Bruce Brown, director of The Endless Summer, is back where he was 30 years ago, standing on a beach on the North Shore of Oahu, just off the Kamehameha Highway, filming a couple of surfers as they run from the backyard of one of Brown’s best friends, an old longboard guy named Mark Martinson, down onto the sand and into the surf. The two young men make the run, and it looks okay, but not great.
“Do it again,” says Brown.
They fold the boards under their arms, head back to the house, turn around, come out, and make another run at it.
“Again. Maybe smile this time — you’re out there, you’re happy.”
Back to the house, turn around, one more trot.
It doesn’t sound like someone making history, but it may well be. This is a take for The Endless Summer II, the sequel to the greatest surfing movie ever. Made in 1964 and finally released nationally in 1966, The Endless Summer captured a couple of surfing buddies traveling round the world on budget plane tickets in search of “the perfect wave,” and in so doing spawned a generation of surfers, created a booming surf-photography industry, and turned surf videos into a staple of beach-town bars. Nothing has touched the film since; the new stuff, Brown says, “is all bang-bang-bang, it’s all industrial. It’s all quick cuts and loud music.”
You could take this as the bleats of a generation-gapped grandfather — and, in fact, at 56, the weathered guy in a Winston cap, T-shirt, and baggy shorts is a grandfather. But for a lot of people, Brown is also the man who invented surfing, and when he shows up at the world’s best breaks, it’s still big news.
Thirty-five years ago, Brown began doing the same thing, surfing and shooting movies of his friends surfing, and yelling “Set!” when a new set of waves was approaching. Brown’s earliest movies, which didn’t have sound at first, much less budgets or plots, became a staple of the high-school-gym circuit in Southern California. He’d show up with the movie and maybe a tape-deck music track and tailor his narration to the tastes of his audience like a stand-up comic playing an out-of-town club.
“I’d get the principal’s name when I went to a school,” Brown says with a piratical squint and a shark’s smile, “and then use it when we had a shot of somebody really wiping out: ‘There goes Mr. Jones!'” This kind of thing got big laughs then. It gets a big laugh out of Brown even today.
He didn’t make much money this way, but surfers didn’t really need much money. Then Brown made The Endless Summer for $50,000, and from the moment of its 1966 sellout screening in the landlocked town of Wichita, Kan. — set comin’, Wichita! — money was no longer an issue. The Endless Summer wound up earning more than $30 million.
The Endless Summer rode primarily on the appeal of its two surfers, Robert August and Mike Hynson, and on the sweetness of its quest for the ideal wave. Perfection was a swell of manageable size (say, four to six feet high) in a glassy sea, a wave that would peel off gradually enough to assure a ride of more than a few seconds. (They found the wave — a then-unknown break off Cape Saint Francis in South Africa — and made it one of the world’s most famous surf sites.)