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Endless Summer, The


Long-celebrated surf moved made by California filmmaker Bruce Brown; originally screened on the beach city surf circuit in 1964, two years before it was put into general release, where it became a surprise critical and commercial hit. "A brilliant documentary," a New Yorker review said of Brown's deceptively simple $50,000 film, "perfectly expressing the surfing spirit. Great background music. Great movie. Out of sight." Just a handful of surf movies are thought of as first rate; Endless Summer alone is regarded as a surfing masterpiece.

Brown was 26 when he made Endless Summer, and had already produced five well-received movies for surfers. Endless Summer was different in that it had a plot of sorts, as it followed two surfers—Californians Robert August and Mike Hynson—as they traveled the world in search of the perfect wave. The dark-haired and easygoing August, a nimble goofyfooter, was just out of high school when he signed up to make Endless Summer. Hynson, a strutting 21-year-old regularfooter with slicked-back blond hair, was one of the sport's top stylists.

Brown carried a single 20- pound box of camera equipment during the Endless Summer shoot that took the group to Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Tahiti, and Hawaii; he shot nearly all the travel footage himself. The highlight of the trip came with the discovery of a remote pointbreak along Cape St. Francis in South Africa, where four-foot swells arranged themselves into long, fast, beautifully groomed walls. "On Mike's first ride," Brown says in a climactic bit of Endless Summer voice-over narration, "he knew he'd finally found that perfect wave."

Editing his film in early 1964, Brown masterfully split the difference between his core surfing audience and a hoped-for mainstream audience. Endless Summer had far less actual wave-riding than any surf film yet produced, and Brown, while never once sounding pedantic to surfers, narrates the movie as a primer to nonsurfers. His definitively casual Southern California voice is in fact the star of the film—more so than the seen-but-not-heard August and Hynson—and imitation Brown voice-overs would be the norm in surf movies for the next 30 years. (The Sandals' soundtrack is another enduring Endless Summer legacy, along with the John Van Hamersveld-designed poster, featuring Brown, August, and Hynson in silhouette against a Day-Glo orange, pink, and yellow background.)

Many of the era's best surfers made cameo appearances in Endless Summer, including Phil Edwards, Butch Van Artsdalen, Greg Noll, Nat Young, George Greenough, Paul Strauch, Lance Carson, and Mickey Dora. 

Brown toured a 16-millimeter version of Endless Summer across the East and West coasts in 1964; the following year he screen-tested the movie at the Sunset Theater in Wichita, Kansas, in the dead of winter, and it was a smash hit; in 1966 the film was re-edited slightly, blown up to 35-millimeter, and put into general release by Columbia Pictures, where it eventually earned $30 million. The critics went into raptures. Time magazine called Brown a "Bergman of the boards," and his movie was "an ode to sun, sand, skin and surf." Newsweek named Endless Summer as one the 10 best films of 1966. (Robert August, who went on to become a successful board manufacturer, later said that Endless Summer was a hit in large part because it served as "a big time-out" from the Vietnam War.)

Endless Summer quickly became dated, as the late-'60s shortboard revolution dovetailed with the counterculture movement, changing the sport forever. But if '70s wave-riders got a chuckle watching the movie on television, as August and Hynson walk across the Los Angeles International Airport parking lot wearing suits and ties, Endless Summer remained near and dear to surfers everywhere. The feelings evoked by the movie,  if not the surfing performances themselves, were timeless.

Brown dropped off the commercial surf scene entirely for nearly 25 years; On Any Sunday, his popular 1971-released Endless Summer follow-up, was about motorcycle racing, and he resisted making Endless Summer II until the early '90s. Brown and August meanwhile remained close friends, while the irascible Hynson, after distancing himself from anything having to do with The Endless Summer—including Brown and August—became a first-rate boardmaker in the late '60s and early '70s, then fell into drug addiction, served time in jail, and lived for a while on the streets. He unsuccessfully sued Brown in 1995 for breach of contract (Brown paid the surfers' expenses during Endless Summer, but didn't give them a salary), and later called Brown "a kook who doesn't surf [and who's] made millions off surfers like me." All three surfers showed up for a terse but cordial Endless Summer reunion at the 2001 San Diego County Fair.

Endless Summer was released on video in 1986 and on DVD in 2001. In a best-surf-movie-ever poll conducted in 2000 by Real-Surf, an Australian surf website, Endless Summer not only came out on top, but nearly doubled the vote tally of the second-place finisher—which was Brown's 1994 sequel, Endless Summer II. In 2001, Dana Brown, Bruce's son and a soon-to-be star filmmaker in his own right, released a DVD of previously unreleased Endless Summer footage called Endless Summer Revisited.

The United States National Film Registry arm of the Library of Congress added The Endless Summer to its list of historically significant films in 2002.

The phrase "Endless Summer" meanwhile took on a life of its own: it was used as the name of a tanning salon chain, for a light beer, and a hydrangea strain, as well as greatest hits LPs by Donna Summer and the Beach Boys.