The story follows surfers Jody Wallis (Fabian), Steamer Lane (Tab Hunter), and Chase Colton (Peter Brown), who come to Hawaii's Oahu Island to ride the world's biggest waves and compete against surfers from all over the world.
Steamer falls in love with Lily Kilua (Susan Hart), whose mother objects to the romance because she considers surfers to be "beach bums," since her husband—a surfer—left home and family to follow the surf circuit. Self-described college dropout and surf bum Jody falls for the demure Brie Matthews (Shelley Fabares), who challenges him to return to college. In the case of the relatively strait-laced Chase, he finds himself pursued by the adventurous Augie Poole (Barbara Eden).
The main story, though, is the challenge to surf the monster waves at Waimea Bay, and fit in among the champion surfers there such as Eskimo (James Mitchum). Despite conflicts, injuries and rocky romances, Wallis, Chase and Steamer prove themselves brave—or crazy—enough to try to be the last one to ride in the highest wave.
The soundtrack was composed by Stu Phillips - it was the third film score he had ever composed. Phillips also founded Colpix Records and produced hits for Nina Simone, The Skyliners and one of Ride the Wild Surf's stars, Shelley Fabares.
The title song was written by Jan Berry, Brian Wilson, and Roger Christian, and recorded by Jan & Dean becoming a Top 20 national hit, reaching Billboard's #16 spot.
Unlike most of the Hollywood beach movies – whose location was Southern California – Ride the Wild Surf was filmed in Hawaii in 1963 at a time when environmental conditions created exceptionally large waves. In November and December 1962, Waimea broke often. The jet stream had altered its course temporarily and huge west swell surfs became common all the way through the following February, which was when Columbia arrived to shoot the movie.
The Napoleons travelled to Hawaii in late 1963 and early 1964 to shoot surf footage. They then returned to Hollywood to write the script.
Jan and Dean both were scheduled to appear in the film, supporting Fabian, who had been borrowed by 20th Century Fox. Jan and Dean were pulled by Columbia after Dean’s friend, Barry Keenan, became involved in the kidnapping of Frank Sinatra, Jr. They were replaced by Tab Hunter and Peter Brown.
Susan Hart was cast after impressing Mike Frankovich of Hollywood in some TV appearances she had made; she dyed her hair black for her role. Hart was seen by James H. Nicholson of AIP in the film, which led to him signing her to that studio and later marrying her.
Fabian had never surfed before and spent three weeks learning. Australian Olympic swimming champion Murray Rose was given a small role.
The surfboards used in this film were by Phil of Downey, California - aka Phil Sauers, the maker of "Surfboards of the Stars." Sauers is portrayed in Ride the Wild Surf as a character, played by Mark LaBuse. Sauers was also the stunt coordinator for the film.
Art and Jo Napoleon shot the movie for three weeks. Then Columbia replaced them with Don Taylor. Taylor's mother died during the shoot so Phil Karlson returned for three days.
Surfers Mickey Dora, Greg Noll and Butch Van Artsdalen performed a large part of the surfing seen in the film.
Of the three surfer leads, raven-haired Peter Brown was made into a blonde by makeup artist Ben Lane (to match the hair of Brown’s surfing double – and to keep all three men from being brunets), which required his girlfriend, the blonde Barbara Eden, to have auburn hair; likewise the dark-haired Shelley Fabares – who is paired with the dark-haired Fabian, became a Scandinavian blonde. Susan Hart’s black hair was sufficiently different from her male counterpart Tab Hunter’s that no change was required.
The stunt surfers were given swim trunks that matched their movie star counterparts, except for star James Mitchum, who was instead given trunks that replicated his stunt double Greg Noll’s famous black & white "jailhouse stripe" boardshorts.
Although the film featured lots of music, it had only one song - the 1:07-long version of "Ride The Wild Surf". A 12-inch LP was released by Liberty Records in connection with the film. The cover, rendered in a Mondrian style collage, featured a photo of Jan & Dean accompanied by 11 photos from the film, with copy written to make it appear as though it was a soundtrack album: “Jan & Dean Sing the Original Soundtrack Recording of the Title Song from 'Ride the Wild Surf'.” The notes on the back cover featured an endorsement written by the film's star, Shelley Fabares. Of the 12 tracks on the LP, only one was from the film: a 2:13-long version of the title song.