Many of us who began surfing in the ‘60s can thank (or in some cases blame) Bruce Brown for how their lives played out. At the time we all went to see a surf movie about once a year. They never played at a movie theater, but in big auditoriums. We always went to the Santa Monica Civic.
Brown had always hypnotized us but “Endless Summer” was next level. He was like a launch pad, and while it would take a few years for me, I was eventually off in search of surf. For me that would mean Hawaii, Mexico, Australia and New Zealand. Others went still further, into a world that had yet to be discovered for its surf potential. Few of us had ever heard of waves in Bali, Costa Rica, Europe or even Kauai. Again, you can thank or blame Bruce Brown.
By the early 1990s I had spoken to Bruce Brown a few times. He had already been retired from the surf scene for some time, and I was just getting started. One of my ventures was to do a longboard surf film, since in 1990 there hadn’t been a new one in more than 20 years. Steve Cleveland, Greg Weaver, Joel Tudor, Wingnut and I put together a fun little video titled “On Safari to Stay.” We were nearly done with the film, but still needed a shot of a surfer driving a van along an empty beach. There was just such a shot in an old Bruce Brown film.
Somewhere I had read that Bruce was tired of having someone walk up to him with beer breath and tell him how the “Endless Summer” had changed his life. (Thankfully, I read that before I called him, so I didn’t tell him that.)
I don’t recall who had his phone number, but I called him one day, told him who I was and what I was doing and asked if I could use a minute from his film. His reply was something like, “OK, but only a minute.” There was no paperwork or anything, and that was it.
Little did I know that you didn’t just call up a famous film director, ask for a piece of his film (something akin to asking for a piece of his heart) with any hope that he would say yes. Imagine calling George Lucas (Bruce at that was more important to us) and asking if you could use a minute of “Star Wars” for a project you were doing. Bruce wasn’t polite about it, but he was very nice. He was just matter of fact about the whole thing before he said goodbye and hung up.
A few years later Bruce Brown was dragged out of retirement to make the less than spectacular “Endless Summer II.” He and his son, Dana, and Wingnut were on their way somewhere when I got a late night call from the “Nut” that they needed a place to stay for the night. “Sure, come on by,” I said casually, trying to hide my excitement that Bruce Brown was coming to my house. My house! I must have been more excited than I remember because I forgot to pick my wife up at the airport that night. Being a nonsurfer she simply wondered why I had failed to show, and who is that guy again, hanging out on the porch, smoking?
Nothing I said could convince her that this was a teen obsession.
“No, he’s not more important than you, babe. No, I don’t want to join him on the floor. OK, I’ll never do it again.”
We made up, and I rolled over in bed, smiling in the knowledge that the guy who had done more to direct my young path than anyone, was softly snoring on the front room floor.