We may have lost a true icon of surfing, but we are forever thankful for the beautiful body of work that Brown has left behind, which will continue to inspire surfers everywhere.
Brown was born in San Francisco, California, in 1937 and found surfing at age 10 after moving to Long Beach with his family. It was there in Southern California that Brown fell in love with surfing and got his first taste of surf cinema, attending screenings of early Bud Browne surf films at his local auditorium. It wasn’t until 1955, when Brown was stationed on a Navy submarine in Honolulu, that he created his first surf film, a Super-8 short.
Early surfboard magnate Dale Velzy purchased Brown his first 16-millimeter movie camera, which he used to shoot the full-length film “Slippery When Wet.” The film was well received on the burgeoning surf film premiere circuit in large part because of the fun, lighthearted narration that would become a touchstone of all of Brown’s work.
Brown would go on to make four more surf films, including “Surfing Hollow Days,” which documented Phil Edwards surfing the first Pipeline wave ever ridden on film, before he set out to make his most ambitious movie yet. “The Endless Summer” was filmed on a $50,000 budget in 1963 and starred Mike Hynson and Robert August on a journey around the world searching for “the perfect wave.” While “The Endless Summer” may appear to be a simple travel documentary, Brown’s charming narration and the story of seeking and discovering perfection and adventure around every turn spoke to core surf and mainstream audiences alike. The film was a massive commercial success upon its wide release in 1966, and is seen as the most iconic surf film of all time, inspiring countless surfers to hit the road in search of their own perfect wave.
In the following years, Brown worked on several other projects, including the 1971 Oscar-nominated motorcycle movie “On Any Sunday,” before going into retirement. Brown didn’t work on another film project until 1992 when he directed “The Endless Summer II,” a sequel that he co-wrote with his son Dana.
Brown won a Waterman Achievement Award from the Surf Industry Manufacturers Association in 1994, a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 1997 SURFER Awards, was inducted into the Surfing Hall of Fame in Huntington Beach in 2009, and received dozens of other accolades over the years.