Rocking the Waves: The Endless Summer (1966, directed by Bruce Brown)

The Endless Summer“With enough time and enough money, you could spend the rest of your life following the summer around the world.”

That’s the idea behind The Endless Summer, Bruce Brown’s classic surfing film.  The Endless Summer follows two surfers, Mike Henson and Robert August, as they make their way across the world, following the summer, exploring virgin beaches, and finding new waves to conquer.  The journey starts in California and takes them to Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Tahiti, and finally to Hawaii.  Along the way, they discover some surprising things about the world circa 1965.  For instance, in Senegal, it costs 30 dollars to stay overnight at a hotel.  Even worse, it costs a dollar to get a cup of coffee and a gallon of gas!  They also teach some of the natives that they meet how to surf.  As they leave one beach in Africa, Brown says that the local tribe now knows only one English phrase: “Hang ten!”

The Endless Summer is usually considered to be a documentary but mostly, it is just director Bruce Brown talking about the history of surfing and how much he loves it.  The only soundtrack to be heard in the film is Brown’s narration and the music of the Sandals, a California surf band.  Brown’s narration is casual and conversational, mixing corny jokes with hepcat slang and ruminations on the philosophy behind surfing.  He also takes the time to explain what a bikini is.

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Though The Endless Summer is usually thought of as being a surfing film, it’s also a rock film.  During the early 1960s, surf culture and rock culture were largely interchangeable.  Surfing films were a huge influence on rock and roll because surf music was born at their screenings.  When a filmmaker like Bruce Brown would screen one of his films, he would often provide live narration while playing either west coast jazz or a rock instrumental in the background.  For many future aspiring musicians, going to the screening of a surf film would also be their introduction to bands like the Fireballs, the Revels, and the Ventures.  Without surf films, there would have been no surf music and no musicians inspired by it.

The Endless Summer may only feature one band on the soundtrack but it captures the free spirit of mid-60s rock and roll.  It is a seminal film that will be enjoyed even by people like me who have never surfed a day in their life.

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