These 23 Secrets About Point Break Are a Total State of Mind

The classic action thriller starring Patrick Swayze and Keanu Reeves as a surfing bank robber and the FBI agent trying to take him down came out 30 years ago. Let that wash over you and then dive in.

By Natalie Finn Jul 12, 2021 10:00 AMTags
Point Break 30th Anniversary, Keanu Reeves, Patrick SwayzeShutterstock; Getty Images; Melissa Herwitt/E! Illustration

Kathryn Bigelow always admired classic action films and the directors, from Sam Peckinpah to James Cameron, who made them, stories with "high impact" and "emotional involvement."

She also said in a 2009 interview with the Los Angeles Times, "I love B-movies...There is a wildly chaotic rawness to them. And they're not self-important."

Is there a better way to describe Point Break?!

The original 1991 classic is easily the most-watched, most-quoted and most revered-by-the-masses movie (no offense, Best Picture winner The Hurt Locker) in Bigelow's impressive body of work, thanks to what in hindsight was a fairly magical combination of casting, timing and genre, a heist flick half in the ocean, a true L.A. story. 

Starring the late, great Patrick Swayze as a wisdom-spouting charismatic surfer who moonlights as a ruthlessly efficient bank robber and Keanu Reeves as the FBI agent sent to take him down but who can't help but get swept up in a wave of conflicting emotions, Point Break was a modest hit upon arrival. But thanks to VCRs and endless cable repeats, it became nothing short of a cultural touchstone.

Patrick Swayze Movie Secrets

Asked on a Japanese talk show what the theme of the movie was, a then 25-year-old Reeves replied in his soon-to-be signature meditative fashion, "I guess it's the breakdown and restructuring of a man and a belief system, and also the discovery of himself."

Added Swayze, then 39, "It makes a statement about our society, in the United States, of giving up on yourself and becoming part of a system rather than staying an individual."

Watch: Keanu Reeves Almost Wasn't Keanu Reeves

Bigelow explained to The Guardian at the time, "It's a little more complicated when your good guy—your hero—is seduced by the darkness inside him and your villain is no villain whatsoever, he's more of an anti-hero."

And we took the task of breaking down the secrets of Point Break for you no less seriously. Prepare for the ultimate ride (but no need to pay the ultimate price):

1. Point Break was day-dreamed into being by filmmaker Rick King, who's credited with the story.

"Los Angeles at that time was sort of Bank Robbery Central, because you could rob a bank and then jump on the freeway," he recalled to Hidden Films in 2013. "So there was a huge bank robbing problem, which is of course an FBI thing. And then I was sitting on a beach in Malibu, learning how to surf, and I'd just gotten out of the water. And I thought, 'Surfers who rob banks. And a FBI agent that's a good athlete that goes undercover among those surfers.'

"It just made a lot of sense and everything just flowed from that. It wasn't that original an idea, there's only like 10 ideas. The guy undercover ends up liking the guys he's trying to bust more than who he's working for. I always thought of it as 'Tom Cruise Joins the FBI.'"

It was screenwriter W. Peter Iliff, however, who came up with the robbers wearing masks of former U.S. presidents during their heists, with Ronald Reagan as their ring-leader. Suck it, trickle-down economics!

2. Not that anything happened right away. First Ridley Scott was attached to direct, but when he pulled out, King explained, "It languished for two or three years, and then James Cameron loved the script and wanted to sponsor Kathryn Bigelow, who was either his wife or girlfriend back then."

Bigelow and Cameron married in 1989 and his first-ever executive-producer credit is Point Break—which came out nine days after the July 3 holiday weekend release of his Terminator 2: Judgment Day, the top-grossing movie, domestically, of 1991.

Talking to the LA Times that July, Cameron called being married to a fellow filmmaker "a very good thing. I had to look at every foot of her dailies on Point Break and she had to look at every foot of mine on Terminator 2. It was interesting. We see things the same way a lot, and differently a lot, which is nice. Because you can learn from that." The future Oscar-winner for Titanic said that Bigelow was "always a great director" who had finally realized that she was as good as he was.

"Probably better," Cameron added. "I think she's better because she really knows how to make it come from the characters, and that's what she fights for above all. And she's a nicer person."

They divorced barely four months later and Cameron moved in with T2 star Linda Hamilton (later Mrs. Cameron No. 4 from 1997 until 1999). Fast-forward to 2009 and Bigelow bested her ex in the Best Director Oscar race with The Hurt Locker over his Avatar. (When he won the Golden Globe, though, he did say on stage that he was surprised because he was sure Kathryn was going to get it.)

