A First-Timer’s Appreciation of the Surfing Classic The Endless Summer

I was 16 when the first Star Wars movie was released, which would seem to be the perfect age to have the geek seed planted for the franchise that would bloom. But I never did go during the first run, put off by the lines that wrapped around theaters, and then convinced I knew all there was to know by the clips, televised Star Wars specials and parodies that had overtaken pop culture like nothing I had ever witnessed before.

And so, I did not see Star Wars until after a date with a young woman who wanted desperately to go to The Empire Strikes Back. What I perceived as part two—but what any card-carrying nerd will correct as part five—left such an impression that I watched the subtitled “A New Hope” the first chance I could on cable.

I’ve harbored a similar attitude toward The Endless Summer, Dana Point filmmaker Bruce Brown’s 1966 surfing documentary that has so strongly pervaded pop culture that I believed I had seen all there was to see without having seen it.

Yes, I know: Bad, bad film writer.

Now, with the 50th anniversary of the movie’s release having passed—and, more important, a related special event coming to Huntington Beach on Saturday (more on that below)—the night before I wrote these words seemed as good a time as any to give The Endless Summer a look.

As with Star Wars, I am glad I did. As one who is barely a surfboard rider (I prefer bodysurfing and boogie boarding), I appreciated that early in the film, narrator Brown explained some things about surfing that I had never heard. For instance, I now know why surfers move from the middle of the board to the spot where they put their toes on the nose—and vice versa.

Looking back half a century, The Endless Summer is also a historical resource when it comes not only to surfing, but also to Orange County, Southern California and other spots around the world. The flick is a product of the ’60s; Brown shows us the youth of an innocent time, more TV’s Gidget than the Beatles’ Revolver (both from ’66).

But the greatest gift of all from The Endless Summer is how it informs today’s surf movies and videos, even those affectionately known as “surf porn,” where one sees amazing riders as uptempo music from the soundtrack blares. Writing this, I wish I knew more about the surf films that preceded The Endless Summer so I would know whether Brown is the originator of using short sections of different music from segment to segment. It’s safe to say he was a pioneer of something that became common in later surf movies, and then shifted into skateboard, snow and other action-sports movies.

Among those who also perfected this sights-and-sounds technique is Warren Miller of ski and snowboard filmmaking fame (dating back to 1950’s Deep and Light). Unwittingly or not, Brown borrowed something else from Miller, who narrated most of his own movies: cornball humor. The Endless Summer is chock-full of knee-slappers and gag setups, and how you take them in 50 years after the fact may depend on how well you appreciate the lost innocence and historical significance referenced above.

The plot, such as it is, is pretty genius. With summer coming to an end while still infected with the surfing bug, former Huntington Beach High School ASB President Robert August and San Diego’s Mike Hynson embark on trips to coastal places around the planet where it is still summer. It’s a great device for justifying Brown’s camera following the surfers to Senegal, Ghana, Nigeria, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Tahiti and Hawaii. Like the film’s subjects, viewers are treated to different cultures of that time period. And just so you don’t get sick of August and Hynson taking the waves, Brown also manages to work in footage of such surfers as Miki Dora, Phil Edwards, Butch Van Artsdalen and Orange County’s own Corky Carroll.

The Endless Summer, um, ends with Brown essentially saying there is no better place in the world to surf than Hawaii, something he punctuates with beautiful images of the silhouetted surfers against a pink sky, yellow sun and orange sand. These shots would become the basis for psychedelic-rock-album illustrator John Van Hamersveld’s iconic poster, which has become every bit the pop culture touchstone the movie has—arguably more.

Van Hamersveld, August, Hynson, Brown and the director’s talented filmmaking son Dana Brown (Step Into Liquid, Dust to Glory and The Endless Summer Revisited) are scheduled to attend a launch party for the limited-edition The Endless Summer 50th-anniversary box set; the numbered collections include an exclusive book, a remastered DVD and memorabilia. Promoters say they will “talk story” while pupus, wine, beer and live entertainment are served. The pricey affair includes a live auction, but a portion of the evening’s proceeds benefit two nonprofits: the Surfing Heritage & Culture Center and the Huntington Beach International Surfing Museum. Surf’s up!

The Endless Summer 50th-Anniversary Box Set Launch Party at the Shorebreak Hotel, 500 Pacific Coast Hwy., Huntington Beach, (800) 546-7866. Sat. Private VIP reception, 4-6 p.m.; launch party, 6-9 p.m. Party only, $100; with reception, $250. The hotel offers room deals for those who ask for “The Endless Summer Book Launch Party Courtesy Block.”

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