How Keanu Reeves Learned The Surfer 'Life-Style' In The Lead-Up To Point Break

There are a number of professions that sound like the perfect job. Spending your days teaching actors to surf on Hermosa Beach sounds like a pretty enviable gig for those that have grown a little tired of hustling at their 9 to 5 dead-end job. For actor and surfboard builder Dennis Jarvis, it was a reality back in 1991 when he taught Keanu Reeves, Lori Petty, and Patrick Swayze how to look convincing out on the ocean while filming Kathryn Bigelow's action classic "Point Break." 

The self-proclaimed "surf doctor of Hollywood" had two months to whip all three actors into surf shape. Special attention had to be paid to Petty and Swayze, in particular. Petty's character, Tyler, teaches Reeves' undercover FBI agent how to catch a wave early on in the film. And, of course, Swayze had to appear like he was the legendary local surfer and spiritual guru, Bodhi. 

For Reeves, it was okay for him to look like a novice since Johnny Utah was learning the Zen of it all in real-time, with a bum knee from his football days to boot. Before Reeves was molded into a bonafide action star, he was mostly known for playing a clueless time-traveling stoner in "Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure." Sure, Reeves was completely miscast in "Dangerous Liaisons" and should probably never appear in a period piece again, but he was absolutely perfect for "Point Break." Known now for his incredible dedication to stunt work, his deftness for action choreography, and his penchant for spectacular displays of gun-fu, learning how to surf still may be one of the hardest things Reeves has ever learned how to do. 

Reeves had a 'stinkbug' surfing style

From the sound of it, teaching Reeves, Petty, and Swayze how to surf was a total blast. "It was like a big surf party every day," Jarvis told Entertainment Weekly back in 1991. "The cast would report to my house in Hermosa Beach at the crack of dawn to try to absorb the soulful life-style [sic] of a surfer." Each actor had different comfort levels in the water, even though they were all learning for the first time together. "They were basically all beginners," according to Jarvis. "Patrick said he'd been on a board a couple of times, Keanu definitely hadn't surfed before, and Lori had never been in the ocean in her life." 

Reeves had an ugly but stable "stinkbug" style — a term used to describe a crouched and splay-limbed surfing posture. The "stinkbug" look is a sure sign of a beginner that shouldn't be competing for the same waves as more accomplished and generally more radical hardcore locals that will cut your surf leash without thinking twice. 

Usually, an actor will exaggerate the level of their skills on their resumé, but it's usually something like lying about being able to ride a horse. For "Point Break," Bigelow entrusted the actors with doing as many of their own stunts as possible, a choice that gave a new intensity to the action scenes. The surfing scenes are magical, but most fans remember Swayze and Reeves jumping out of a plane without a parachute

Dennis Jarvis still builds surfboards today, and even gave Reeves one of his custom-made Spyder boards after the original shoot. Reeves has said the experience of learning how to surf changed his life. If you ever happen to see him out on the water, check to see if his stance has gotten any better over the years.