3. Though it boggles the mind now, 20th Century Fox wanted a bigger star than Keanu Reeves to play college football star turned rogue FBI agent Johnny Utah.

Johnny Depp was in consideration, along with a who's who of the era that included Matthew Broderick, Willem Dafoe (only 35 at the time), Val Kilmer and Charlie Sheen. Bigelow, however, insisted on Reeves—who when Point Break came out was primarily known for Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure. "I don't want to be super famous, man," the future mega-movie star told the Los Angeles Times in the summer of 1991, with Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey and My Own Private Idaho about to be released that year as well. "That would be awful."

4. Michael Biehn, who'd starred in Cameron's smash hits The Terminator and Alienstold Den of Geek in 2011 that he regretted turning down the role that went to Lance Henrikson in Bigelow's 1987 vampire movie Near Dark because he found the nonlinear script confusing.

"Again, it was a mistake that I made, because I would've loved to have worked with Kathryn, because she went on to do the movie with Patrick Swayze and Keanu, and there was a call that was made to me about the Patrick Swayze role in that, also," Biehn recalled. But he just didn't know what he was missing when he passed on Near Dark.

"But there have been other, dumber, things that I've done as far as turning down roles, but that was one that I actually did get an offer on, and I probably should've done it," he concluded.

5. Point Break was a reunion for Reeves and Swayze, who previously starred in the 1986 hockey drama Youngblood, featuring Reeves' first big-screen appearance as the goofy goalie Heaver.

6. He had to start building his action-hero repertoire somewhere: Reeves learned to surf, skydive, fight and handle guns for this film.

7. Swayze merrily jumped out of an airplane dozens of times to get ready for Bodhi's "100 percent pure adrenaline" skydiving scene—despite pleas to get him to stop for insurance purposes.

"I think he had over 30 jumps during the course of filming and so the production served him with a cease and desist, which he listened to until they got to Hawaii," Reeves recalled in 2009 following Swayze's untimely death from pancreatic cancer at the age of 57.

The actor nailed the pivotal shot—"Adios, amigo!"—in one take, and "he did the flips and falling to the ground and he did it with an open heart," Reeves said. "He was a beautiful person, an artist. Patrick, he just wanted to experience life and for his work he wanted to take the opportunity of the film and it gave him that sense."

In a behind-the-scenes featurette, Swayze admitted, "In a way, the reason I wanted to do this role was an opportunity for me to sort out my adrenaline-junkie side."

8. That being said, while the shot of Bodhi diving out of the plane was as real as it gets, the mid-air close-ups came courtesy of a special contraption in which the actors were strapped into individual cranes that allowed them to hover not so many feet off the ground.

"The secret was to also float the camera," stunt coordinator and second unit director Glenn R. Wilder said in the 2006 documentary Point Break: It's Make or Break, "so we could turn and oscillate, and it worked out very well."

Moreover, the bromantic "Do it, you're gonna die, Johnny!" moment between Bodhi and Utah couldn't have happened any other way. As Swayze noted, "You can't talk and free-fall. You got 120-to-200-mile-an-hour winds, which is nothing but a giant roar. So there is a little bit of poetic license taken with us having the conversation."

9. Swayze, a professional dancer (duh), gymnast and all-around accomplished athlete, also learned to surf and rode as many waves on camera as he could, cracking four ribs in the process.

"Surfing's a pretty humbling experience," he admitted in a 1991 interview.

Swayze recalled, "They were scared about us jumping out of airplanes. They shouldn't have been, skydiving has become one of the safest sports around. Once I saw skydiving as ballet in the air, or as gymnastics, it all came pretty easy to me. The surfing was like pulling teeth, though, it was not easy to master. It's a sport that'll take you your whole life to [get], but I loved it." He reiterated as much 15 years later, saying, "I never came close to dying once [while skydiving], but they never said one word about me getting my brains pounded in by the biggest surf on this planet. And I almost died six to 10 times, I thought I was outta here."

10. One of Bodhi's custom-designed Spyder brand surfboards, used in the impromptu night-surfing scene, sold for $64,000 at a movie memorabilia auction in 2017. In addition to boasting an inscription on the bottom with the designer's name, reading "Dennis Jarvis, California, 02635, for Patrick Swayze," there was a 15-inch-long, 1.5-inch-wide channel carved into the board to accommodate the actor's "unusually pronounced sternum."

