Bruce Brown, the man, the myth and The Endless Summer surfing film legend, passed away Sunday at his ranch home near Santa Barbara. It seems incredibly ironic that Bruce and his son, Dana, hosted a group of Santa Barbara locals just a few weeks ago at The Endless Summer Bar-Cafe at the Santa Barbara Harbor for the release of the 50th Anniversary Endless Summer Collectors Edition.
Bruce was a pioneering filmmaker whose pursuit of finding the perfect wave helped turn surfing into a cultural phenomenon as he documented two of his friends traveling the world in search of the perfect wave, which they eventually found and filmed in Cape St. Francis, South Africa.
Even if you’ve never surfed, you’ve likely heard of The Endless Summer movie. I first saw the film in 1966 during its national release. After seeing the film only once, the mesmerizing footage of surfing Cape St. Francis was locked into my memory, and I decided then that was it — I will learn to surf.
I was only 9 years old at the time, and it took me a few years to graduate from a polystyrene foam belly board to a real fiberglass surfboard that I bought from the local surf shop on Siesta Key. Looking back now over 50 years, it is incredible to consider how one film and one decision can influence one’s life, fuel your passion for a sport and a lifestyle, direct your world travel plans, influence where you go to college and ultimately drive your decision to live near the Pacific Ocean — close to some of the best waves in the continental United States.
I feel so blessed to have been able to tell Bruce about how his Endless Summer film had such a profound influence on a 9-year-old Gremmie who grew up surfing on the Gulf Coast of Florida. Bruce gratefully shared that he’d had so many people tell a similar story — much to their own detriment. Bruce went on to film and produce On Any Sunday in 1971, another groundbreaking film on motorcycle riding with award-winning actor Steve McQueen, and directed The Endless Summer II in 1994, a sequel to his original blockbuster hit. Bruce’s son, Dana Brown, inherited the passion for surfing and filmmaking, directing his own successful surfing documentary, Step Into Liquid, in 2003.
Bruce, our thoughts and prayers are with you and your family during this time. You introduced a few generations to the incredible sport of surfing and showed how to pursue your dreams and go “all in” for what you have been gifted, called and inspired to do — even when it has never been done before. Wishing you warm water, endless summers and perfect waves to enjoy on the other side, my friend!
— Michael Holliday, FAIA, is a local architect, entrepreneur, business leader and surfer for more than 50 years.