Unless you happen to be a surfer or surfing enthusiast the extent of your familiarity with Bruce Brown’s 1967 film The Endless Summer probably stops around having once seen the neon-colored poster the popularly decorates the walls of college dorm rooms. The film’s title came from the idea that if a person had the time and the means, and the drive to do so, one could follow the warm weather around the world, making summer seemingly endless. The actual movie is a simple travel-log documentary as the most basic level – surf photographer and former Navy man Brown packed up his 16-mm camera and followed two surfers, Robert August and Mike Hynson, as they hopped around the globe looking for waves to catch – while incorporating basic tutorials on surfing and its global hot spots that help give the movie narrative uniformity.
Bruce, Robert, and Mike start their journey in California at fly to Africa for their first wave scout in Nigeria, and from there they travel to South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Tahiti and Hawaii. Even though the two stars are only surfers they take their experiences in stride with a bright-eyed and gleeful narration of Brown providing the only words in the film. A lot of the places they visit have never been exposed to surfing providing some cute episodes where the boys, despite the language barrier, attempt to teach children from the local village to surf. The silliness of what goes on is serendipitous enough for modern audiences to forgive some of Brown’s jokes that have thinned over the years, such as when he jests about whether or not some of the tribal fishermen were coming out on the water in their boats to eat young Mike and Robert for dinner. They meet plenty of colorful characters along the way and again Brown has no qualms about making funnies at the expense of his subjects as he films them fleeing angry, wild zebras or ogling Australian surfer chicks in their tiny bikinis. But the film is also just as beautiful as it is droll; Brown’s guerilla-style filming lends a sense of undeniable awe that gives Summer a sophistication that helps it to be taken more seriously.
Watching a film nearly fifty years after the fact wouldn’t necessarily guarantee that the film would be dated, but in this case the age really does show. If the colloquialisms of the era don’t tip you off to its age the general discussions and brief overview history lessons of the sport sure will: even people with only a sparse knowledge of the modern context of the sport might be prone to laughter listening to Brown talk about how dreaded the popular surf locale “The Pipeline” is and how only crazy people would try to catch a wave there… granted in 1967 the short board hadn’t even been introduced yet (only shortly after the movie was filmed did they begin to be popular). Still Summer remains snappy as ever even if the plucky, frat-boy naïveté is now more charming than it is cool. You can’t help but love that the film is still an ideal for an only-for-fun kind of movie. It may be a documentary, but no one is trying to force an opinion or belabor a need for change or expose some cruel injustice except that surfing is awesome and more people should do it but they don’t.