Big Z faked his death and assumed a new identity as the Geek. This is a tribute to James Woods's previous film, the gangster classic Once Upon a Time in America (1984), where the same thing happened with Woods's character.
All the actors got to record in the same room together, which is unusual for an animated movie. However, due to scheduling conflicts, Jeff Bridges and James Woods never got to record their voices together.
The layout department set up a special motion-capture camera system on an old Sony video camera to give the illusion that the movie was actually being made with a real hand-held video camera, and thus enhance the documentary atmosphere in the film.
Some performers handled real props while recording their lines: Zooey Deschanel carried a sandbag to simulate Lani's squid, and James Woods really did throw things at the filmmakers when his character did the same.
In a pictorial montage early on, where Cody is explaining the history of surfing and surf culture, one of the pictures featured is the 18th-century Japanese woodblock printer Katsushika Hokusai's "Great Wave off Kanagawa" reworked so a penguin is seen surfing off the wave's lip.
Originally SPEN was to have on-screen announcers appear as a walrus named Chunk and a seal named Rock, but were replaced when Kelly Slater and Rob Machado signed on. However, the characters can still be found in the various Surf's Up video games, with Sal Masekela making an on-screen appearance in Chunk's guise.
The character Big Z is based on pioneer surfer Greg Noll. Noll is known for having surfed particularly imposing waves from the late 1950s to the late 1960s, but he chose to end his career shortly after trying to surf the largest wave ever attempted.
Reggie Belafonte was inspired by Bill Sharp, the promoter of the Billabong XXL Global Big Wave Awards. Sharp is known for his spiked-up hairstyles and frequent media appearances on TV and in surfing documentary films such as Billabong Odyssey (2003).
When Cody washes up on the beach while Z is training him, Z laughs and says "Wipeout." This is an homage to the beginning of the song "Wipeout" by The Surfaris, where a similar laugh and the word "wipeout" begins the song.
Cody's last name is Maverick. Mavericks California is known around the world to big wave surfers, the waves most of the time average highs of 25 feet and at the highest, waves of 60 feet. The events are held annually during the winter months, usually November through March, depending on how favorable the weather conditions are for competition. Kelly Slater has competed in Mavericks, he has a small role in this film.
The trivia item below may give away important plot points.
Originally, there were interviews with two of Z's old girlfriends, Doris and Sheila (voiced by Mindy Sterling and Jane Krakowski, respectively). They were cut to keep the focus of the film on Cody. Doris and Sheila do appear in the movie, when Z appears on the beach near the end.