Last month, Turner Classic Movies showed beach movies night after night for about a week, and I watched Endless Summer for the first time. I'm not a surfer, and I really didn't know what to expect. For instance, I didn't realize that it's a documentary, or that it was director/narrator Bruce Brown's seventh movie, but the first to see wide release in the US.
Brown began surfing in California in the 1950s at age 14, and was hooked. He made several documentaries about the sport he loved, including "Barefoot Adventure" and "Surf Crazy," but "Endless Summer" was different. The movie's concept of flying around the world, following the summer weather and chasing perfect waves, is the ultimate beach fantasy.
The movie's budget was probably about $50,000 USD, but that money took them from California to Hawaii, Tahiti, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and West Africa. Along the way, we the viewers learn not only about surf culture, but something about the local cultures as well. We see that the playful nature of surfing captures people's imagination no matter where they live. We also see some amazing surf footage. Both surfing and camera equipment have changed in the 45 years since "Endless Summer" was released in 1966, but it's still thrilling to watch.
The best wave the surfers find in their journey is on a deserted beach--Cape St. Francis in South Africa. The interesting thing is their definition of perfect. The waves at St. Francis aren't these towering monsters that make for such dramatic photographs. What made the wave perfect for them was its form, duration and rideability. As Brown said in a 2010 interview, "At Cape St. Francis that day, anyone could have surfed it."
That attitude of looking for a good ride and a fun day permeates this G-rated movie. I think anyone could watch it and smile because it contains an innocent charm. It's not trying to make a big thematic point and clobber you over the head with it. "Endless Summer" is about the joy of surfing and the camaraderie of surfers the world over. And about the magic of catching that one perfect wave on that one perfect day--a memory that will stay will you for a lifetime.