Oscar-nominated surf moviemaker from Southern California; producer of 1966's The Endless Summer, the sport's best and best-known movie. Brown was born (1937) in San Francisco, California, spent his first nine years in Oakland, then moved with his family to Long Beach, in southwest Los Angeles County, where he began surfing.
Along with hundreds of other young surfing fanatics, Brown went to the local Elks Club auditorium whenever original surf filmmaker Bud Browne barnstormed into town to screen his latest movie. Brown himself made his first surf movie, an 8-millimeter short, while stationed on a navy submarine in Honolulu in 1955; two years later, back in California, surfboard-maker Dale Velzy bought Brown a new 16-millimeter movie camera and paid his way to Hawaii to shoot Slippery When Wet, Brown's first feature-length surf film. Slippery was easygoing, colorful, neatly edited, and scored by West Coast jazz favorite Bud Shank—but the movie was in large part defined by Brown's smooth and casual narration. Brown, Browne, Greg Noll, and John Severson were the only surf filmmakers at the time.
Surf Crazy (1959) and Barefoot Adventure (1960), Brown's next two movies, resembled Slippery, and were filmed exclusively in California, Hawaii, and Mexico. Surfing Hollow Days (1961), Brown's fourth movie, spotlighting California power surfer Phil Edwards, branched out to Australia and New Zealand, and also showed Edwards on the first filmed ride at Pipeline.
Brown's fifth movie, Waterlogged, was a rush-job compilation film that gave Brown something to put on the market in 1963. That year he set out with California surfers Mike Hynson and Robert August to film The Endless Summer, a semidocumentary on "the search for the perfect wave." The $50,000 film debuted in the summer of 1964 and was shown in the same manner as Brown's previous films, on the beach-city circuit, with Brown himself driving from auditorium to auditorium to do live-narration screenings. He added a recorded narration in 1965 and showed the movie in Wichita, Kansas, where for two weeks it outsold My Fair Lady.
The following year, Endless Summer was blown up to 35-millimeter, re-edited slightly, and put into movie houses across the country to rave reviews: Newsweek named it one of the 10 best films of 1966; Time magazine called Brown the "Bergman of the boards." Writer Tom Wolfe, meanwhile, in his otherwise acerbic 1966 essay "The Pump House Gang," had nothing but nice things to say about the young California surf moviemaker. "Bruce Brown has the money and The Life. He has a great house on a cliff about 60 feet above the beach, [and] a rain-barrel old- apple-tree Tom Sawyer little-boy roughneck look about him, like Bobby Kennedy."
Brown provided footage for ABC and CBS surfing specials in the mid-'60s, and won two Cleo Awards in 1964 for his work on a Kodak Instamatic ad campaign. On Any Sunday, Brown's 1971 motorcycling movie, co-produced by actor Steve McQueen, earned Brown an Academy Award nomination for Best Documentary. Four years later he produced The Edge, a mostly-neglected sports documentary. Brown then retired and spent 20 years restoring and racing cars, playing the stock market, and deep-sea fishing.
In 1992 he came out of retirement to begin work on Endless Summer II. Unlike the original, the sequel was backed by a studio (New Line), and had a Hollywood budget ($3.5 million) as well as a film crew. But the new movie, while beautifully photographed, didn't have the magic of the original. "Brown isn't as well-versed as he once was," Surfer magazine wrote in its review, "and his narration, so effortless and warm in the late '50s and early '60s, now sounds a little forced." Brown had in a way become the victim of his own success; virtually every post-1964 surf movie had borrowed from Endless Summer, and the genre itself seemed to be played out. Brown, meanwhile, claimed his experience with New Line had been awful, and that his moviemaking days were through.
Brown was the top vote-getter in the Motion Picture/Photography category of the 1966 International Surfing Magazine's Hall of Fame Awards; in 1994 he received the Waterman Achievement Award from the Surf Industry Manufacturers Association. In 1997 he was presented with a lifetime achievement award at the Surfer Magazine Video Awards banquet, and was profiled in 50 Years of Surfing on Film, a 1997 cable TV series produced by Opper Films and The Surfer's Journal. Two years later, Surfer named Brown the sport's fifth most influential surfer of all time. He was inducted into the Surfer's Hall of Fame in Huntington Beach in 2009.
Dana Brown, Brown's oldest son, was cowriter of Endless Summer II and director of 2003's Step Into Liquid, one of the top-grossing action sports movies of all time. Brown's grandson, Wes Brown, is also a surf filmmaker.
Bruce Brown has lived in Gaviota, California, near Santa Barbara, since 1981.