A little over half a century ago, Bruce Brown, Mike Hynson and Robert August set about travelling the world, documenting untouched setups – ones that had yet to be seen by the eyes of the wider surfing world.
Back then, it never occured to them that The Endless Summer would become the definitive surf/travel movie. Spurred by the formulaic documentaries that were splutterng to the big screen in the 60s, Bruce took a sideways glance at what had been done before and hurled it all out – in favour of a more fluid, humour flecked tale of wanderlust, wrapped up in the trio's philosophy to make any session engaging.
It's not really surprising then that the film has remained relevant (as has the excellent The Endless Summer II). Now, to mark the fact The Endless Summer has just passed its 50th anniversary, we caught up with director Bruce to talk past, present, future and the impact The Endless Summer had on him and surf filmmaking.
For those who don't know, how did you meet Mike Hynson and Robert August?
BB: Mike and Robert were local surfers who I knew that just so happened to be available and willing to go on a trip of a lifetime. They had the perfect look of what the Southern California surfer looks like, were great surfers, and had two very unique personalities that I knew would make for great stories, experiences and fun.
So whose idea was it to shoot a movie ?
Mine! We just wanted to find a way to make money and be in the water so we decided to see if we could make a living filming each other surfing. I never thought anyone would want to watch it, let alone still be talking about it 50-years later but they are. And I am so grateful to everyone who loves the film.
Nothing of this scale had been done prior to The Endless Summer. Looking back on it now, just over 50-years later, does the movie still resonate with you?
Of course. I haven't watched this movie in a while because I've seen it so many times but I have to say I never thought I would still be talking about it 50-years later. I just went on a trip with the guys and couldn't have dreamed it would become what it is today and adored around the world. It was a simple time and we made a beautifully simple film.
When recording, did you know you were on to something special, or was it very much a cut and run process?
Cut and run process. You had to make the best of every situation, if an area was a bit sketchy, you'd feel it out and leave or hang with the locals if they welcomed us. Everything was new to us and to the local people.
Everything was new to us and to the local people We had a guideline of places to touch down but from there it was really word of mouth or luck when finding the spots and waves. There were days there weren't any waves at all and we went to some well-known spots. That’s the beauty of it you just never knew. And as they told us in South Africa and Australia when we didn’t find ‘great waves’ they said ‘you should’ve been here yesterday.’
Surfers all over the world have described The Endless Summer as the movie that changed the way they view surfing - what vision did you have going into making it?
We wanted to make a great film, and to be honest, we wanted to find some great surf spots along the way, a few places that we had heard of and ultimately some amazing places that were new to us and to the world.
We knew that from a few of my earlier films, the kids loved it. They loved everything about it; beaches, waves, sunshine and girls. That’s not much vision since almost every teenage kid and young 20-year-old all wanted just about the same thing. We just had a chance to share it with them visually. And they loved it more than we could have ever imagined.
In the 1960s, documentaries were pretty dry - where did the idea of taking a more tongue in cheek, flecked with wry humor, approach come in to play?
That came from all of the live viewings. At the time we were limited on our resources so I would stand there on stage, with microphone in hand, cassette deck playing music in the background, and then talk through every scene.
You find out really quick what the viewers found funny and when they didn't laugh you remembered never to say that line again. By the time we got it ready for distribution, I had a whole lot of narration up my sleeve all based on trial and error that we put to tape at the various high schools, centres and halls months prior.
What was it like, traveling with Mike and Robert ? Any little anecdotes that can sum it all up?
As you can imagine, eating interesting foods from various places around the world, everyone’s stomach was a bit inside-out.
The first time I got to look through the book with all of the pieces from the trip I came across a letter that I wrote back home to my parents talking about things we had experienced thus far, and I remember like it was yesterday that Robert had ‘the drizzlies’…and the funny thins is that I told my parents exactly that.
Is there anything you would have changed?
Only thing I would have changed; better surf in more places. But you’ve gotta love Old King Neptune….he has his own mind on the if and when.
Talk us through the editing process, after a surf trip around the world, there must have been an unimaginable amount of footage to wade through?
Yes, there was more film that one would ever imagine. There is such a great photo in the book that shows the film lined up, quite impressive and another with film canisters all around me.
When I look back at it now I am still in awe. We went through miles and miles of film. Mike and Robert had to help carry all the equipment around everywhere we went. It was part of the agreement and they did it.
They even participated in some of the filming when I was in the water surfing. In fact, Mike took the photos/film of me at Cape St Francis.
We would typically be sending all of the film back to the States for editing along the way, but the imagery we captured of Mike and Robert in Cape St Francis was truly epic. We knew we had something special and thus knew they were far too valuable to risk mailing them so we literally carried the canisters for the rest of the trip ourselves throughout our time in Australia, New Zealand, Tahiti and Hawaii
Have you personally been back to the places you visited in the movie? If so, how have they changed?
There was nothing at Cape St Francis when we were there, except the perfect wave. And now, there are hotels, resorts, weddings, etc. Never did we think we would have ever literally put a town on a map with a couple of Southern California surfers and a film camera but apparently we did.
With manmade wave pools and surfing now in the Summer Olympics, what do you think is next for the future of surfing?
You know it's crazy how far surfing has come since I was growing up. Back then, surfing wasn't even a sport and now they have all these competitions and pro-athletes like the Kellys of the world.
Someone pointed out to me the other day when talking about the wave pools that I had actually mentioned in the film that one of the waves we were on was almost "man-made..." who knew one day they would be. Literally non-stop perfection.
And now, a 50th anniversary collector's edition of the movie is out, what was the inspiration behind that?
Was a combination of a few things overlapping and the stars aligning. Top notch book developers connected with our managing director at Bruce Brown Films while a young far-distant student from Spain created project for school which was the genesis of the project. His ‘hand-made’ sample blew us away with the level of detail and in depth review from all aspects of the films creation, point of view, promotion and success.
A 50th anniversary collector's edition book of The Endless Summer will be available from next month. Go HERE for details.