Endless Summer sounds like a student's dream, but it is a classic film from 1966 that follows the trek of two surfers trying to surf around the world in an attempt to have an endless summer. Bruce Brown produced not just a classic film of early surfing, but a historical statement of the geography of surfing. He also produced a wonderful look at the beauty of surfing. For all of us children of the sixties raised on images of surfing, this film is a record of that dream.
The film reflects the geography of surfing in two main ways. (1) The nature of the surf at particular places around the world results from the physical geography of coastal structure and weather. Surfable surf is not universal. The nature of the coast determines whether waves will break in surfable ways. There is also a seasonal component to that surf. While the film attempts to create an endless summer, surf is often better in the winter in some places. (2) Local culture is important. Surfing is widespread, but not all cultures engage in it. Especially back in time, local culture had impact upon any activity in spite of its global nature. Surfing was historic in some places, while only a few odd souls engaged in it in other places. Then, there are variances in local customs such as clothing and gender involvement.
Hawaii. The film keeps harking back to Hawaii, the hearth of surfing. The warm waters of Hawaii promote surfing to the point of crowding and accidents. Its beaches vary in their surfable nature. Waikiki Beach seems very popular with surfers possessing a variety of skills. The Pipeline has significant surf, but is shallow and the underwater surface consists of sharp coral. The film even points out that only a few ride the Pipeline. "Some are sportsmen, some are nuts." Then there is Waimea Bay. At certain points the surf is massive. Some may recall the film Ride the Wild Surf which followed the contest that develops to be the last one to ride the surf here. Of course, Jan and Dean sang the theme song to that great film noting the waves were some 30 feet high. The surfers look like they are surfing down the slope of a multistory building. Only the best surf here when the surf is up.
California. The traditional place for surfing in the 60s was Malibu in California. The beach films were focused here, as well as other beaches. What Americans see as surf and surf culture is Californian in nature. Sub-Saharan Africa. African beaches had no reputation at the time of the film, yet very desirable surf conditions were found. In Dakar, Senegal; Accra, Ghana; and Lagos, Nigeria; the surf was wonderful. The film does take an out-of-date view of African culture and peoples. There are no local surfers except one group that seems to know how to surf with their boat.
South Africa. Surfing is just arriving in South Africa in 1966. The spread of culture had a slower pace then. At Cape Town, Durban, and Cape St. Francis, the film appreciates the surfable beaches. The surrounding environment gets a good viewing, including Table Top Mountain, the Cape of Good Hope, and animal life [giraffes, sharks, monkeys, and zebras]. That the American landscape looks similar does not escape note.
Australia. They surf both western [Perth] and eastern [Melbourne, Sydney] beaches. Surfing culture is better developed than in South Africa, and women fully participate. The only problem is that the surf seems poor. They explore the principle that the surf was always better yesterday. Winter, it seems, is prime surf time.
New Zealand. The short, simple scenes of the landscape set off New Zealand eminently well. They combine mountains with a quick stop at the areas of "bubbly mud," --or mud pots in Yellowstone terms. Surfing is underdeveloped. The varying nature of the surf is emphasized as they find a place were a ride can go on much of the day.
Tahiti. The barrier reef restricts surf potential here. They are told that the place has nothing for them, but they find it any way. Unusual is that one beach has two-way surf. The surf rolls in, but then the beach creates a wave back into the ocean.
They end up in Hawaii, again. It was heavy on their minds throughout the film. Then the sun goes down on the endless summer.
I watched it on AMC [American Movie Classics]. They followed it with a clip of the Beach Boys live singing "Dance, Dance, Dance." A perfect choice.
Updated from: Meartz, Paul D. 2002. Geography in Media: Endless Summer. Dakota Alliance XII(3): Summer 2002: 7.