Good Season

I lived in L.A. for two years in the late Seventies but I wasn't much of a surfer. I tried it exactly once, sleeping on the beach at San Clemente for a long weekend with a couple of other bums I met playing hoops on Venice Beach. The waves sucked, the water was cold, there were a lot of rocks in the shallows that hurt my feet, and I couldn't even stand up on the damn board. After a token half-hour of trying and failing, I waded back ashore. As far as I could see, there was no percentage in the whole experience, save the girls, who were every bit as beautiful as advertised. Come nightfall, there were parties everywhere. We crashed as many as we could. No one asked me a single surfing-related question. I was about as close to heaven as a 21-year-old could get.

I slept on the sand at the foot of a cliff. Two vivid memories of my surfing adventure stand out to this day: First, I was rudely awakened and nearly shredded by a tractor-pulled sand grater at about 4:00 a.m. Second, when the sun came up and I awoke for the second time, I noticed a lonely guy standing at the top of the cliff staring impassively out at the sea. As my bleary eyes slowly focused, I recognized the disgraced 37th president of the United States, Richard M. Nixon. Energized by my brush with death hours earlier and being the mature, conservative, even-tempered sort I was (and am), I shouted a choice obscenity or three at the pathetic figure and chased those with a one-finger salute. I don't know if Nixon didn't hear me or just pretended not to -- it was pretty windy -- but he never looked down.

So even though I've never ridden a wave for so much as a millisecond I've always had a soft spot in my heart for the sport. You take the boards and attack the waves. I'll guard the beer. We'll all have a grand old time.

Over the years that have followed that excursion, I've held my share of lousy jobs. I've worked in warehouses and slaughterhouses and boiler rooms. I've pushed brooms and loaded trucks and programmed computers. I've sold blank audio cassettes by the gross, videotapes by the dozen, and fresh-cut flowers by the truckload. I can say without a doubt that writing movie reviews for a living sure beats waking up at 4:00 a.m. to shovel wet sand from the middle of a flooded golf course's sand traps onto the sides. Even if it means sitting through The Cowboy Way and Beverly Hills Cop 3 on consecutive days.

But no single movie ever made me seriously consider quitting my job until The Endless Summer ll. Not because I hated the movie. Because I was jealous. Hand me a truckload of money and let me travel the world in search of the perfect wave, and New Times has one less film critic to worry about. This time I'll actually surf. I swear I will. I mean, writing is okay and all, but what red-blooded American wouldn't get stoked at the idea of ripping a hideous wave when the surf is pumping unreal in Java? Wasn't it Shakespeare who said, "Tubed or not tubed, that is the question?"

When Bruce Brown made the pseudo-documentary The Endless Summer 30 years ago, there were only four nations where people surfed regularly. Now there are more than a hundred and the sport is too popular to be considered a subculture. Millions of dollars in prize money and corporate sponsorships fuel the major tournaments. Surfer terms like "gnarly" and "tubular" have worked their way into the popular lexicon. Hairstyles and fashions regularly originate at the beach. Surfing gear, accessories, and clothing have exploded from cottage industries into big businesses. A cynic might suggest that all the fun's gone out of it.

Nonsense, says Brown. Emphatically. (A caveat: The original Endless Summer cost $50,000 to make and became an international phenomenon that grossed more than $30 million. This sequel had a budget of roughly three million dollars. Surfing has been bery, bery good to Bruce Brown. He is not unbiased in his opinion.) The writer-director-narrator-editor of both Summers shot his first film with a single wind-up 16mm camera. For the update he utilized state-of-the-art 35mm technology, which enabled him to shoot footage from above, below, beside, behind, and ahead of the surfers. Ninety hours of raw footage were distilled into 100 or so minutes of finished film. The results are so visually spectacular that it can be overwhelming. The camera magic is so lyrical and poetic that by the end of the movie you find yourself struggling not to fall into a hypnotic trance.

The narrative thread is pure simplicity. Take a pair of accomplished modern surfers A a long boarder and a short boarder, Robert "Wingnut" Weaver, 26, and Patrick O'Connell, 20, respectively A and retrace the steps of the original film, spicing things up with the occasional droll commentary by Brown or cameo appearances by international surfing stars such as Shaun Tomson, Laird Hamilton, Tom Carroll, or Florida's own Kelly Slater. Off you go.

The itinerary includes stops in Australia, Bali, Costa Rica, Fiji, France, Hawaii, Java, and South Africa. The Endless Summer ll even ventures north to Alaska, where the water temperature is a balmy 39 degrees and intrepid surfers have to pass through the domain of some grumpy brown bears. (Animals are a big part of The Endless Summer ll. In the course of their odyssey, Weaver and O'Connell dodge caimans, elephants, lions, geese, howler monkeys, fruit bats, and deadly Fijian sea snakes. Brown lavishes so much camera time on the critters that you can be forgiven for wondering if he's intercut his surfing extravaganza with an episode of Wild Kingdom. You half expect to see Marlin Perkins toting a surfboard. And the juxtaposition of a pair of California golden boys with all the wildlife often gives the film a comical Bill and Ted-meets-The Gods Must Be Crazy feel.) While the geographical transitions are not seamless, Brown's narration smoothes out most of the rough spots.

A wave is not just a wave. Different locales have distinct personalities based on a multiplicity of factors A water depth, wind direction, smoothness of underlying land mass, et cetera. Brown's detailed explanations of such arcana will regale some and weary others. It's not just a bunch of cool shots of guys gliding through perfect barrels or wiping out, although there are plenty of those. There are some wonderful nonsurfing scenes, such as when a stranger takes O'Connell and Weaver to a remote surfing location in Costa Rica and crashes his seaplane in the process. Or when a pride of hungry lions climbs aboard the frail, stalled dune buggy the boys are driving and rips apart their wetsuits. And the shot of the surfer who gets thrown so high from a monster wave that he's nearly diced by the propeller blades of a hovering helicopter was a few inches away from making it into the next Faces of Death installment.

Granted, the movie isn't perfect. Brown's hokey staging of Weaver saying goodbye to his girlfriend falls flat, as do some of the narrator's cornier jokes. And the film is howlingly politically incorrect. White surfers blissfully frolic in South Africa without a care. In France O'Connell cannot stop ogling topless women at the beach. (He's obviously never been to Fourteenth Street on a Saturday.) Surfing may have progressed drastically in the 30 years since Brown made the original Endless Summer, but the director's chauvinism hasn't.

All in all, though, it's a pretty gnarly ride. It's too long by a good fifteen minutes, but what the hell. It'll get you stoked anyway. I'm ready to give surfing another try. Maybe by the time Brown gets around to filming The Endless Summer lll in another 30 years, there'll be a part available for the first geezer to surf the North Coast of Oahu with a walker. Then I'll blow this pop stand, I can tell you that.


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