The Endless Summer (Bruce Brown, 1965) 🇺🇸

The Endless Summer |

November 26, 2021

Three male figures are silhouetted in the slanting light of the setting sun. They are bathed in the warm colours of an orange and red summer sky where the sun will soon sink into the depths of Neptune’s kingdom. The mysterious call of the sea is pulling at them; they know that if they want to catch the perfect wave, it’s now or never. How long will they have to wait, eyes scanning the horizon? It doesn’t matter because, for these surfer-travellers, “elsewhere is a better word than tomorrow”.

The poster’s composition of superimposed horizontal lines imitates the endless patterns of the waves that draw the eye towards the unknown. The combination of three summery colours – black shadows and white sunlight turning the sky orange – refers to the minimalist “sea, surf and sun” motto of hardcore surfers. Surfing is a sport where you “glide” rather than “kick”; barefoot, treading lightly, you make your way in the soft sand, without forcing anything. This gorgeous poster is an invitation to go on a journey, not only to faraway places but also within yourself.

The title The Endless Summer, with its letters that seem to stretch endlessly, offers us a recipe for happiness. Are you feeling down as, inexorably, the days draw in, the leaves turn yellow and the air turns chilly? Are you feeling sad because summer is over and you know “all good things come to an end”? Wrong! There is a way to make the pleasure last and keep summer going. By listening to the Beach Boys all year round? By setting your radiators to 25 °C? No! As director Bruce Brown explains, “with enough time and money, you can follow the summer endlessly”. His exceedingly soothing Californian accent could make us buy a time machine; it seems that to shake off the bad weather and go for the perfect wave all year round, you simply have to cross the equator. Which is precisely what the two protagonists of the documentary did: Robert August, the dark-haired man (a fitting name for a perpetual summer surfer!) and Michael Hynson, the blond man. The same year as some of their countrymen were sent to bomb North Vietnam – Bruce Brown refrained from filming in Asia – they travelled to the four corners of the world in quest of surf spots. Setting off from the Californian coast, whose waters were beginning to turn cold, the team embarked on a long journey along the coasts of Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Tahiti and Hawaii. A feast for the eyes, bringing us images of a truly “hypnotic beauty”, in the words of The New York Times.

Brown, of course, filmed the waves in the days before GoPro cameras. Small waves and big waves, like the devastating Polynesian Teahupo’o, or “mountain of skulls” in Tahitian, crashing down onto a shallow coral reef, and the enormous Banzai Pipeline in Hawaii where firefighters and ambulances stand guard on the beach. But it is an average wave that takes centre stage here, the mythical “perfect wave”, the Holy Grail of all surfers – an interminable 45-second break he lovingly filmed at Cape St Francis in South Africa. We never tire of it, and the hypnotic wail of the electric guitars played by The Sandals perfectly maintains the illusion of having left dry land, as we are immersed in a world made up purely of the haunting images of foam and swell.

The voiceover takes an informative turn as Brown teaches us how to tell apart the different figures that produce this osmosis with the waves. I obediently watch how to pass the bar, stand up on the board, change direction, stay in the hollow of the wave – and learn how to fall, with demonstrations of the “take-off”, elegant “hang ten” using cross-stepping, spectacular “tube” and breakneck “wipe-out”, all executed brilliantly by the greatest surfers of the time, including Fred Hemmings, Miki Dora and Phil Edwards.

The camera is similar to Flaherty’s when he filmed the reaction of the inhabitants of Accra to the intrusion of two white men riding a board in the middle of their canoes. Who would have thought that day that their fishing activity would end in a surf lesson? However, our travellers don’t want to stay long in Dakar, where they are greeted by stones thrown by overly curious children. They then find themselves in the middle of summer (in November!) by crossing the equator. From the Cape of Good Hope, they are picked up by a kindly cobra catcher who also introduces them to friendlier wildlife – impalas, giraffes, zebras and elands – as they travel up the Indian Ocean coast. Although the trip is full of pleasurable encounters, they have to avoid the “men in grey suits” who also enjoy the surf spots (and surfers!) in Durban as well as in Perth, in Australia. In New Zealand, trout fishing makes up for the lack of waves and they spend Christmas in Bermuda shorts.

The trip is coming to an end, but now it’s your turn to extend your summer – by acquiring this beautifully artistic poster. It will cost you less than a round-the-world trip and, by changing your atmosphere, whisk you off to the other side of the world!

Check out the French version of this article.