Bruce Brown and Robert August’s dream to experience a summer that would never end is being carried forward through the next generation.
“The Endless Summer.” It’s an institution that California can call its own. Whether you surf or not, if you have lived in the state for any period of time, you have no doubt crossed paths with its influence in some way. Its creation was a watershed moment and served as validation for a lifestyle that had been, up to that point, discounted.
Bruce Brown, Robert August and Mike Hynson’s iconic project was a symbol of adventure, daring, the never-ending quest for beauty and the eternal promise of paradise. “The Endless Summer” is the little surf film whose global influence gave surfers everywhere an extra push to explore waves on every stretch of this planet.
It did the same for young filmmakers. The surf and action sports industry, YouTube, GoPro and many others all owe some measure of gratitude to this pair of Southern California boys who followed their passion, inspired millions and realized their dreams.
A little over 50 years ago, as a young filmmaker with five surf movies under his belt, Bruce Brown made an observation and ran with it. When Brown was planning travel to Cape St. Francis, South Africa, for his next surf movie project, his travel agent noted that for $50 less, Brown could book a trip that would take him around the world. “Many surfers ride summer and winter, but the ultimate thing for most of us would be to have an endless summer of warm water and waves without the summer crowds of California,” Brown says. “The only way to do this is by traveling around the world, following the summer season as it moves around the globe.”
For that gem of advice, generations of surfers and documentary filmmakers should thank that unnamed travel agent for planting the seed for what was to come. Or as Brown, who also narrated the movie, explains, “This movie deviated from the normal template for surf movies at the time: film, use the available talent pool in the winter, edit in the spring, and hustle it, showing it everywhere possible, during the summer.”
Brown believed he had a film that could have a measure of mainstream success, so he sought out Hollywood studio partners, but time and again he was rebuffed. So he went the friends and family route, raised $50,000 to get the film made and, as he said, hustled it. His grassroots push for this movie was legendary; he famously brought the movie to a theater in Wichita, Kan., in the dead of snowy winter, where it played to sold-out audiences for two weeks straight. When the movie finally found release through a national distributor, it grossed $5 million domestically and $20 million worldwide.
Brown was also able to parlay the critical nods and mainstream popularity of “The Endless Summer” into a lifelong career as a respected documentary filmmaker and patriarch of his eponymous film company. The 1971 American motorcycle documentary “On Any Sunday” was directed by Brown and co-produced by his friend, actor Steve McQueen. Later, in 1972, the film was nominated for Best Documentary Feature at the Academy Awards.
Brown’s ability to turn his passion into a career, spurred his son, Dana, and grandson, Wes, to enter into the family business. Today, Brown has passed the torch to Dana but collectively they’ve had great success with films like “The Endless Summer II,” “On Any Sunday, The Next Chapter,” “Step into Liquid,”
“The Endless Summer Revisited,” and many others. Dana is currently in production, in Mexico, on the sequel to his Baja 1000 documentary “Dust to Glory,” aptly titled “Dust2Glory.” You can learn more about Bruce and Dana Brown at brucebrownfilms.com and danabrownfilms.net.
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For a couple of the principals involved, it marked the beginning of dual legacies that have become a huge part of the thread of California’s unique tapestry. Robert August, who along with Mike Hynson, was one of the movie’s two main stars, was able to use his association with the enduring classic to navigate his way through the then nascent surf industry. August’s legacy added to that of his father, and paved the way for his son, Sam, to become an integral part of the family history, as well as guardian of the Robert August brand.
While there may have been better-known surfers available to star in “The Endless Summer,” August was chosen by Bruce Brown for a specific purpose. August, no stranger to Brown’s camera, having appeared in “Slippery When Wet” (1957), “Barefoot Adventure” (1960) and “Surfing Hollow Days” (1961) was the 19-year-old son of Hermosa/Redondo Beach lifeguard legend Orral “Blackie” August. Blackie, who would surf with Duke Kahanamoku whenever Kahanamoku visited Southern California, was also one of the first to surf Redondo Beach’s waves. Newly graduated from Huntington Beach High School, where he was the senior class president, Robert August was, in Brown’s eyes, the perfect ambassador to show surfing in a positive light.
After the movie, August looked to the surf industry to find his niche, first as a salesman and, later, finding his groove as a freelance shaper. He had a detour with a failed attempt at the Endless Summer restaurant in the early 1970s—a venture that he later described to “Longboard Magazine” as one that “set a world record for losing money.” But in 1974, he launched Robert August Surf Shop in Fullerton and relocated it to Main Street, Huntington Beach, in 1976.
August, forever a longboarder at heart, recalls, “For a good while, the shop was selling nothing but short boards.” But like all good things, longboard demand eventually came back around and August was able to enjoy the renewed growth, expanding his Huntington Beach business.
August started to venture to Costa Rica often, filming at surf spots like Ollie’s Point, Tamarindo and Witch’s Rock for the 1994 Bruce/Dana Brown sequel, “The Endless Summer II.” This drove attention to Costa Rica as a major surf travel destination and August fell in love with the place. Over the past couple of decades, he’s maintained bases in both Huntington Beach and Tamarindo. His surf camp at Witch’s Rock in Costa Rica is legendary and receives amazing reviews from visitors. August also holds local shaping seminars, supports numerous local charities in the U.S. and Costa Rica, promotes music and arts festivals, and even has a radio show.
August’s son, Sam, has become an integral part of the family business, watching over all that is associated with the August brand and serving as the guardian of the brand’s intellectual property. Sam has carefully developed and maintained licensing partnerships and collaborations in diverse categories, including the family’s latest project, a surf and golf lifestyle experience in Costa Rica called Turf Safari.
Sam has also been able to keep one foot in the world of his other passion, baseball. A former professional pitcher with the Houston Astros organization, Sam has guided a number of young players in Huntington Beach and Orange County by providing pitching instruction. Currently, he is looking to shift his baseball energy to guiding his No. 1 student, his 9-year-old son, Tommy, who is also, naturally, a surfer. You can learn more about Robert and Sam August at robertaugust.com and turfsafaricostarica.com.
Want More? We Have an Exclusive with Robert & Bruce … We Asked Their Sons to Do the Interview!
We thought it would be fun to have Dana and Sam interview their dads, asking questions they maybe always wanted to know or ones they just love hearing the answers to over and again. It’s a rare peek into the generational bond these men have created, in some part because of the brave, iconic film “The Endless Summer.”