Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Bruce Brown (1937-2017)

Bruce Brown, whose documentaries helped spark America's love of surfing, passed away Sunday at the age of 80.

For my money, his 1966 documentary The Endless Summer is the best film about surfing ever made — and one of the greatest documentaries on any subject. Here are some words I wrote a while back about that great film:

Adrenaline is the drug of choice for most Americans these days (that, and self-righteous bile). And of all the over-the-counter mood-altering agents, it's also the most overrated, a jangling noise that drowns out any quiet thought of our own mortality.

But Monkey, you may well ask, who wants to contemplate their own mortality? Nobody, admittedly. The end of everything — knowing death is coming — is our unique curse as a species.

But it's also our blessing. Do you think an animal is ever aware of a perfect moment, the fleeting in-between when the doing is done and we exist in harmony with the elements — when, if you listen quietly enough, you can almost hear the music of the spheres.

The world keeps turning, of course, and the perfect moment ends almost as we become aware of it, but because we're aware the moment will end, we know just how special, how precious, how fleeting those moments are.

In this time of constant distractions, there's something quaintly charming about the notion that a four-foot curl off the coast of South Africa was once thought of as the perfect wave. These days surfers ride fifty-foot monsters in the middle of the ocean, waves they can only reach at the end of a towline, and riding them is more akin to falling off a mountain than anything your father ever did on a surfboard.

I imagine The Endless Summer, Bruce Brown's 1966 documentary about an around-the-world search for the perfect wave, has as much in common with today's surfing scene as flying a kite does to space travel.

Maybe that's why I like it.

With Brown's passing, we speed a little bit faster into a future that has no time for perfect waves or perfect moments.


Bellotoot said...

RIP, Bruce Brown.

"The Endless Summer" is linked to a vivid memory of mine: watching it alone on a black and white portable TV, with a very snowy picture, my first night at college. I was the only student there that night. Kind of "a perfect moment, the fleeting in-between," you could say. Well, you did say.

Nicely written, Mr. Monkey!

mister muleboy said...

Bellotoot: Please.

It's mister monkey. . . .