11. Big-wave master Darrick Doerner took on the 50-Year Storm at the end as Swayze's double. He recalled to Wavelength in 2020, "They came over here to Hawaii for a screening, and Patrick Swayze called me and said, 'I need you to die for me.' I said, 'I don't die for anybody, man.' He's like, 'No, come on, I really need you to die for me.'"

Doerner shared, "I was really into the script for Point Break. All the violence, the surfing, the whole plot just really appealed to me; I thought it was a great project with really great people working on it. But when it came to my stunt work, there was no storyboard, no plan, no contract. The worst part was that I had no representation, which was a big mistake. That was like a fifty thousand dollar stunt, and I got nothing for doing it."

Well, not nothing.

"I've still got the Guinness World Record for that here in my house," he said, "the biggest wave ever bodysurfed."

12. The 50-Year Storm didn't roll in at Bells Beach in Victoria, Australia. Rather, Bodhi caught his last wave in Hawaii.

There was no CGI: Not the waves, not the solitary rider in the water, not the rain, not anything. Oahu's Waimea Bay, widely considered the birth place of big-wave surfing, was home to the largest breaks in the world at the time and, according to It's Make or Break, the crew was basically lucky to be there on the days the waves broke—for the first time in almost two years—in 1990.

They had to keep other surfers at bay while they blocked the shot, and Doerner's pal Laird Hamilton—who had a cameo in and was an advisor on the 2015 remake—helped clear the water for him.

"We get out there and let a set go to clear out the lineup," Doerner told Wavelength. "The next one comes and Laird yells, 'Stop!' at the whole lineup. Everyone leaves it alone, I get a wave, rode it and kicked out to get a complete ride, as planned." 

A few waves later, for Bodhi's forever-wipeout, "I paddle into the wave on my board, get to my feet, then jump off down into it, out of the lip. I skip and bounce pretty hard two or three times on the face, just flying, and then I start bodysurfing right down a pretty good sized Waimea set wave."

"The whitewater is next to me," he continued, "and I'm right in the bowl and I'm all, 'This would be a good time to turn right…' So I kinda lean mid face and bodysurf into this huge tube. I can see all the traffic on the Kam Highway through the tube, just a crazy vision. I can clearly remember the view looking out from inside that tube."

13. Bodhi and Utah's fight in the rain that precedes that memorable denouement was reshot six months later, in Oregon. No matter that Reeves' hair was longer and Swayze's was shorter for other projects—Bodhi had been on the run for awhile, so the slight change in their appearances made sense.

14. The film's original title was Johnny Utah, simply named after Reeves' character, à la John Wick or Johnny Mnemonic. Riders on the Storm, like The Doors song, was also floated as a possibility before they eventually arrived at Point Break—which in surfing terminology refers to the spot where surf crashes on land that juts out from the shoreline, creating the longest waves.

(Incidentally, Bells Beach is known for its beach break, which involves waves breaking over a sandy bottom, either against a sandbar or the shoreline—a.k.a. the beach).

15. Nathanial (a.k.a. Ex-President Jimmy Carter) was played by surfer and board glasser John Philbin, who later taught Kate Bosworth how to surf for Blue Crush.

16. Rest assured, Reeves is not kicking a real animal in the scene where Bodhi heaves a snarling pit bull at Utah to slow him down during a foot chase—though the idea of the future John Wick mistreating any dog, real or fake, is just bonkers. According to American Humane, a trainer lightly tossed a dog that had been prepared for the stunt toward Reeves from barely a foot away, the ground underneath them padded just in case. He caught it without incident, then the edit cuts to him casting off a fake dog.

17. When Point Break ended up doing well, earning $83.5 million worldwide, there was naturally talk of a sequel (which to have any chance at being successful would have required both Reeves and Swayze to return, thereby rendering the end of the first film pointless), but it was short-lived.

There was instead a remake in 2015, starring Luke Bracey and Edgar Ramírez as... yawn, what were we talking about again?

Actually, fun fact, James Le Gros and BoJesse Christopher, who played robbers Roach/Nixon and Grommet/LBJ in the original, had cameos as FBI agents in the remake.

18. Lori Petty played Tyler, the cool-girl surfer who plucks novice Utah from the ocean after a wipeout and both falls for him and unwittingly gives him entrée into Bodhi's inner circle. Nice work if you can get it. She told Details in 1991 that Reeves was "a very good kisser." And also "obviously very, very gifted [at acting]. It's something you can't learn. He's definitely blessed, and he works very hard… and he's a good kisser. That's all you need: God's blessing, and lips."

