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Remembering Bruce Brown, Whose 'Endless Summer' Documentary Boosted Surfing As A Sport

RAY SUAREZ, HOST:

We're going to take a moment now to remember a titan among the waves, and we're not talking about Poseidon. We're talking about documentary filmmaker Bruce Brown, who died last week at the age of 80. As NPR's Alexi Horowitz-Ghazi reports, Brown's 1966 surfing documentary "The Endless Summer" sealed his status as one of the sport's greatest evangelists.

ALEXI HOROWITZ-GHAZI, BYLINE: Bergman of the boards and Follini (ph) of the foam - That's how Time magazine and The New York Times respectively described surfer-turned-documentary-filmmaker Bruce Brown in 1966, the year "The Endless Summer" hit film screens across the country.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "THE ENDLESS SUMMER")

BRUCE BROWN: Many surfers ride summer and winter, but the ultimate thing for most of us would be to have an endless summer - the warm water and waves without the summer crowds of California.

HOROWITZ-GHAZI: That's Bruce Brown himself narrating the film. On its face, "The Endless Summer" is the story of two young surfers on a search for the world's tastiest waves. But as Matt Warshaw, author of "The Encyclopedia Of Surfing," sees it, it was really more of a love letter to surfing itself.

MATT WARSHAW: Bruce Brown will be remembered in the world of surfing as the guy that essentially introduced what real surfing is to the rest of the world, the guy that kind of let everybody else in on our great secret.

HOROWITZ-GHAZI: Warshaw says that, in the early 1960s, popular depictions of surfing in movies like "Gidget" and "Beach Blanket Bingo" didn't do the sport justice. Surfers were mostly depicted as goofball teenagers or juvenile delinquents. And many surfers felt the story of the sport deserved to be told by one of their own.

WARSHAW: Bruce Brown, first and foremost, was a surfer from Southern California.

HOROWITZ-GHAZI: Brown got his break in his early 20s, when he convinced a California surfboard manufacturer to fund his first feature-length documentary. He spent the next several years cutting his teeth as a filmmaker before his big hit, "The Endless Summer."

WARSHAW: What people didn't realize is that he'd been practicing to make that movie. He'd been doing essentially drafts of that movie for almost five years.

HOROWITZ-GHAZI: Warshaw says "The Endless Summer" captured something essential about the joy of surfing that made it both appeal to surfers and non-surfers alike, and that made it a genre-defining film.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "THE ENDLESS SUMMER")

BROWN: The ultimate thing to do in surfing is to be actually covered up by the wave. And here goes Wayne doing the ultimate thing.

WARSHAW: You know, if you were ever going to turn to someone who's never surfed and say, this is why I surf and this is what it's like, that intro to "Endless Summer," I think, is still the finest thing you could give to somebody as an introduction.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "THE ENDLESS SUMMER")

BROWN: The thing you can't show is the fantastic speed and that feeling you get in the pit of your stomach. I couldn't help but think of the hundreds of years these waves must have been breaking here. But until this day, no one had ever ridden one.

HOROWITZ-GHAZI: Bruce Brown eventually stepped away from filmmaking after garnering an Oscar nomination for a later documentary about motorcycling. He spent the following decades pursuing his other passions - swordfishing, golfing and rally-car racing - chasing a different kind of "Endless Summer." In many ways, he succeeded. And with his films, Bruce Brown brought countless others along for the ride. Alexi Horowitz-Ghazi, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE SANDALS' "THEME FROM THE ENDLESS SUMMER") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Alexi Horowitz-Ghazi is a host and reporter for Planet Money, telling stories that creatively explore and explain the workings of the global economy. He's a sucker for a good supply chain mystery — from toilet paper to foster puppies to specialty pastas. He's drawn to tales of unintended consequences, like the time a well-intentioned chemistry professor unwittingly helped unleash a global market for synthetic drugs, or what happened when the U.S. Patent Office started granting patents on human genes. And he's always on the lookout for economic principles at work in unexpected places, like the tactics comedians use to protect their intellectual property (a.k.a. jokes).
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