With the pandemic putting a halt to some of the activities we love — traveling, social gatherings, and sports events — surfers find ways to experience surfing in other forms. And the closest thing they can get to riding the waves without actually leaving their homes?
If you’re looking for cool surf games to kill time with, you’re in luck! In this post, we’ll take a trip back to memory lane and look back at the best surfing video games ever released. Some of them are games we used to play as teenagers, while others have more modern simulations that perfectly show how far technology has come since then. Let’s start!
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Why are there only a few surfing video games?
Surfing is one of the most exhilarating and extreme water sports, but when it comes to gaming, this genre doesn’t sell out much. In the history of surfing video games, not more than 20 titles were released, with only one or two games being developed every few years.
Sure, this sport is well-liked by a lot of people. But the truth is, it’s more fun to surf in the actual water than having to do it virtually — a reason behind surfing games’ lack of appeal. The limited niche also leads to underselling video games, hence why developers choose to move on with other genres instead.
Another reason is the complexity of the game’s development. The animation and simulation of movements, especially the water dynamics, are extremely challenging to digitize. For this reason, developers tend to avoid creating these games.
Top 10 Best Surfing Video Games
Although the choices are limited, we’ve compiled the most popular surfing games for surfers (and non-surfers) of all ages. Here they are in no particular order.
- Kelly Slater’s Pro Surfer
- Transworld Surf
- Sunny Garcia Surfing
- Championship Surfer
- California Games
- Town & Country Surf Designs: Wood and Water Rage
- Surf Riders
- Surf World Series
- True Surf
- Surf’s Up
#1: Kelly Slater’s Pro Surfer
The early 2000s can be considered as the peak of surfing video games, and possibly the most popular, if not best during that era, was Kelly Slater’s Pro Surfer. Although it’s not as promoted as other games, Pro Surfer was endorsed by well-known riders like Bruce Irons, Tom Carroll, Lisa Andersen, Nathan Fletcher, and Kalani Robb.
Back then, this game was the reason why groms would meet up in their friends’ houses after surfing sessions. Even teenagers who don’t know how to surf enjoyed Pro Surfer because it was a laidback game that could be played for hours on end.
Pro Surfer is a game developed by Neversoft — the same company that also produced Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater (a skateboarding game that also featured Kelly Slater as a shirtless and barefoot surfer). It was first released for Playstation 2 and was made available for Windows PC by 2003.
This game has an overall vibe that perfectly depicts the surfing lifestyle. The sound of the waves, the soft rock music playing in the background, Slater’s short video clips of his travels — it’s all about telling a story, and not just about gaining high scores.
But that doesn’t mean the game won’t keep you at the edge of your seat. Its controls will allow you to combine different tricks in the water. Like the coffin trick wherein the character lays down on the surfboard and watches the barrel tumbling down on him. It also comes with different playing modes, such as career, special events, and surf trips.
The game’s tutorial is located in an indoor pool (which, by the way, is a long way behind Slater’s Surf Ranch today). But the surf trip mode will take you to different hotspots like Tahiti, Spain, Teahupoo, South Africa, Hawaii, and Trestles.
#2: Transworld Surf
Pro Surfer may be endorsed by some of the greatest riders of all time, but Transworld Surf practically put this game genre on the map. Released in 2002, Transworld Surf was developed by the company Namco Bandai for Xbox, Playstation 2, and Gamecube.
This game aimed to connect with kids from different coasts. To influence them how to surf, it featured tutorials and graphics with the most realistic waves the programmers were able to develop during that time.
Transworld Surf also featured real locations, like the famous Huntington Beach in California, Jeffreys Bay in South Africa, Fort Point, and Pipeline in North Shore. The game also includes real-life licensed surfers, such as Christian Fletcher, Tim Curran, Taylor Knox, Andy Irons, and Jason Collins.
Its various levels include multiplayer modes like ‘Shark Attack’, and ‘King of the Wave’, and bonus missions that feature “The Reef Girls. The cherry on top was the best surfing music that consist of 50 tracks to get you vibing.
Transworld Surf also features the ‘Karma Meter’, which sorts out your character’s actions. Bad surfing etiquettes like dropping in on other surfers, spraying people with your wake, or destroying marine life will get your player caught up in similarly bad situations such as being chased by a shark.
On the other hand, good actions will get you to surf in any of the ten surfing locations of the game. Your best moves will also be put on the cover of Transworld Surf magazine.
#3: Sunny Garcia Surfing
Sunny Garcia Surfing features the career of Hawaiian surfer, Vincent Sennen “Sunny” Garcia. It was developed in 2001 by Krome Studios and was released for Playstation 2, Xbox, and Gamecube.
