Slippery When Wet

The ideal poetry that is sun, sea, waves and foam initiates the work. 8 x 10 glossies of the surf in Hawaii arrive by mail, the surf shop in San Clemente immediately issues an exploratory expedition. The five surfers have various dreams of the place. Man Ray has the same technique. Feasted by girls under a palm tree, eating poi, sipping a cool drink in the sun, a girl borrowed from the feast, twelve-foot waves. By DC-8 to the islands.

A quick introduction, high and low, rich and poor, water temperature 78. Surfing is a devotion, John Huston opens The Bible the same way. The monkish pallets of a communal domicile, the flivver, a Woody. Nothing doing on Makaha, buy a box of Surf detergent, abracadabra (and “a classic wipeout”).

High dives at the War Memorial. Higher dives off Waimea Falls. Yokohama Bay, Waikiki, Sunset Beach, Kamehameha Highway, Sandy Beach, Pupukea. Waves of every variety, two weeks of flat surf—sunup—surf’s up, “a slap on the back from old King Neptune.” The great hunt for car keys flung in haste (homage to Dr. Ball).


Surf Crazy

1959-60, first surfers down the coast to Acapulco. “Mean” waves, not big but untenable, in shallow water. Cheerful perseverance.

A trip to Rincon, various lost surfboards (head-toting—both turn to see a pretty girl—over the railing it goes... or sticking out of the jalopy—cropped by a light pole).

Fast drivers in Mexico City. The Aztec two-step. J. Arthur Rank.

The great rocket experiment in Hawaii. The great wave of January 17th, 1960 (Waimea).



It begins with an exposition of surfing terms (Paddling Out, Taking Off, Turns, Riding the Nose, Head Dip, a profusion of Wipeouts).

Brown takes a break from filming in advance of The Endless Summer, by putting together footage seen and unseen from his previous efforts. Several famous scenes (Surf detergent, Waimea Falls, etc.) are provided with new narration, how to make your own water-log is demonstrated, for example.

The surfing begins rough at Pleasure Point, moves to Hawaii and Mexico (1959), Newport Beach, the ruler-straight waves at Santa Barbara, fast surfing at the pier in Huntington Beach, Capistrano in a catamaran, diminutive Daytona via the Rio Grande, Rincon Point (Brown pauses to reload), Australia, the Pipeline and how it got that name, Surf Boat Races Down Under, Yokohama Bay and many another port of call.


The Endless Summer

Eastern reviewers like Robert Alden of the New York Times naturally enjoyed it and naturally couldn’t see there was much if any point to it, not recognizing in the narrative a cool, dispassionate liking for tall tales, mystifications and good jokes that came to them right from the horse’s mouth of Mark Twain’s own disciple with a barefoot camera, gleefully without resources on Cape Horn to film long and leisurely rides on waves that are neither too big nor too small, but “perfect”, as the narrator happily observes miles and miles from the civilized world.


On Any Sunday

The exactitude, brilliancy, and sporting instinct of motorcycle racing, exemplified in three practitioners.

Mert Lawwill, number one on the circuit, has a disappointing season entirely due to small-scale mechanical failures (he is his own mechanic and completely overhauls his bike after each race).

Malcolm Smith leaves them all behind with a natural ease and skill that are perfectly amazing to behold.

Steve McQueen supplements his professional career with amateur motocross, desert race and grand prix finishes at a high level.

Every aspect of the sport is considered.


The Endless Summer II

The presence of ocean waves is measured by Brown in “tens of thousands of years”, a force of nature, not a quantity.

You tread past salmon-fishing bears to surf the near-freezing waters of Alaska.

Robert August now lives in Costa Rica, where the water is about ninety. Brown’s proficient surfers take swift rides just below the crest, straight across.

The joke at a country restaurant in France is setting the escargots free in a potted plant. Tommy Curran lives at Biarritz, where surf shops feel like home.

John Whitmore does the tour of South Africa. Cape St. Francis is not what it was, but nearby Jeffreysbaai is perfect in its way. The only Zulu surfer cannot swim, but dons togs for a portrait of the “surf dude”.

Lions rip a wet suit from their dune buggy, hungry-looking lions, skin-and-bones.

Tavarua, Fiji, “truly a beautiful place.” Top surfers join them (the joke is, Brown has “turned pro”).

The kava ceremony, a dance and a sleep on the beach.

Cloudbreak, off the coast, a rare and brief helicopter shot. “The surf was epic,” towering.

Brisbane, Surfers Paradise, a Manhattan of hotels. “Let’s go ride a few,” says their host. A walk along the river with beasties that are blandly pointed out as lethal.

Along a gigantically advertised secret route, “the world’s smallest wave” is found, breaking at about a foot (the surfers ride it).

A giant waterfall, a nightmare of being pushed over, pursued by bats and parrots, stopping short and losing your board over the hood of your car, etc.

To Java, “the most densely populated land on earth,” completing a set of opposites (South Africa’s West Coast the “least populated”, long board/short board, and the tallest waves to come), by way of Bali. Java to G-Land by fishing boat (a mistake) and cruiser.

Waves as big as mountains you’re towed into, off Hawaii.

The distinctive nature of waves, no two are alike.

At Jeffreysbaai, Brown requites the admiration engendered by his original footage at Cape St. Francis, he films a one-minute ride (he can afford it now) and says five minutes is possible on a good day.

He now has a crew, a director of photography and several cameramen. They go into the water to film the wave arching over in slow-motion and a surfer barreling along the tube in the greatest footage ever taken.

The classical shore shots are unbearably exciting as the same waves curl over each surfer like an obscuring waterfall while he speeds constantly, in or out of sight impossibly ahead of the falling waterpeak.

A potent series of wipeouts is displayed near the beginning, to show how it isn’t done.

Polynesians were the first to appreciate this sort of thing, we are told. Film critics will assuredly be the last. An underwater camera looks at waves from below, surfers gliding on the surface likewise (and plunging into the blue-green shimmer).

“The national pastime of surf-bathing,” Twain calls it, “whizzing by like a bombshell!” He tried it once (Roughing It) and failed, but capped the adventure by mocking the critics, “None but natives ever master the art of surf-bathing thoroughly.”