Bruce Brown loves to surf. It was his dream to spend one year surfing, switching hemispheres as the seasons changed, and circling the globe in the process. This documentary gave him the perfect excuse to fulfill his dream. The title refers to the year in his life when, for him, summer would never end.
Along the way, we learn a little about surfboards and waves. What types of waves are the best? Little curly ones that don’t collapse. What does great surfing mean? Long rides.
But more interesting is the human story.
The tone of the film is a little staged and familiar at first. Brown seems like a big self-assured lug going for cheap clever laughs. He realizes he has a movie camera and sets up a couple of visual gags, as if that’s what one is expected to do with a camera. But as he moves around the globe, the novelty of the camera wears off and his wonder and enjoyment grow. He stops trying so hard, which is for the best, because the adventure he is living is enough for the camera.
He arrives on the west coast of Africa with his two “stars” and companions. Blond, white, well-dressed, and carrying 10-foot surfboards, they stand out like a couple of sore thumbs. They catch some waves at a nearby beach and are mobbed by locals (adults and children) who have never seen a surfboard, much less a person riding one. The surfers let their “hosts” try the boards, which are such a fascinating novelty that they fear the locals won’t give them back. This first encounter is a real culture shock and it makes them grow up fast. What little “we’re Americans so respect us” attitude they started with, goes away fast.
As they travel south along the coast, they gradually become more streetwise, more confident, and more mature.
In the most memorable scene of the film, the two surfers find the most perfect spot on the globe for surfing. It is a little beach in South Africa, miles away from the nearest civilization, only accessible by walking 20 minutes from the road across some sand dunes. The spot itself is pretty, but to the average viewer, it is no more amazing than any other spot on earth. To these surfers, it is paradise. Their enthusiastic declaration that it is the best surfing in the world makes us feel privileged to have seen it and sorry not to have been there in person (especially in light of what became of the spot . . . but more on that in the next review).
The movie is a favorable cross between a home movie and a serious documentary. Bruce Brown’s personality is apparent from the pranks he pulls at the beginning, and through his more serious evaluations of friendships and waves. But the movie is also long enough and of a broad enough scope to be taken seriously. The mix is very effective. The storyteller’s personal enthusiasm for the subject matter is contagious, and it makes both Brown and surfing much more interesting. In fact, it will probably make you want to try surfing.
Not many of us get to fulfill the kind of dream that Brown fulfilled by making this movie. He knew he was lucky to be making The Endless Summer, and by the end, he seems genuinely grateful for the chance. The year of the endless summer was clearly the best year of his life, and we got to see it all.
He was a wonderful tour guide for one of the most interesting tours on film.