This game is one of the fan favorites because of the player’s movements and the setting’s nearly accurate dynamics. The wave motions when pumping are different when the character’s stalling, for instance, and it makes a huge difference to the overall gameplay itself.
Unlike other games on this list, Sunny Garcia Surfing doesn’t include a real surfing location. Instead, the developers created a made-up island located in the east of Fiji. The gameplay allows you to choose your surfing spot. Like if you want to surf in 2-foot waves or 30-foot monster waves.
Sunny Garcia Surfing can be played in various modes: the championship tour, arcade, and free surf. The first two modes are score-based, with the points depending on your overall performance.
The game’s responsive controls allow the players to perform tricky maneuvers using different combinations. It also includes avoiding obstacles in the water such as reefs, sharks, and jet skis.
But starting the game may be tricky since it provided no tutorials for the players. Instead, you will have to rely on the free surf mode to familiarize yourself with the controls.
#4: Championship Surfer
Released in 2000, Championship Surfer is an extreme surfing video game developed by Kromer Studios. It’s the first-ever surfing game that’s compatible with both Microsoft Windows and Dreamcast. But in comparison, the Dreamcast version has better graphics than Windows.
When it comes to the action sports category, Championship Surfer is on par with Sunny Garcia Surfing, even if it was released a year before the latter. It also has better camera angling, which allows you to control the player from seven different perspectives. The better view also makes it easy for you to see the obstacles like buoys and boats.
Championship Surfer can be played in different modes: multiplayer (can accommodate up to eight players), tournament, and quick start. Players can also choose where they want to surf and select from any of the pro-surfers available, like Rochelle Ballard, Cory Lopez, and Shane Bescher.
The simplified controls make the surfboard responsive to the waves. Meanwhile, the easier paddling allows you to perfectly time your tricks in events. Overall, there are 50 tricks available in this game. Among them are lip, barrel, and aerial.
#5: California Games
California Games was a blockbuster video game that featured a compilation of popular outdoor sports in California like BMX, skateboarding, and frisbee. It was developed by Epyx in 1987, and it’s one of the very first video games to include surfing.
This game has solo and multiplayer options that can accommodate up to nine players, so it’s best played with friends and family. It also includes sports events where judges will rank the players, including how they drop off and trim the waves. The surfing’s decent speed allows the player to perfectly time their landing. Tricks like barrels, airs, and cutbacks will also gain score points.
Unlucky ones that get wipeout will be greeted by sharks that seemed to appear out of nowhere. The Jaws theme will then start playing, adding tension as you out-paddle the said sharks.
California Games was first released for NES, Apple II, and Commodore 64, but due to its popularity, the company also made the game available for Nintendo and Sega Mark III. Overall, the game sold over 300,000 copies, but unfortunately, its sequel that was launched in 1990 didn’t receive much success.
#6: Town and Country Surf Designs: Wood and Water Rage
The next one we have is an oldie, but a goodie nonetheless. Wood and Water Rage is a vintage NES game that’s sponsored by the surfboard manufacturer, Town & Country Surf Designs. This company is from Pearl City, Hawaii, and they’re famous for their t-shirt designs that feature the mascots, ‘Da Boys’.
In this game, players get to control the said ‘Boys’ comprising of Joe Cool, Tiki Man, Kool Kat, and Thrilla Gorilla. They must lead them to three events, which consist of StreetSkate Session (skateboarding), Big Wave Encounter (surfing), and Wood and Water Rage (combination).
The Big Wave Encounter event features the characters Kool Kat and Thrilla Gorilla. The player’s objective is to surf the large waves successfully, while at the same time performing tricks to score points. In this event, the player is not battling against time. Instead, they must keep their character ahead of the wave and steer clear of any obstacles.
The Wood and Water Rage event, on the other hand, features both skateboarding and surfing alternatively wherein the players’ scores are carried over both sports. But although two players can play the game, it doesn’t have a co-op mode, which is a kind of a bummer, really.
#7: Surf Riders
The video game Surf Riders come in different names — it’s known in Japan as ‘Max Surfing 2000’, while in Europe, gamers call it ‘Gerry Lopez Surf Riders’.
Surf Riders was game endorsed by “The Pipemaster” Gerry Lopez. It was developed by KSS and Ubisoft from 1999 to 2000, and it was promoted as the first 3D surf simulator that can be played on PlayStation.
A lot of people find Surf Riders enjoyable and addicting; however, this game can be quite monotonous after some time. It also has a steep learning curve, so if you are not good with controllers, you may have a tough time learning the tricks. Once you get the hang of it, though, you’ll slowly adjust to its gameplay.
Surf Riders is one of the few surfing video games that don’t include obstacles like shark attacks and jellyfish stings. Players also have the option to choose where they want to surf. Some of the locations include Huntington Beach in California, Torami Beach in Japan, and Manly Beach in Australia.
