Bruce Brown – Director of ‘The Endless Summer’ – Passes

by on December 13, 2017 · 2 comments

in Ocean Beach

Bruce Brown, the director and producer of the surf icon “The Endless Summer”, passed this week.

I saw the film before it even had a sound track, and while hundreds of us young surfer dudes sat entranced inside the auditorium of a Pacific Beach public school, Bruce Brown himself did the narration with a microphone. It was about 1964 – ’65.

Phil Hoad, of The Guardian, took one of the last interviews Brown gave before his death, and in it he talks about chasing summer and surf around the globe, turning a $50,000 gamble into a $33m cult classic.

Bruce Brown

The first Hollywood movies about surfing like Gidget and Beach Blanket Bingo gave the sport a bad rep. They made us out to be a bunch of idiots having food fights. We wanted to show how it really was: a legitimate sport. In 1955, while I was doing military service in Hawaii, I started filming my buddies on the waves. By the early 60s, my surf films were giving me a regular income, and I decided to take more time over one.

The endless summer was a kind of pipe dream – the idea that you could travel around the world and always stay in the middle of summer. We started out in November 1963. Originally, we were going to go only to South Africa, but tickets to go around the world turned out to be $50 cheaper. Mike Hynson and Robert August had been in my previous films, but the main thing was they were able to take off for three months and pay $1,400 for their own tickets.

We started looking at the map of countries like Senegal, Ghana and Nigeria, going: “There’s an ocean there, so maybe we can find some surf.” We worked out a schedule so that we would miss connecting flights and purposefully had to stop over. We were hoping to get the airline to pay for our accommodation that way, but they never did. The movie ending up costing $50,000, paid out of my own pocket. It was guerrilla film-making. Often, there wasn’t much time to do anything other than sit up real quick and grab a shot.

I probably showed the film live 100 times, improvising my narration, seeing what worked for the final soundtrack. Some Hollywood people, like Steve McQueen, loved the film, but no studio wanted to distribute it. We blew it up to 35mm and rented a theatre in New York. We got a lot of publicity, because surfing films were unheard of in the Big Apple. It ran for a year, so we started getting phone calls from distributors. Most of them wanted to change things, like putting women on the poster. But Don Rugoff, from Cinema 5, said: “We like it just the way it is.”

It ended up making $33m worldwide. It caught people the right way. It was a couple of young guys taking off around the world on blind faith with a mission to find some waves. Even if they didn’t start surfing, it told people to follow their dream.

Mike Hynson, surfer

In late 63, I was running from the Vietnam war draft. When The Endless Summer came up, I was like: “I’m outta here, man.” We were all little rascals in Pacific Beach, San Diego, always trying to cut corners. Hobie Alter, a boardshaper I was working for, gave me $1,400 for the airline ticket, even though I’d stolen nine surfboards off him a few years earlier. I didn’t tell my mother I’d be gone for three or four months.

I was stoked going to all these exotic places. Everywhere we stopped was really interesting. Senegal was radical. They were using wooden planks to bellyboard around in the waves, so when they saw Robert and me surfing upright, they were overwhelmed. But we didn’t have time to socialise with anyone there because we were taking hopscotch flights to get to South Africa.

‘We faked the hitch-hiking’ … Brown and Hynson during filming of The Endless Summer. Photograph: Second Sight
We faked the hitch-hiking, but we did travel across land to Durban. Our differences were starting to come out by then. Bruce wasn’t really a surfer; he’s a camera guy. I never let him tell me what to do. I was smoking pot and taking bennies, so I would ramble on a bit; Robert had diarrhoea for a couple of days, so I was glad to escape from the back of the truck. We stopped at Cape St Francis, where I knew there was seven miles of undiscovered surf there. I got up to check it out at 5am, but there was nothing.

By 9am, the tide had come in, and the further I walked into this cove the better the waves got. Every set was perfect. I wasn’t keen to paddle out by myself, with all the sharks, but I thought, fuck it. I took the third wave of the set, and just rode and rode and rode. Bruce and the other guys were running along the beach with the camera gear. Before it petered out, I insisted that Bruce ride one, too. The feeling was incredible.

We were warned Mumbai customs might try to confiscate our film and cameras at the airport, because they were wary about people filming religious sites. The Cape St Francis pictures – dynamite footage – were on about five rolls, so I taped them underneath my Hawaiian shirt and walked through customs while Bruce and Robert got worked over.

I never made any money from the film. But I went on a few endless summers afterwards, no problem. Cape St Francis was always flat when I went back. It was a gift from God that day.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Chris December 13, 2017 at 7:47 pm

Even before Endless Summer, he did quite a few good movies. His very first “Slippery When Wet” form 1958 featuring the music of saxophonist Bud Shank is probably my favorite pre Endless Summer movie. Also 1971’s On Any Sunday was a classic motorcycle racing documentary. His son Dana’s movie Step Into Liquid is a classic in it’s own right. Yup, Bruce’s passing away is a sad loss but he lived an amazing life.


Geoff Page December 14, 2017 at 1:18 pm

I saw the movie at Coronado High School in 1965 and loved it. I don’t remember if Brown was there or not but it started me surfing. I and two buddies started with a 10 foot log one of the older brothers gave us. I remember being cold a lot but the sport appealed to me immediately. I bought a beautiful 9’6″ board in the early spring of 1966 with my paper route money $50 and I was jazzed. My Dad was in the Navy and, unfortunately, we left Coronado in June of 1966. I didn’t surf again until 1977 when I got back her as an adult and took it up again. I credit Brown’s movie with lighting my spark. RIP Mr. Brown and thanks.


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