The Endless Bummer

Widely considered one of the best surfer movies in American history, The Endless Summer celebrates its 50th anniversary this week

By Jacinto Salz

You guys just missed it! You should have been here yesterday.

Exploration and discovery are intrinsic to surfing. Ancient Polynisians’ voyages across the Pacifc reflect an understanding of the natural world. It’s this understanding and connection that developed wave riding into the sport it is today.

The Endless Summer by Bruce Brown is perhaps the single most foundational work in the surf film canon. The film’s premise of traveling across the world insearch of a year’s worth of warm water and private waves conjures the spirit of exploration that pays homage to the sport’s titanic ancestors. 

Except everyone in the film is white. 

Okay, that’s not strictly true. Throughout the various locations in the film the local “natives” watch Robert August and Michael Hynson dance across their ten feet of space age technology. In Africa these are young children who “being good Africans, threw a few rocks”. In countries with strong colonialist histories even the white onlookers maintain the mantle of “native”. The men of these transplanted western (white) civilizations are given first and last names, where their black counterparts are treated as features of the landscape. The western women are included more for their oozing sex appeal than for their skill on a wave.

All the while August and Hynson are incredible on their hightech planks. The joy of the locals is understandable, if not appreciated. It’s rare to see someone not beyond elation, not too cool to get excited. Besides, surfing is an incredible sport, mind- bogglingly so. To be reminded of our own state of jaded lethargy is invaluable. 

Brown takes hiatuses from the film’s story to stop off in other iconic surf locations. Heart -stopping footage of the behemoth Waimea Bay and treacherous Pipeline in Hawaii. As well as Haleiwa beach on Oahu. These delightful vignettes visualize the world of surfing as a playground for brawny white men that can absolutely shred on a wave. 

Not a single Hawaiian surfer is mentioned.

The Endless Summer develops the myth of surfing that continues to be pervasive: surfing is a white man’s sport. 

Like many of the best things, surfing was created by indigenous peoples, co-opted via colonialism, then culturally whitewashed.

Of course the film feels dated, it’s more than half a century old. The Endless Summer could never be made today. Cries of outrage would shake the coasts. It’s easy enough to dismiss The Endless Summer’s infractions as anachronistic; an artifact from a crystalline past. But the film is consistently heralded as the most foundational surf film ever made. Posters with August and Hynson’s likeness hang in garages across the world, The Endless Summer stickers will remain on the back of your local stop-sign long after you’ve rolled through. 

We ought to be aware of our roots. From ancient ceremonial practice to trendy western fad. Where are we headed next?

I’ll admit, Brown’s genre of nostalgia is deeply pleasurable. A memory of a time before my psyche was prescribed a rebranding. Sitting in my home in Santa Cruz California, watching August nose ride a perfect wave, laughing out loud at Brown’s one liners, and considering which of my boards to take out to the Lane the next morning, the reality became clear. 

It’s pretty good to be a white male surfer in the 21st century. 

You guys just missed it! You should have been here yesterday.


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