Movie Retrospective: 'Endless Summer' : NPR
photo courtesy of NPR

The title really says it all. ‘The Endless Summer.” Most filmmakers would kill for a title like that. It could mean anything. The possibilities are, literally, endless. Is it a romantic story about young lovers falling in love at the beach? Or maybe it’s a story about two innocent kids living it up while school is out? No it’s not, but in some ways it could be. Bruce Brown’s classic surf movie is so much more than a surf movie. It is a tale of innocence, excitement, daring, and most of all, good, clean, fun.

In 1962, after cutting his teeth on a few surf documentaries, Bruce Brown was ready for something big. Brown had been an avid surfer and started photographing and then filming his surf sessions just out of pure love for the sport. With fellow surfers Robert August and Mike Hynson they set out across the globe to follow the summer around the world. The crew started in Africa where they visited Senegal, Ghana, and Nigeria. Then it was on down to South Africa before heading to Australia, New Zealand, Tahiti, and Hawaii, which Brown calls “truly, the land of the endless summer.”

It is hard to pinpoint which was Brown’s greatest achievement in this film. With his two stars, August and Hynson, he was able to showcase the sport of surfing to civilizations in Africa that had never even seen a surfboard, let alone a blonde surfer from California. While watching the film I could feel as though Robert August and Mike Hynson were the “Lewis and Clark” of surfing as they were given an opportunity to explore beaches that were virgin, pristine, and begging to be surfed. The two surfers are certainly not lovers falling in love at the beach but they are exploring exotic places to find the one thing they do love: surfing. A sad element pervades the film as the viewer laments the fact that this trip could probably never happen in the 21st century. The world is not as innocent and welcoming as it was for Bruce Brown in 1962. This fact is actually underscored in the fantastic sequel The Endless Summer II where Brown takes two new surfers on an almost identical trail as the original film. Places like Cape St. Francis in South Africa, which was an empty desert-like beach in the original is now a well developed vacation community. Bruce Brown produced what is arguably one of the greatest documentaries of all time and the greatest contribution to surfing ever made but it also unintentionally led to the development and displacement of some beautiful natural wonders. But, I could never hold this against the director as he put the fire in me, like millions of others over the last half century, to get a surfboard, paddle out to a wave and catch one, albeit after several wipeouts.

The Endless Summer is many things. A time capsule of the 1960’s surf culture. A National Geographic trip around the world. A funny, goofy look at surfers on vacation in exotic places. Most importantly, The Endless Summer is a view of the world through the eyes of a few California surfers who crossed the globe with nothing but a few longboards, a 16mm film camera, and some swimming trunks. If you’ve seen the film then I think you’ll agree: the view is spectacular.

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