Endless Summer (1964): Consuming Waves and Surfing the Frontier

By Ormrod, Joan | Film & History, January 2005 | Go to article overview

Endless Summer (1964): Consuming Waves and Surfing the Frontier


Ormrod, Joan, Film & History


"The Endless Summer defined our sport. For the first time the rest of the world would have a clear look at the surfing lifestyle." Matt Warshaw, Surfer's Journal History of Surfing Films

"Brown cobbled together $50,000 and set out with two California surfers, Mike Hynson and Robert August, to produce a true documentary on real surfers. Not beach bums or playboys who sang to their girlfriends, surfers were athletes who enjoyed the adventure of scanning the globe in search of the perfect wave." "The Sick Six: Six of the Most Important Surf Movies Ever Made, from the Fifties to Now"

The early 1960s was a time in which youth was shamelessly exploited by the mass media. Surfing was identified as a hot new sport with a youthful focus epitomising the ideal Californian lifestyle. This led to a surf craze in America and Australia. Surf music in the shape of The Beach Boys, Dick Dale and His Del-Tones, Jan and Dean, and a dance improbably named The Surfer Stomp seemed to offer a new direction for a tired and corrupt pop industry replete with manufactured pop stars named Bobby or Frankie. (1) The Beach Boys particularly were marketed as all-American high school boys who surfed, were clean-cut, and cared only for cars, girls and fun, fun, fun. Hollywood produced up to seventy surf-related exploitation films purporting to lift the lid on just what happened on the beach when adults were not around to regulate undesirable behaviour. Out of this heady, consumerist mix emerged what many surfers regard as the definitive surf movie, Bruce Brown's The Endless Summer (1964).

The Endless Summer has a simple premise, the quest for the perfect wave, which is one of the defining myths of surf culture and representations of surfing outside the subculture. Brown follows the travels of two surfers, Robert August and Mike Hynson, around the globe in order to experience an endless summer and catch the perfect wave. To do this the friends travel to little known destinations such as Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Tahiti and Ghana in addition to Malibu and Hawaii. Brown explained that: "Originally we were just going to South Africa and then come back ... But it turned out to be $50 cheaper to go all the way round the world, so we did that." (2)

The Endless Summer belongs to a sub-genre of surf films Booth describes as "pure." (3) These are surf films made by surfers for a limited surfing audience and typically exhibited at surf clubs. Brown's credentials as a surfer, a surf filmmaker and his association with significant shapers such as Dale Velzy would assure the authenticity of surf culture to its audiences. "Pure" surf films relied on the film producer distributing and exhibiting them around a "four wall" circuit. As with many four-wall producers at the time, Brown exhibited the film along with a running commentary around the usual high school halls, and clubhouses to enthusiastic surfer audiences. (4) On the tour Brown developed a script from which he distilled the best of the jokes and script elements before recording a permanent soundtrack. In an effort to gain Hollywood studio distribution, Brown, aided by Paul Allen, toured around America to places such as Wichita, Kansas, a venue little famed for its waves, where the film ran for two weeks to full houses. However, something unexpected happened with The Endless Summer, it crossed over the border from niche to mainstream audiences when the distribution was taken up by Columbia. Indeed, such was the popularity of the film that Newsweek dubbed The Endless Summer one of the best 10 films of 1964.

So why was Endless Summer so popular? Robert August, one of the film's "stars" believes that the re-release of the film in 1966 was a reminder to Americans of a more innocent time, providing them with time out from Vietnam and the possibility to have fun for a while, "it was the right time for it" (Robert August, Surfer's Journal History of Surfing Films). …

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