Commies Don’t Surf: Unraveling the Meaning Behind It

If you've ever seen the iconic 1979 movie "Apocalypse Now," there's a good chance you've heard the famous adage, "Commies don't surf." Over the years, this peculiar and cryptic word has evolved into a cultural allusion used in a variety of circumstances. But what does it actually imply, and where did it come from? In this piece, we'll go into the significance of "Commies Don't Surf," examining its movie origins and the wider cultural connotations it holds.

"Apocalypse Now" and Lieutenant Colonel Kilgore

We must first examine "Apocalypse Now," the film that gave birth to this catchphrase, in order to comprehend the origins of the saying "Commies don't surf." Captain Benjamin Willard is sent on a mission to kill Colonel Kurtz, a rogue commander who has gone wild in the jungles of Cambodia, in Francis Ford Coppola's epic war movie, set during the Vietnam War.

Robert Duvall portrays Lieutenant Colonel Bill Kilgore in the movie admirably. Kilgore is a dynamic and fearless American Army commander who is in charge of a squad of men stationed at a beachhead in Vietnam. He is well renowned for his passion for surfing and is keen to catch a wave despite the conflict.

The "Charlie Don't Surf" Scene

Commies Don’t Surf

In a crucial moment from "Apocalypse Now," Kilgore directs an airstrike on a Viet Cong-held town close to the beach, giving birth to the phrase "Commies don't surf." Kilgore uses the opportunity to enjoy his passion for surfing while the helicopters fly above the village while playing Wagner's "Ride of the Valkyries."

He declares, "I love the smell of napalm in the morning," despite the mayhem. You may recall that once, we bombarded a hill for twelve hours. I approached once it was all finished. Not a single friggin' tiny body of them was discovered by us. You know the scent of petrol, right? Whole of the hill. smelled like... success. This war will eventually come to an end.

While a soldier remarks, "Hey, Lance, do you know that "Charlie" don't surf," Kilgore brazenly rides the waves. Sam Bottoms' character in the role of Lance, a surfer, responds, "Charlie, don't surf!"

Decoding the Meaning

During the Vietnam War, the adage "Commies don't surf" served as a symbol of the great cultural and ideological divide between American forces and the Viet Cong. In the middle of the pandemonium of war, Kilgore indulges in a leisurely activity like surfing, personifying the classic patriotic American soldier. The soldiers' disengagement from the seriousness of the circumstance and the absurdity of their participation in Vietnam are reflected in this juxtaposition.

Additionally, the phrase emphasizes the dehumanization of the adversary, known as "Charlie," in military jargon. It implies that the Viet Cong, or "Commies" (a slang term for communists), are so foreign and cut off from American society that they could not take pleasure in something so uniquely American as surfing.

The Legacy of "Commies Don't Surf" in Popular Culture

The distinctive delivery and stark contrast in "Commies Don't Surf" are the reasons for its ongoing popularity. The expression has gained popularity through time and is frequently used jokingly or humorously to make fun of instances in which there are cultural differences or misconceptions.

Beyond just being funny, the line has also crept into the political conversation. It represented the ideological conflict between the Soviet Union and the United States during the Cold War, further highlighting the perceived cultural gap between the two superpowers.

Surf's Up! The Phrase in Surfing Culture

Intriguingly, the expression "Commies don't surf" has spread to the surfing world, where it is occasionally amusingly employed to allude to Lieutenant Colonel Kilgore's boldness. The expression is a fun homage to the carefree nature of the surfing subculture since surfing contrasts rigorous political ideologies with its laid-back lifestyle and spirit of freedom.

Surfing: A Symbol of Freedom and Escape

In the movie "Apocalypse Now," surfing is shown as a way to escape the brutal reality of war. Through his love of surfing, Lieutenant Colonel Kilgore is able to escape the horrors of battle and find comfort in the embrace of the ocean. The surfboard is a representation of freedom that gives warriors a little reprieve from the horrors they are experiencing and a feeling of release.

"Commies don't surf" has a deeper significance in this situation. It raises the question of whether those engaged in combat on the other side—those whom the American soldiers have branded as "Commies"—also look for moments of solace or possess their own means of escaping the rigors of battle. It inspires us to acknowledge that despite differences in political ideas, all people desire peace and freedom.

Beyond "Apocalypse Now"

"Commies Don't Surf" was made famous by "Apocalypse Now," but its impact goes beyond the confines of the movie. The expression has gained popularity among a variety of subcultures, from surfers who use it to jokingly proclaim their love of riding waves to political zealots who use it to make light of ideological differences.

Even internet memes and social media have used the term in recent years, establishing its status as a modern-day pop culture allusion.

Surfing as a Unifying Force

Despite having its roots in a war film, the saying "Commies Don't Surf" has unintentionally come to represent the unifying nature of surfing. The emphasis on camaraderie, shared passion, and connection to nature within the surfing community transcends political and cultural barriers. On the waves, surfers from various backgrounds come together and forge friendships that transcend any limitations that might exist on land.

There are no "Commies" or "Americans" in the water; there are simply fellow surfers, bound by a love of the ocean and the delight of riding its waves, as this message of togetherness has reminded surfers all around the world.


"Commies don't surf" may have started as a memorable line in "Apocalypse Now," but its enduring legacy is a testament to its cultural significance. It reflects the specific context of the Vietnam War and Cold War era and the timeless themes of cultural divides, dehumanization of enemies, and the search for freedom and escape amidst conflict.

From a humorous catchphrase to a thought-provoking commentary on war and unity, "Commies don't surf" resonates with people across generations. It has seeped into various aspects of popular culture and the surfing community, reminding us that amidst the complexities of politics and ideology, the simple joy of catching a wave can bring people together, fostering bonds of friendship and understanding.

So, the next time you encounter the phrase "Commies don't surf," take a moment to appreciate its layers of meaning. Remember the iconic scene from "Apocalypse Now," but also reflect on its broader implications—both in the context of the past and in shaping the connections we make in the present. Surf's up, and the waves are waiting for us to embrace the spirit of unity and stroke that surfing brings to our lives.

Oliver Jones

Written by Oliver Jones

I'm a dedicated surfer and writer, and my heart truly belongs to the ocean. Surfing is not just a sport but a way of life for me. I ride the waves in the water and on paper, pouring my passion into every word I write.

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