19. Perhaps the biggest takeaway from Point Break? That Kathryn Bigelow is a badass behind the camera.

Hollywood not exactly overrun at the time with women making action movies, an interviewer asked Reeves in 1991 what it was like, or if there was anything different about, being directed by a woman. Reeves said that he totally dug how Bigelow rolled. "I've worked with women directors," he said, "it's just human, you know, just humankind."

In another behind-the-scenes interview, he described her as "almost like a female Utah in a sense, motivated and willful and wants it to happen."

Reflecting on the experience in It's Make or Break, Swayze observed, "Women often times do macho guy movies a lot better than guys do 'cause they have the ability to stand back. And when they don't pass judgment and bring a deeper level of truth to it, wonderful things can happen." So agreed Gary Busey, Utah's partner Angelo Pappas, who said, "They're better with details, women are, they just have that over men. That's just the way it is."

Guy after guy sang her praises. Petty, too, "had a blast, from the beginning to the end of movie." But, she also said, "People think [the movie's] softer because of Kathryn because she's a female, and that's not the truth at all. She was so in love with action. There was a scene with me and Keanu, we were just supposed to be kissing on the beach, she was like, 'Oh god, whatever, just get on with it!'...She loves action a lot more than just being still."

Bigelow made it "infinitely more interesting," John C. McGinley, who played FBI boss Harp, recalled. "She made a foot chase as exciting as a car chase."

20. Speaking of which, when Johnny takes off after a Reagan-mask-wearing Bodhi on foot (a pogo cam following their every move, front and back, for that visceral "they're really running" effect), that was all Swayze's stunt double, Scott Wilder, while the actor was actually thousands of miles away doing press in Europe for Ghost. "He was an amazing athlete so to be able to perform at his level, I had to have it together," Wilder said.

Stunt double Pat Banta also took over when it was time for Utah to go smashing through the window during the botched raid on the wrong band of criminal surfers.

21. Bigelow wanted the actors to be in as many fight scene frames as possible, so stunt coordinator Glenn Wilder held fight training sessions for the actors on weekends, "from the ground up," he explained. "How to move, why you're doing it, what's happening, where's the camera. And I said, if you don't come and practice, I can't use you. And they all pitched in and worked very hard—except for one. Anthony of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, I guess he was [busy] singing around and everything else. So of course, the first punch, he was out, and he didn't like that at all. But from then on, I had no trouble with him and he was out there working with us all the time."

That's Chili Peppers frontman and L.A. transplant Anthony Kiedis as Tone, one of the many surprisingly violent local surfers who tangle with the wrong undercover FBI agent and his new friend who happens to fight like the bouncer in Road House.

22. Swayze turned out to be quite the instinctual actor—which caught the critical eye of the director's husband. "The thing that I observed from afar is that Patrick as an actor had much less respect for the script than most other actors I worked with, which at first I resented," admitted Cameron in a 1990 Q&A. "In the long run, I think it annealed what was good about the script, because he challenged everything."

Added Bigelow, "It was his method of territorializing the character. It was like an exorcism. And in his case, that was exactly what attracted him to the material."

23. Ten years after the beloved film about surfing bank robbers, why not a movie about illegal-street-racing thieves?! The Fast and the Furious—also inspired by a magazine article—found a road map in Point Break, from the hot undercover member of law enforcement who gets drawn into a very particular scene thanks to a charismatic ring leader and a pretty girl and ends up conflicted to the familial bond among close-knit criminals.

In addition to the overall plot parallels, TFATF sweetly winked at its predecessor: Vin Diesel's Dom Toretto and Paul Walker's Brian O'Conner, despite not living remotely close by, eat lunch at Neptune's Net in Malibu, the real-life seafood shack where Tyler is a waitress in Point BreakAnd, we refuse to think this is a coincidence: There's major Corona beer placement early on in Point Break when Pappas is showing Utah all the clues he's compiled about the Ex-Presidents. TFATF just took it—and everything else—to the next level.

But it all started on the beach in Malibu.

"You know, all of the time I run into people who are like, 'Point Break!'" Reeves said in a live conversation at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2017. "And I'm like, 'Yeah, it's great,' you know." The audience laughed. "And they're like, 'Yeah, yeah, yeah, but that's not what I meant!' And I'm like, 'OK, well, what do you mean?'"

They'd tell him, "'I started jumping out of airplanes because of Point Break, I started surfing because of Point Break.' It really changed people's lives, you know. Just like it did mine."