50 years after visiting South Africa during filming for Bruce Brown’s iconic surf movie, The Endless Summer, Robert August returned to our shores for the first time a fortnight ago to retrace some of his steps.
Mike Hynson and Robert check out the scene along Durban’s Golden Mile in the 60’s.
We heard he was in town and arranged to meet him at Durban Surf Lifesaving Club, overlooking the waves he surfed with some of the locals who wore “skinny bikinis” half a century ago. We wanted to hear his thoughts on visiting again after so much has changed.
“Well, it almost affected all surf destinations in the world and it created a lot of them too,” explains Robert when we ask him if he had thought about the influence Endless Summer had on surf culture. “I like hearing the stories about people who saw the movie for the first time, and maybe it didn’t make them want to get a board right away, but it made them want to go somewhere, you know. See someplace…”
Intelligent, witty, and humble. Robert August – Durban – August 2014.
Although their initial plan was just to get to Cape Town, they had no choice but to visit many other places along the way.
“We were gone for 8 months while filming the original movie. Our whole goal was to get to Cape Town because we had heard that John Whitmore was getting blanks from Clark foam and they were learning how to surf. But there wasn’t that much air traffic in those days and it kind of only went one way around the world then, so to get to Cape Town we had to fly from New York to Senegal, then to Ghana, Nigeria, Leopoldville (now called Kinshasa), just to get to Cape Town. We had to stay in each one of those locations for about a week before the next plane would go. So it ended up being a great adventure. We got good waves in Senegal and Ghana, where we surfed with the kids, and in Nigeria we found some cool little waves. That was what was unique about the trip. We were gone for a long time.”
“It ended up being a great adventure,” says Robert of their eight month long surf trip.
Eventually Robert, filmmaker Bruce Brown, and Mike Hynson made it to Cape Town.
“We got some fun waves there,” continued Robert. “Then got a map and set off for Durban. Between Cape Town and Durban there was nothing, just a basic road and every once in a while there was a road that the map showed branching off to the coast. So we’d go take a look down these bad roads, and so often there was nothing. Just a cliff or something.”
Robert gesticulates a sheer drop into the ocean before continuing.
“Then we’d turn around and go all the way back. That’s how we stumbled upon Cape St Francis and it was perfect! We were like, my gosh, look at this…”
His eyes light up at this point as he mimicks perfect waves with his hands.
“It was pretty exciting. We surfed that wave for five hours. We had no food, no water, but when you’re 18 you don’t get tired.”
He was of course talking about the discovery of ‘Bruce’s Beauties’, which got the whole world talking – and searching for the perfect wave.
“At that time there were only a couple of guys making surf movies and these were usually shown at high school auditoriums. Bruce Brown and the other guys would stand on the stage with a microphone and narrate the film as it was being projected. They had a turn table with some music, and that was it. So I knew it was going to be the best surf movie, because Bruce was good. His movies before Endless Summer were a little better than the other guys. They had great editing and funny commentary, but I had no idea that it would ever be in a normal theater around the world. I never thought that they would see it in Moscow and Tokyo. WOW!
His eyes light up and he shrugs his shoulders in disbelief.
Thanks to Robert, Bruce and Mike, surf culture entered the minds of so many across the globe. It’s difficult to gauge just how much The Endless Summer influenced surfing, but with people still talking about it 50 years later it’s safe to say it was massive.