Bruce Brown’s iconic surf documentary The Endless Summer (1966) is 95 minutes of sun-soaked bliss, as it shows Californians Mike Hynson and Robert August literally spending an entire year surfing. Brown follows the surfers to beaches all around the globe as they search for “the perfect wave.” But, it’s not all about catching some UV rays: Mike and Robert — and consequently the audience — also soak up the culture of every place they visit. The film highlights the sport while at the same time rewarding anyone with an overwhelming sense of wanderlust.
One of the documentary’s biggest strengths is the cinematography. In particular, the opening shot of both surfers walking to the beach is worth analyzing. The burnt orange complexion of the sky contrasting with the silhouettes of Mike and Robert proves filmmakers do not need blockbuster budget to get a perfect shot. Then there are the cool blues and rich greens of rolling waves and the golden sands of exotic locations like Hawaii, Africa, Australia, New Zealand, and Tahiti. Brown’s cinematography is so beautiful that it leaves viewers shopping for flights to each location.
Another plus for The Endless Summer is the tone of Brown’s narration. His sarcastic and comedic commentary adds a great deal of enjoyment to the film. One scene that stands out in particular is when an African cab driver tries to cram the duo’s surfboards into the trunk of his tiny sedan; according to Brown, the driver assumes he is handling airplane wings. In this and many other instances, his commentary provides laughter that makes spectators feel as though they are part of the inner circle of the surfing world. More importantly, Brown’s voiceover is able to give a crash course in surfer lingo and provide interesting tidbits about each country visited. For example, in Hawaii, there is almost no difference in temperature between the summer and winter months. It only fluctuates “two degrees” between seasons. By the film’s conclusion, Brown provides a slew of interesting facts that can be shared with others.
Perhaps there is no greater attribute to The Endless Summer, however, than its exploration of different cultures. These two kids from California experience so much more than just the different types of waves. Entire scenes forgo surfing to have Mike and Robert try to get close to a zebra or some other form of African wildlife. Even when they are surfing, rarely are they alone. In West Africa, natives flock to the beach, in complete awe of what they are witnessing. Mike and Robert are treated like rock stars as natives circle around them and pepper the men with questions in their native tongue while the men do the best they can to decipher and answer each one. Brown even films an African village catching fish, with dozens of people working together for over an hour to pull in an enormous net. Then, in places where Mike and Robert can actually converse with the locals, like South Africa and Australia, they make friends — especially female — as they discuss surfing and listen to some tunes on a portable radio.
In return for experiencing these cultures, Mike and Robert brought an increased interest in surfing to specific areas. The aforementioned scene in West Africa showcases an enormous crossover of cultures that took place in only a few hours time. During a shot of the surfers riding a wave, the focus shifts to reveal groups of children trying to imitate them. Grabbing whatever piece of wood they could muster, children and younger men found a new pastime as they boarded along the sandy shores that had previously been just a beach to them. As a result of The Endless Summer, a place like Cape of St. Francis has been transformed from a desolate beach into one of the premier surfing spots in the world.
In the midst of all this camaraderie and gorgeous cinematography, there are a few minuscule aspects of the film that leave the audience wanting more. It’s almost unbelievable, but at no point during The Endless Summer are Robert or Mike actually heard speaking. All of their thoughts and reactions are communicated through voice-over by Brown. This makes it difficult to create a connection with them, and thus it is difficult to truly know for the characters that are carrying this story. At the same time, “the perfect wave” is found when the surfers still have a handful of locations (Australia, New Zealand, Tahiti) to explore. This takes away a good deal the of tension, as it becomes clear that these places will not have an ideal surf. By knowing this, certain parts can feel a tad slow.
Altogether, The Endless Summer deserves its iconic status. It’s gorgeously shot, funny, and teaches audiences about a niche in American culture. As if that wasn’t enough, The Sandals’ soundtrack is a treat for all music fans. But most of all, it shows what can be gleaned from traveling.Continue Reading Issue #33
June 15, 1966
1 hr. 35 min.
Michael Hynson, Robert August, Bruce Brown, Lord Blears