination. As a film it succeeds. As a social comment it is valuable—even if it says something different from what the filmmakers intended.

Python Lee Jackson has supplied suitably twangy music. The three young surfies move about pretty well and their two girls seem to endure rather than enjoy the glorious life. Perhaps one of the girls—who are identified only as Anou and Victoria—has the most revealing words when she says, “You’ve got to have some principles.”