In Search of the Perfect Wave – The Endless Summer (DVD Review)

The Endless Summer is not a film about anything. Well, that’s not entirely true, it’s a film about surfing, but within that it’s not a film that feels a need to say anything about surfing, and that’s not a problem. It is in many ways not just a film, but the film about surfing in that there is little else to it. Bruce Brown’s cult 1966 documentary follows two young surfers, Robert August and Mike Hynson, and their adventures around the globe to find ‘the perfect wave’. This quest takes them through Senegal, Ghana, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Tahiti and Hawaii, all locations obviously known for their utterly terrible views.

Very few men have done as much to capture the sheer beauty and joy of surfing as Bruce Brown, and The Endless Summer has good cause to be considered his masterpiece. It is in essence a very attractive travelogue, but that’s all it needs to be. It’s bizarre that as it goes along, we spend a lot of time being told by Brown (who directs, produces, edits, shoots and narrates) about Hynson and August, but never really learn more about where they come from and who they are – that is just two kids going around trying to find waves. The important thing is to find waves that they do. This is not the ‘corny’ surf movie style you think of with 60s surf movies: it is an idealised portrait, certainly, but it is one that makes no bones about presenting surfing as what it is. Brown knows how to capture a wave on screen and the cinematography is superb; not just during the surf scenes – which feel innovative even in today as they manage to get shots that would still feel impressive with a GoPro roughly 40 years before their invention – but also during the trips around the various locales the surfers visit. A trip around South Africa captures some truly magnificent moments in a beautiful place.

It’s possible that to some this will not be quite their cup of tea. It’s a very modest film; as I say, nothing happens. If it’s a film about the search for the perfect wave, I think the film pretty much establishes such a thing doesn’t exist, but that doesn’t really matter, because it seems that such a conceit is only really held onto for the smallest amount of the film. As superb a visual chronicler Brown is, there are times when his attempts to inject humour into the narrative lack something in timing, but somehow Brown makes it work and it almost adds to the charm.

The Endless Summer is widely considered the greatest surfing movie ever made and frankly I can’t dispute this; not just because my knowledge of true surfing movies is limited – though I can’t say this hasn’t made me interested to explore the genre further. It is very much a film of its time, but that’s to its benefit as it feels like a wonderful time capsule for a particular time in a particular sport. It’s a charming little thing, even down to Bruce Brown thanking you for watching at the end, so I think it makes sense for me to finish this by saying ‘This is Jozef Raczka and thank you for reading this review’. Now go watch the film, it’s great.

Dir: Bruce Brown

Scr: Bruce Brown

Cast:  Mike Hinson, Robert August, Miki Dora, Bruce Brown (nar.)

Prd: Bruce Brown, Bob Bagley

DOP: Bruce Brown

Music: The Sandals

Country: USA

Year: 1966

Run time: 95 minutes

The Endless Summer is out on DVD, Blu-Ray and Digital Download now.