Catching the Perfect Wave in ‘The Endless Summer’

Bruce Brown’s The Endless Summer is a classic surf documentary from 1964. In pursuit of an unending summer, two surfers travel the world looking to catch the greatest waves. Brown’s camera follows them on their journey, which takes them from Hawaii to California to the African continent to Australia and then to Tahiti.

Almost all of the visuals in The Endless Summer are of people catching waves, either riding them out or wiping out. Though we see the surfers mostly from a distance, Brown’s commentary keeps us right in with the action. Brown defines key terms, explains the different kinds of waves, reports the weather conditions, and in general spins the yarn for this tale.

But Brown is no ordinary narrator. He is not the omniscient narrator casting his observations with detachment and neutrality. Instead, he is goofy — for lack of a better word — in his narrating of this piece. Some of his comments border on dry humor. For example, one of the surfing locations is called “number three, right next to number two.”

Brown’s comments on Africa draw on cultural stereotypes while at the same time try to be humorous. In describing the people of Ghana, he says, “They came down to the beach with their kids and their lunch and still had both hands free.” Other comments are a little more pointed. After discussing the problems of sharks in the waters near South African shores, he says, “Sharks and porpoises have yet to integrate in South Africa.”

Another stereotype comes through the representation of women in this documentary. About an hour into the runtime, Brown begins to talk about women surfing in Hawaii. He notes that many women are accomplished surfers, but as he talks about the suit she wears and not her technique, the woman falls off her board. He returns to the subject of women when the surfers visit Australia, this time marveling at the bikinis they wear and letting the camera linger.

Accompanying this narration is a great soundtrack that consists primarily of surf rock, though the music changes to African drumming when they arrive in Ghana. No didgeridoos were heard when they visited Australia and New Zealand, however.

Ultimately, this documentary is about finding the perfect wave and the perfect conditions to surf it. The end credits even thank Neptune for making them.

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