Surfers worldwide are mourning the loss of legendary filmmaker Bruce Brown today, as news of his passing trickled out over the weekend. Brown, 80, reportedly passed away in his sleep at home in Santa Barbara. The Oscar-nominated producer is best remembered for his groundbreaking film The Endless Summer, a feature length documentary about two California surfers wandering the globe looking for the proverbial "perfect wave." Brown was just 26 when he made the film.
The Endless Summer was shot in 1963, and originally screened in 1964 on the same coastal tour that he debuted his previous five films, like Slippery When Wet, Surf Crazy, Surfing Hollow Days, Barefoot Adventure and Waterlogged. Brown was renowned for scoring his films with jazz music and narrating them himself during his film tours, charming audiences with wit and insights. Following in the footsteps of pioneering surf filmmaker Bud Brown, he joined the likes of John Severson and Greg Noll to usher in the golden age of surf films. At the time, nothing brought distant surf tribes together like a movie.
The signature scene of The Endless Summer was the discovery of a perfect point wave found near some remote sand dunes in southeast South Africa, at a place called Cape St. Francis. Its mechanic perfection was mesmerizing, with ruler-edged lines, speedy hollow sections and incredibly lengthy rides. Nothing so perfectly suited for state-of-the-art surfing had ever been seen before, and in the aftermath of that discovery, surfing's golden age of surf exploration went into full effect. That scene alone inspired a generation of barefoot wanderlust adventurers to scour the planet for more.
After a successful tour of both coasts in 1964, Brown decided to debut his film in the heartland to see how mainstream audiences would react. At the time, Americans were being seeded with surf stoke by hit tunes from The Beach Boys and Hollywood's first surf movie, Gidget, starring Sandra Dee and James Darren. Despite being the middle of winter, Brown had no problem packing a theater in Wichita, Kansas, to show his film; the audience left spellbound.
In the aftermath of that experiment the movie was converted to 35-millimeter film, refined by editors, and released across the country as Endless Summer in 1966. There hasn't been a surfing documentary since that's enjoyed as much critical acclaim and commercial success.
By 1968, the escalating war in Vietnam combined with a shortboard revolution took surfing into a radical anti-establishment direction. While the film, its stars, and the surfing aged pretty quickly in its day, more than 50 years later it remains a timeless classic.
Brown would branch out in the years that followed. He joined forces with Hollywood actor Steve McQueen to release On Any Sunday in 1971, a documenatary about the fledgling dirt bike racing scene, which earned Brown an Oscar nomination.
Naturally, Brown is being celebrated across social media today, as the thousands impacted by his work pay homage to the man who helped craft their souls.