Charlie Don't Surf
The phrase “Charlie don't surf” is a quote from the movie "Apocalypse Now", which technically means that Vietnamese don’t surf. Although, the deeper meaning is that is symbolizes the U.S. victory in the Vietnam War and that the victor can do whatever they want on the defeated enemies homeland, which in this case is to go surf their waves!
Understandably, this still might not make sense to you. That is because to fully understand this phrase, you need to know the context and back-story.
Continue reading below as we paint the whole picture behind this famous movie quote and it impact on the surf culture.
Important Back-Story To Know
The film featuring an all-star cast including Martin Sheen and Marlon Brando is about Sheen's character chasing Brando's character throughout Vietnam.
Brando's character supposedly went mad during the Vietnam war.
During the Vietnam war when US intelligence officers would talk on the radio about the Viet Cong and Vietnamese, they would use the code letter "VC."
Over the radio, so they could be understood, VC was spelled out as Victor Charlie.
If the officers were talking about both the Vietnamese and the Viet Cong, they would simply say Charlie.
Both Charlie and Victor Charlie became popular phrases in US culture.
Of course, they did not go on to mean talk of the Viet Cong and the Vietnamese.
Surfing During Wartime
During the movie, Sheen's character meets up with a man named Lance B. Johnson, played by Sam Bottoms. Johnson is a gunner's mate. He also enjoys the sport of surfing. Johnson will surf during the Vietnam war during the Apocalypse Now film.
Sheen's character, Captain Willard, and Johnson meet up with a man named William "Bill" Kilgore, played by Robert Duvall. Kilgore is a Lieutenant Colonel. Kilgore is another surf fanatic. From the time they meet, Captain Willard, Johnson, and Kilgore form a surfing fanatics club. The surf club has many memories along the beaches of Vietnam. The beach the trio enjoys surfing on is known as Charlie beach.
The trio prepared for an ambush during the scene. During the scene, Kilgore instructed a subordinate to get the 8'6" Yater surfboard. The subordinate was objecting because it was pretty harried in the area--it was "Charlie's Point." That would mean the beach may have been filled with Charlie and Victor Charlie. The military code word for the Viet Cong and Vietnamese.
The famous line from Apocalypse Now film comes during this scene. Kilgore promptly tells his subordinate that "Charlie Don't Surf." The subordinate is expected to retrieve the board. Duvall's character will surf during the scene. He is shown surfing the waves of the beach.
Yet, in another scene from the film, a helicopter is seen destroying a Victor Charlie village. Kilgore orders Johnson and his men to surf waves during this scene. The Apocalypse Now movie is one of the most popular surf movies of all time. It is also popular because of the references to the war.
These surfing scenes were not filmed in Vietnam. It was not considered a safe place to surf then. The surfing scenes were filmed on location. The surfing scenes are some essential scenes in the Apocalypse Now movie. The sport of surfing became more popular after Apocalypse Now.
The surf scenes were in reality filmed at Baler Beach. It is in the Philippines. Some surfboards were left behind after filming. Local children took ownership of these surfboards and learned to surf. The children in the Philippines and around the world began surfing regularly.
Now that Apocalypse Now is a cult classic film, the area that is known as Charlie's Point in the movie is a tourist attraction.
What Was the Inspiration Behind the Famous Movie Quote?
John Milius, who wrote Apocalypse Now, was inspired by the famous quote "Charlie Don't Surf" by the former Prime Minister of Isreal. Ariel Sharone, in 1967 commented "Charlie Don't Surf" during the 6-Day war.
It is said after winning a battle, Sharone and his crew took to spearfishing.
They caught some fish. After catching it and frying it, Sharone lifted a piece and told his crew, "We are eating their fish."
In a sense, Sharone was indicating that they won the war and now could eat the fish of the one-time enemy.
When Milius wrote the screenplay for Apocalypse Now, he wanted to have that same message portrayed to the audience.
He came up with the line "Charlie Don't Surf."
Milius wanted the actors in the movie to understand the concept of the hippie era. He took one of them, Duvall, to Malibu. The field trip was for Duvall to have a clear understanding of the era and how the west played an essential role in shaping the Vietnam War.
Duvall developed the concept of how the hippie era controlled the Vietnam War in the US. During the filming, Duvall had a firm grasp of the language for the surfer.
The Surf-Inspired War Film Would Inspire Many Generations
The surf movie, Apocalypse Now inspired a generation to surf. The next generation who watched Apocalypse Now also began to surf because of the movie.
Charlie Don't Surf can be heard in other films and songs. Charlie Don't Surf from the Apocalypse Now movie became just as popular as the sport of surf.
The beach the surf scenes were filmed at became a popular spot to surf for locals and tourists. Charlie is not anywhere on the beaches where the movie was filmed.