Remembering Bruce Brown
The surf world mourns an icon.
Seminal surf filmmaker Bruce Brown peacefully left this world Sunday evening in Santa Barbara, having left an indelible, beautiful mark on it.
He was 80 years old.
In 1966, Brown released The Endless Summer and turned the sport of surfing on its collective head. Things would never be the same thanks to his vision, candor, humility and desire to show the world how damn fun riding waves really is.
Brown’s filmmaking career kicked off in 1958 with the release of the jazz-infused Slippery When Wet. Classics like Barefoot Adventures and Surfing Hollow Days followed shortly afterwards, but it was the debut of The Endless Summer with Mike Hynson and Robert August that launched him, and surfing at large, into the cultural stratosphere.
A master of turning lemons to lemonade, in 1963, Brown took a paltry $50,000 budget and set out with Hynson and August. The legend goes that the movie wasn’t originally intended to be an around-the-world adventure, but a travel agent informed Brown it was cheaper to hop around the globe than make specific trips to already popularized surf zones. Brown created The Endless Summer narrative virtually out of thin air, which is pretty remarkable if you think about it. That simple twist of fate led to discoveries in Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Tahiti, and, of course, Hawaii…“home of the endless summer.”
Brown’s entertaining, somewhat sarcastic narration coupled with The Sandals timeless soundtrack and John Van Hamersveld’s iconic cover artwork proved to be the perfect storm. The Endless Summer wasn’t just an instant success in the burgeoning surf scene, it cut much deeper. Selling out theaters across the country, it helped shed to beach-blanket perception of the sport that Hollywood was perpetuating.
In 1971, Brown turned his lens on motorcycle riding, filming and producing On Any Sunday in the sand dunes above Dana Point with his old friend and actor Steve McQueen. The film was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary in 1972.
His last major project came in the form of the 1994 release of The Endless Summer II. Produced alongside his son, Dana, the film stared a skipping Pat O’Connell and square-jawed Robert “Wingnut” Weaver as they reprised some of the locations shot in the original film and paid homage to a host of legends, while introducing the mainstream to names like Kelly Slater, Tom Curren, Gerry Lopez, and Cloudbreak.
Brown once said, “You can’t tell how good a wave is until you ride it.”
It was that mindset, that belief, that sent surfers into the wilds in droves. Brown’s lust for adventure and his willingness to pretty much try anything paved the way for all those that came after him. He paved the way for intrepid surf explorers like Kevin Naughton and Craig Peterson. And from Jack McCoy to Kai Neville, Phil Edwards to Kelly Slater, Brown’s vision lives on in every surf movie we watch and every surf star we herald. His fingerprint is still on so much of what we enjoy about surfing and how we perceive ourselves.
“Many of us ride winter and summer, but the ultimate thing for us would be to have an endless summer,” said Brown. “The only way to do this is to travel around the world.”
Brown, like The Endless Summer, now belongs to the ages. It’s up to all of us to remember, revere and keep traveling, keep exploring, and most importantly, just keep surfing.
On the event of Brown’s passing, surfers took to social media to share their memories of Brown, and the influene he and his films had on their lives:
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