The Endless Summer is one of several things that started a surfing craze in the early to mid-’60s in the US. The Beach Boys were undoubtedly the key influencer for kids picking up surf boards, but also other surf music, especially the instrumentals by Dick Dale and His Del-Tones and one-hit wonders like The Chantays with their immortal hit Pipeline, also played a role. The Beach Boys themselves latched onto the scene despite the fact that only Dennis Wilson was the only surfer in the group. The scene was already being exploited by AIP by 1963 with their Beach Party series. Against this background, The Endless Summer was made in 1964 but wasn’t shown widely till 1966, which was already the beginning of psychedelia.
The documentary itself is a snapshot of the lives of two American surfers, Robert August and Mike Hynson, who travel around the world trying to catch that perfect wave. They are followed on this trip by the documentarian Bruce Brown, who had already made a series of films about surfing, although this one is his most well regarded. I have to admit that I prefer his documentary on motorcycle racing, On Any Sunday, because you get a better feel for the people involved with the story.
They go around Africa, and in this segment Brown’s narration is deeply problematic. I’m sure the guy wasn’t a negative racist, but he has a very naive view of the people they meet and follows the narrative of “primitive cultures” that was common then. The most notable dodgy bit of narration is “Being good Africans, they threw a few rocks.” It’s very much a document of his time, and has a feel of an education film of the ’60s but also the well-meaning but in the end somewhat demeaning or patronising view of indigenous people.
It is a beautiful-looking film. That said, when you are on the beaches of Africa, Australia, New Zealand, California and Hawaii, it would take a blind person to not get some good shots. When the film originally came out, Brown would narrate it live while simultaneously being a DJ playing assorted surf records. Some of the surf music remains in the film, but I have a feeling that it certainly lost something when they finally mixed the film with a mixture of surf music, jazz and African music. It was, however, a giant success for Brown who released it independently and became a multi-millionaire in the process.
The disc is full of features, including interviews with the surfers, Brown, his producer and even the companion film The Endless Summer Revisited. It’s available in a dual-format boxset or single-disc versions on Blu-Ray or DVD.