By Matt Coker
By R. Scott Moxley
By Charles Lam
By Nick Schou
By Gustavo Arellano
By Gustavo Arellano
By Steve Lowery
By R. Scott Moxley
Hynson’s first board was an 11-foot plank of balsa wood that he spotted while collecting weeds in the front yard of a house in Mission Beach. The board’s owner told him he could have the board if he wanted it, so Hynson and a friend lugged it to the friend’s garage, where Hynson began whittling away. “I had no idea what I was doing, and his parents were getting angry because of all this dust and resin and mess, but it turned out to be a 7-foot-11-inch board. It was a hot little board, and everyone loved it who rode it.”
Hynson suddenly found his board-shaping skills very much in demand. He became a top shaper for Gordon and Smith Surfboards in San Diego, where he designed and produced his trademark “RedFin” boards. He also began hanging out with all the best surfers in Southern California, including Corky Carroll, Phil Edwards, Nat Young and Robert August. “As a surfer, Mike was very good,” recalls Carroll, now TheOrange County Register’s surfing columnist. “He was not a guy that you had to worry about beating you in a contest, but he knew how to ride a wave. He also had a kind of charisma about him that seemed to attract ‘followers,’ so to speak.”
One person who began following Hynson’s surf career was Bruce Brown, a film director who, by the early 1960s, was filming all the big surf contests in Southern California and Hawaii. According to Hynson, Brown was getting tired of the fact that all the surf movies being made showed the same group of surfers on the same group of waves. “There was no story to any of these movies,” Hynson says. Brown came up with the concept of taking two surfers—one blond and right-footed (Hynson) and one dark-haired goofy-footer—August fit the part—and following them around the world, from California to Europe and Africa, in search of the perfect wave.
The details of their epic quest, which culminates with Hynson surfing a beautiful right-breaking wave at Cape St. Francis in South Africa, are familiar to anyone who has seen The Endless Summer, which remains iconic more than 40 years later. The film not only exposed the sport to a nationwide audience, helping export the industry beyond California and Hawaii, but it also helped shift the sport itself from a handful of well-known beaches to a constant quest for pristine waves in exotic locales. Hynson recalls the trip as one of the most fun adventures in his life, although part of the sense of adventure was the fact that he smuggled an ounce of pot with him as he flew around the world.
“I was young, stupid and loaded,” Hynson says. “I smoked pot everywhere. I had a roll of bennies, which I took with me also, so when we had to drive somewhere, guess who stayed up all night?”
Before the movie was released theatrically in 1966, Hynson accompanied Brown and August, as well as several other surf legends, including Carroll, on a nationwide road trip to promote the film. “We’d go into towns, and every time we’d stop for gas, Corky and I would jump out and go skateboarding,” Hynson says. “We really caused a scene because skateboarding hadn’t reached the inner part of the States yet.” As the trip wore on, the audiences were growing larger, and before Hynson realized it, the movie had become a hit. (At latest count, The Endless Summer has grossed $30 million.) Hynson claims that Brown had promised him and August that if the movie did well, everyone would share in the good fortune.
“It wasn’t until I grabbed Robert and went to LA and talked to a lawyer that I realized this guy was fucking me left and right,” Hynson says. In fact, Hynson had only become suspicious after his then-girlfriend Merryweather, whom he had just met at San Diego’s Windansea beach, asked him about his allowing Brown to use his likeness on film. “He’d never signed a release,” says Merryweather, now a civic activist in La Jolla. Merryweather’s father, Hubert, was the president of Arizona’s state senate; Barry Goldwater was her godfather. “I told Mike my father knew a great lawyer up in Hollywood, and let’s go up and see him.”
Hynson brought August with him to see the attorney, who insisted they each deserved a third of the profit from The Endless Summer. Hynson claims Brown refused to do that, instead offering each surfer $5,000, a new car and help getting set up in business. While August accepted the deal, Hynson says, he refused. (Neither Brown nor August responded to written requests for comment for this story, but Alter says Brown gave Hynson the gift of fame he still enjoys. “Nobody knew who Mike was back then,” he says. “Bruce took all the risk, and I’ve never met anybody more forthright and honest.”) The dispute ended Hynson’s friendships with Brown and, eventually, August. Enraged by what he felt was Brown’s betrayal, Hynson dropped out for a while, leaving California with Merryweather to spend half a year surfing big waves on Oahu’s North Shore.