The Ultimate Lost Surf Film Footage Comes to Light at HIFF’s Screening of “Lost and Found: The Film Archives of Greg Noll”

A single screening November 9 at 11:30 a.m., followed by a Q&A with Noll, should be a highlight of the festival—for surfers and also those who can’t get enough of vintage Hawai‘i in the early 1950s.


Greg Noll was one of the trailblazer big wave surfers in the 1950s—known as Da Bull for how recklessly he charged and his physique. He still has a reputation as outsize as his trademark black-and-white horizontally striped swim trunks, which appeared in what is perhaps the most iconic surf photo of all time. 


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greg noll
Photos: Courtesy of HIFF


But his legend only grew when he abruptly left the surfing scene and seemed to vanish. Only in recent years has his story surfaced—he became a commercial fisherman in Northern California and raised a family—stunning the world aquatic with reports that all that time during the 1950s he’d been shooting film with a 16-mm camera. Lost and Found: The Film Archives of Greg Noll is the story of how directors Grant Washburn and Jay Johnson tracked down Noll, met his family, went fishing with Noll at the helm of his boat and, only then, were allowed to touch the dozens of unopened reels of pristine, never-screened film. 


Greg Noll


The film screening at 11:30 a.m. on Saturday is a 38-minute short version intended to spark fundraising to finish a complete film (and maybe several). It opens with Noll and his friends discovering the humble undeveloped splendor of Hawai‘i in the 1950s, roughing it, making their own wooden boards, goofing around. From there it dips back and forth in time from the present-day search and discovery and the glorious color footage, intercut with Noll’s gruff but endearing presence and quick-witted stories. Never less than gorgeous to look at, the film is not just lost history brought to light but a portrait of someone who has lived an honorable life avoiding the fame that could be his. Noll now looks utterly pleased to be enjoying this late turn in the spotlight; it’s hard for a viewer not to join with his wife and grown son beaming over the result of his labor of love, 50 years later. 


Read more stories by Don Wallace