Column by Henri de By
Some titles can conjure up a feeling somewhere between promise and desire. The
Endless Summer is the name of the definitive surfing film whose creator and
director, Bruce Brown, died last week. Made in 1963 for a budget of only US$50,000
it would become the most successful documentary ever, raking in US$30 million. It
made back its money 600-fold. Why?
After all, surfing was, and still is, a niche sport — just like polo. People have
heard of the sport or think it looks exciting in photographs and video-clips but few
have seen it in real life, let alone, follow it. Even less have actually done it or would
dare to. To most people it exists more as an image than a real sport (in the case of
polo, think Ralph Lauren). Of course, Brown told an attractive story. For his film he
followed two surfers, Mike Hynson and Robert August, on their search to ride the
perfect wave. As their quest took them around the world, Brown found his title
when he realized they lived in an endless summer. Finding a distributor for his film
about a niche sport proved more difficult.
So, from his own money Brown rented a movie theater to show his film. Not
in California, the Sunshine State where surfing is a well-know sport and
phenomenon but, of all places, in Wichita, Kansas. A state without a coastline let
alone a beach. And to top it off: in the midst of a brutal winter. In a place with snow
and temperatures far below freezing for months on end, Brown hoped, people might
want to see a film called The Endless Summer. They did. Columbia Pictures bought
and released the film in 1966. And, as they say: the rest is history.
When I saw that Brown had died, it occurred to me that even though surfing
and polo at first sight may look like very different sports, they share something rare.
They are not so much a pastime as that, no matter at what level you play, it becomes
a lifestyle — if not your life. Both have competitions and cups to win but, ultimately,
that is not what drives us. Like surfers on their quest to ride the ultimate wave, we
keep searching for the perfect pony to play that flawless match. We know it is out
there, somewhere in that endless summer.