The game features 16 professional surfers players can select from. They can also pick from any 15 licensed surfboards that consist of Local Motion, Town and Country, Natural Art, and Pearson Arrow… just to name a few.
Surf Riders follows the official rules of the WSL (World Surfing League), which is known during that time as ASP (Association of Surfing Professionals). Players in the circuit mode will be scored from 1 to 10 depending on the tricks they performed.
#8: Surf World Series
Surf World Series brings us to the modern version of arcade surfing video games. Unlike old versions in which everything’s outdated, Surf World Series features better graphics, animations, and weather effects. Thanks to this game’s 60fps quality, the characters’ movements are more fluid and the water motions are somehow closer to the real thing.
This game features the most beautiful surfing locations your character can surf to. There’s the Bells Beach in Australia, Waimea Bay in Hawaii, Jeffreys Bay in South Africa, Supertubos in Portugal, and Cacimbo do Padre in Brazil.
The Big Heat Battle mode features timed competitions against 15 other surfers. The players must be able to score the highest points performing extremely difficult tricks such as sushi roll and aerials. This mode could be tricky, but since the game’s controls are responsive, it doesn’t lag and it has zero delays in the player’s movements.
On the other hand, the survival mode will take you to the most extreme surfing conditions. In this mode, being wiped out means you’ll have to start at the beginning all over again.
Surf World Series was released in 2017 for Playstation 4, Xbox One, and Steam. It has three game options that can be played by 16 players, with one of them being your own, customized character. Meanwhile, the arcade mode allows you to rank in the leaderboard with its 45 single-player challenges.
#9: True Surf
Old video games require retro gaming consoles, but thanks to modern innovations, you can now play surfing games using your mobile phone — whenever, wherever you are.
The next game on this list is the official mobile game of the World Surfing League, True Surf. Like its name, this surfing video game also features realistic simulations of swells and tides. So if the swells are pumping in Pipeline, then it’ll also be like that on the game. If the waves are flat, then the game will show it just like that. It also has real-time weather conditions and the temperature of your favorite surfing spots according to Surfline’s forecast of the day.
This game can take you to 21 renowned surf breaks in the world. But to unlock these travel destinations you’ll have to pay for it — similar to how you’re gonna buy a ticket for a trip overseas.
As you go through levels 7 and 11, you’ll also be able to unlock upgraded surfboards and gears, but unfortunately, these also require your payment. The game is free, but overall, the additional costs for the upgrades can take you more or less a hundred dollars.
True Surf has a multiplayer mode that can be played by 6 players. And if you enter the WSL Championship Tour, you can get the chance to compete with players of True Surf from other parts of the globe.
#10: Surf’s Up
Finally, we have the surfing video game that was adapted from the hit film of the same title — Surf’s Up! This game was developed by Ubisoft for PC, and it was also the last one to be sold in the market in 2007.
Because of its colorful graphics and interesting characters, the players of Surf’s Up are often kids and groms. Like, who wouldn’t want to see penguins surfing and launching off ramps, right? Much better, this game also features the voices of pro-surfers Kelly Slater and Rob Machado.
The game features 10 levels, with each one consisting of 3 objectives that the player must accomplish so they can move on to the next. Surf’s Up gameplay is quite fast, so the player will also need to have good control of the controller when performing tricks and collecting trophies. Certain levels also require more focus because of obstacles like sharks and big waves coming from the player’s either side.
The players can choose from any of the movie’s 10 adorable characters. The game’s surf spots also include places from the movie itself, like the Gu Island, the Boneyards, and Shiverpool.
Surfing video games have come a long way ever since the first one was released in 1985. The significant improvement when it comes to the gameplay, simulation, and graphics are evident; however, that doesn’t mean that the new ones are better than the classics.
Retro games will forever hold a special place in the hearts of surfers. Among the bests include Sunny Garcia Surfing and Kelly Slater’s Pro Surfer because of their overall gaming experience that shows how fun surfing really is.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: Where can I play retro surfing games?
There are several websites online that offer old and classic games that can no longer be purchased in stores, or games that are not supported by modern consoles. Most of them are free and can be downloaded and played on your browser.
G’day, my name is Rach Taylor and I’m the proud Founder of Surf Hungry. I am a former Australian Olympic athlete and Australian representative surf sports athlete. I’ve worked in the surf industry and lived at many of Australia’s best surf spots, sparking a life-long love of the ocean and a passion for surf sports which also rubbed off on my two young sons! I am also lucky to spend a lot of ocean-time in my favorite second home, Indonesia. In addition to SurfHungry I have founded several other websites in my areas of passion, namely coffee and rock climbing, and am also a regular rowing content contributor.