‘Endless' legacy for surf documentary

Bruce Brown surfs with camera in-hand. A remastered version of Brown’s “The Endless Summer” will be released on DVD Friday. He shot the 1966 film with a Bolex 16 mm camera.

Bruce Brown's seminal 1966 surfing saga receives the deluxe DVD treatment.

By Michael Aushenker / Special to The Malibu Times

Before “Riding Giants” or “Thicker Than Water,” there was “The Endless Summer,” Bruce Brown's seminal 1966 surfing film that New York Daily News, Newsweek and other media have described with the same superlative: “Breathtaking!”

After more than four decades, the same can still be said about the film that exposed surfing to the general public in a way they had never seen before-introducing and explaining the passion and the drive that moves surfers from of all walks of life to seek out the perfect wave, over and over again.

On Friday, Monterey Media will release “The Endless Summer Director's Special Edition Two-Disc,” loaded with extras and featuring an embossed and foiled case.

Scott Mansfield, CEO and managing partner of Monterey Media, led the charge to restore Brown's sweeping surf epic.

“We are so very excited to be bringing ‘The Endless Summer' to the generations of fans who have never seen this beautiful, lyrical film like it is now,” Mansfield said. “We have rejuvenated and digitally re-mastered the film with 5.1 surround sound [working with Warner Digital] and it hasn't looked this gorgeous, well, ever since its original theatrical [release] so many years ago. Balancing the color and painstakingly removing over 80 percent of the film dirt was truly a labor of love.”

Calling “Endless Summer” a timeless masterpiece would be hyperbole for most films. Not this one. In 2002, this “Citizen Kane” of surfing movies was selected for preservation in the U.S. National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being culturally, historically or aesthetically significant. The quasi-documentary inspired a genre of surf-and-travel movies (“Momentum,” “Thicker Than Water”). Its director's cultural legacy appears sealed. Last year, Brown, who turns 73 in December, was inducted into the Surfers' Hall of Fame in Huntington Beach. He even made a vocal cameo in a “SpongeBob SquarePants” cartoon in which the titular sea creature surfs “The Big One.”

In the original “Endless Summer,” surfers Mike Hynson and Robert August leave California's cold winter surf for the warmer waters of Senegal, Ghana, Nigeria, Hawaii, Tahiti, New Zealand and Australia. On a hunt for the ultimate wave, they are joined by other important surfers of the epoch, including Miki Dora, Phil Edwards, Butch Van Artsdalen, Eugene Harris and Brown's uncle, Hobie Alter, who sails a Malibu Outrigger in the film.

“The waves look like they were made by some kind of machine,” Brown exclaims in the film's voiceover.

There's much humor throughout “Endless Summer,” such as the visually paradoxical and arresting image of four surfers, en route to the excellent surf at Cape St. Francis, gliding their boards down African desert sand dunes as if they were Third Point waves. Another scene shows the surfers comically convincing a West African cab driver to put their longboards into the back of his taxi.

Brown started surfing in the early 1950s, when he took photographs to convey the emerging sport to his mother. While serving in the United States Navy on the island of Oahu, he filmed California surfers with an 8mm movie camera. Brown edited his raw footage into an hour-long film, which became a local hit when surfer Dale Velzy screened it at his San Clemente surf shop. Velzy partnered with Brown, buying the budding filmmaker a 16mm camera and helping him raise $5,000 to produce “Slippery When Wet.” In 1958, on a plane ride back to Hawaii to capture the North Shore's big surf on celluloid, Brown read a book on moviemaking, which became the extent of his cinematic education. “I never had formal training in filmmaking and that probably worked to my advantage,” he said. “I felt if I could take two years to make a film, maybe I could make something special.”

By 1994, Brown released the sequel, “The Endless Summer II,” this time shot in 35mm with his son, Dana Brown. In it, surfers Robert “Wingnut” Weaver and Patrick O'Connell retrace the steps of Hynson and August.

“When we were traveling, we had like 3,000 pounds of camera equipment for ‘Endless Summer II,' as opposed to my wind-up Bolex on ‘Endless Summer I,'” Brown said.

In addition to the improvement of film technology by “II,” the evolution of surfing is evident as well, as O'Connell rides a shortboard, developed in the years between the two movies. There are also windsurfing and bodyboarding scenes. Surf sessions in South Africa, France, Costa Rica, Bali, Java, even Alaska evince how far surfing had spread since 1966.

Born in Dana Point, Brown's eldest son remembers his father as “a mellow guy” growing up in Orange County. Dana Brown took up the family business, directing “Step into Liquid” (2003), which featured Laird Hamilton and Layne Beachley. Last year, he debuted “Highwater,” chronicling North Shore surfers competing for the Vans Triple Crown of Surfing, during the 100th anniversary of the Santa Monica Pier.

“I was writing a sports column for a paper in Santa Barbara, waiting tables, and working construction,” Dana remembered of his professional start. “In my mid 20s, my dad called me and said, ‘Hey Dana, I want to put my old surf movies, the movies I made before ‘Endless Summer,' I want to put those back together…That led to ‘Search for Surf' with Greg Noll, and ‘Endless Summer II.'”

Brown said son Dana was instrumental to restoring “Endless Summer” for DVD: “The Monterey people called me and said, ‘What about doing this or that' and I said, ‘I don't want to do that, I didn't want to go back to the editing room.' But my son was going, ‘Geez dad, I know where a bunch of good footage is.' He did a really good job on the first one, ‘The Endless Summer Revisited,' and on ‘On Any Sunday.'”

November will also see the release of “The Ultimate Summer Bruce Brown Surf Collection,” a five-disc box set collecting the legendary surfing director's entire library: “Endless Summer” and its 1994 sequel, “Barefoot Adventure,” “Slippery When Wet,” “Surf Crazy,” “Surfin' Shorts,” “Surfing Hollow Days,” and “Waterlogged.”

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