With the sad passing of Bruce Brown, Sam Bleakley takes a look at his timeless masterpiece which was 50 this year.
Photos © Bruce Brown Films, LLC.
In 1963 director Bruce Brown and Californian surfers Mike Hynson (a stylish slick-haired blond regularfooter who was dodging the draft) and Robert August (a nimble dark-haired goofyfooter who had just graduated from high-school) set out on a three months long around the world trip in “search for the perfect wave” through Senegal, Ghana, Nigeria, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Tahiti, Hawaii and California. Brown was already an accomplished filmmaker, using his Dale Velzy funded 16-mm camera to shoot Slippery When Wet (1958), cut to a cool Bud Shank jazz soundtrack. This was followed by Surf Crazy (1959), Barefoot Adventure (1960), Surfing Hollow Days (1961), featuring Phil Edwards and the first rides at Pipeline, and Waterlogged (1963). Crowds were now thick in southern California and travel was the antidote. Brown wanted to go to South Africa, but it turned out $50 less to fly around the world. The Endless Summer was born, and Brown decided he would take the first two surfers who could finance their flights. Preparing for their trip in front of a winter fire, August and Hynson read up on malaria cures and shark attacks. The mix of comedy and pre-travel jitters lured me in immediately. They arrive at LA airport for the flight to Dakar with their heavy-weight nine-footers wearing suits and ties. That’s how you travelled then. Air flights were like going out to a fancy restaurant. For me, the Africa leg is the highlight. They score in Senegal and Nigeria (in waters long-since polluted). In Ghana they try to explain to the taxi driver that they want to tie the boards to the roof. “The driver kept muttering something that must have meant airplane wings go in the trunk,” narrated Brown, as they drive through Accra, logs sticking out the back. At Labadie beach the film really comes alive as they give lessons to crowds of local kids.
In the grip of the Cold War, 1960s world leaders could have learned a lot from this social icebreaker. No politics or false diplomacy, just the universal language of laughter and shared skill. The older locals proved to be exceptional waterman, showing great promise as surfers. In the edit, Brown claimed that the whole fishing community was so enthralled that they chanted, “Hang ten! Hang ten! Hang ten!” as if it would be the ultimate objective in their lives. Of course the film is riddled with imperialistic problems, but August attributes the success of The Endless Summer to its avoidance of politics. J F Kennedy was shot while they were travelling, and with the Vietnam War escalating, the happy-go-lucky themes provided audiences with pure escapism in anxious times.
The ‘discovery’ of “the perfect wave” at Cape St Francis is the stuff of legend (and some crafty editing). Like millions I have been inspired by the Lawrence of Arabia romance of the surfers trekking over the sand dunes. “On Mike’s first ride, he knew he’d finally found that perfect wave,” narrated Brown. Hynson was up early that morning, smoking cigarettes (he recalls them being joints, but the others are adamant that no marijuana was smoked on the Africa leg), waiting for the rest of the crew to awake, crammed in a van with just two seats. The driver, Terence Bullen, captured animals for zoos and liked to toss snakes in the wagon. Hynson was already agitated with August and Brown, but admitted it was way better than facing the Vietnam draft. He was the first out. “As soon as I hit the water…it was so magical,” recalled Hynson. He took the third wave of the next set. “And I kept going and going. I was just standing there. And then I realised I’d better kick out of this wave – I’m going to need a taxi to come back.” They surfed for just 45 minutes (the sea was pretty chilly), exhausted from the number of rides. August was sick with excitement. Later, Brown filmed them charging across nearby dunes, inferring that was how you accessed the spot.
Inspired by The Endless Summer we all pine for travel. For me, while exploration is the essence of surfing, you have to take surfing beyond the wave, to a wider sense of place, to people, and often to culture shock. Once in this more receptive, open-mindset, a magic session will come when you least expect it. It will carve an unforgettable smile on your face, keeping your fires stoked until another brilliant sunset tips whole into the horizon, and you are the only one left surfing under a rising moon, still stoked, already planning the dawn patrol. But, beyond the wave, you will also stand on spectacular desert dunes that rumble like thunder as they shift underfoot; you will paddle through murky rivermouths; you will be ravaged by mosquitoes; and you will drive through war-torn border patrols unsure as to whether or not you have the right papers, already planning the weight of the bribe. But this scenario is, of course, relative. It is relative to your level of ability and experience in the first instance, but also relative to the opportunities you might generate for travel. You don’t have to trek half way around the globe to relive the adventure of The Endless Summer. Your endless summer might be right on your doorstep in the middle of winter. Go look.
In celebration of this anniversary, Bruce Brown had created created an epic collectors item, limited edition, signed art book. Written by Dana Brown and including stories from key players seen in the film; this book is any surf fans dream. The “clam shell” collection contains remastered DVD of The Endless Summer
• A 35mm film ‘strip’ with five frames from the film, each book has its own unique film ‘strip’.
• Three drawings showing design progression of the final iconic poster.
• Two catalog envelopes with copies of invoices, airline tickets, sales receipts, and other memorabilia from the trip.
• A commemorative medallion that will be embedded in the clamshell.
• Numbered and signed Certificate of Authenticity from ‘key’ principals in the film poster design.
For more info: endlesssummerbooks.com