By Corey Levitan
Once every 10 years, Bruce Brown receives a
slew of calls from East Coast reporters.
"To what do you attribute the new popularity of surfing?" they ask.
Brown always gives the same answer:
"(Expletive)! Why do you guys call me every 10
years and ask the same question?"
Brown -- surfing's most legendary filmmaker --
doesn't notice his favorite sport wading in and
out of pop culture. To him, it's an endless
Nevertheless, a new wave of interest is being
stirred by "Blue Crush," the surfer-babe movie
opening Friday with Michelle Rodriguez and Kate
Bosworth. And Brown once again finds himself
riding the curl of that wave. Turner Classic
Movies is presenting eight of his documentaries,
two at a time, every Sunday in August.
Hosted by Brown, the series launched last
weekend with his classic "The Endless Summer,"
the true story of two teenage surfers circling the
globe in pursuit of the perfect wave. Brown shot
the 1966 movie with a wind-up Bolex camera and
$50,000. It earned $30 million.
"It used to piss us off when they made 'Beach
Blanket Bingo' movies," says Brown, 64, who began
surfing in his Southern California hometown of
Long Beach as a teenager in the '50s. "We were
trying to make surfing respectable."
The call Brown receives from this East Coast
reporter is in person. The Post has sent me out to
his home surf, near Santa Barbara. But rather than
just ask about surfing, they decided to test the
man dubbed "Chairman of the Boards" by
Is Brown worthy enough to make a surfer of
this chicken of the sea?
As far back as junior high on Long Island, I
was accused of looking like a surfer dude.
However, although I've lived no more than five
miles from ocean my entire life, the only waves I
ride are brain waves -- and most not even to
Brown tears his four-wheel drive Honda across
a half hour's worth of winding coastal mountains
like a fly across a diner. (Raleigh car racing is
his new kick.)
"Unfortunately for you, the surf's come up all
over and it's huge," Bruce says, pointing out the
crystal-blue Pacific. "It's not a good day for
A Southern Hemisphere swell has ventured in
from New Zealand, he explains.
"These waves have had 8,000 miles to gain
strength and kill unsuspecting reporters," Brown
says. (One way or another, a story about today
"But I know a place where the waves won't kill
you," Brown says. "You may only lose some front
We arrive at an 8-mile-long stretch of
pristine coastline gated off to the public.
"If you tell anybody where we are, a big
Hawaiian guy is gonna break your femurs," Bruce
says. "Not just one, but both."
The waves don't look scary from the shoreline.
They're more like the ones the Monkees fled on
their TV show.
"Wait until you try to ride them," Bruce says.
The humbling process begins on shore. All the
power my right foot can muster won't squeeze it
through the opening in Brown's extra wetsuit.
"That's the sleeve!" yells photographer David
I request a board without the regulation
leash. Tying a surfboard to your ankle does not
strike me as the most efficient way to not get
conked in the head by it.
Moot point. Mine has no ankle tie. It barely
has a tie to surfing. Called the "Half-Day Boat,"
it is a giant fiberglass banana built by Robert
August, co-star of "The Endless Summer," for the
express purpose of fishing. It is so big and
buoyant, Brown and his friends sit on it, poking
their line through holes dotting its edges.
"Paddle out to me!" shouts Bruce's son Wade, a
40-year-old soundtrack musician tagging along
because his father, a heavy smoker and drinker,
hasn't surfed in a year and fears he's out of
I enjoy the taste of seaweed wrapped around my
sushi. However, when wrapped around my sinuses,
not so much. I now discover how Tom Hanks felt
trying to escape the island in "Cast Away." Each
sudsy wall of bricks rams me backward five
paddles, as icy brine gushes into holes in my head
I didn't know I had.
Wade grabs my banana boat and turns it around.
He waits for a "green" wave to launch me upon (one
that has not already broken).
"Those are easier to ride," he promises.
From eye level, the waves each look like the
tsunami from "The Perfect Storm."
"Here's the one!" Wade pronounces.
The board starts gaining speed without my
consent. Attempting to shift from my stomach to my
feet, I shift instead into a new sport: diving.
The coursing whitewater yanks my arms, legs and
head in different directions as I plunge deeper
than WorldCom stock. And, despite its lack of a
leash, the Half-Day Boat proves a precise head-
seeking missile, delivering the much-dreaded conk
as it rockets up from the abyss.
Cue the ABC Wide World of Sports "agony of
"Are you still alive?" Wade asks when I emerge
10 seconds later. "Paddle out again!"
Bruce assesses my problem as "trying to stand
up too quick," before getting a feel for my center
of balance. But I don't know how my balance can be
off. My feet are size 10 1/2, my body 5'6". I'm
surprised that I've ever fallen in my life; I
should always pop back up like a Weeble.
My next run endangers not only my life, but Bruce's, who is directly in my steerless path.
"I killed the Chairman of the Boards!" I yell
as I slice into his head with my giant yellow
Bruce emerges, his right eye red with blood,
but flashes the OK sign and smiles. I apologize
over and over.
"That's OK, I'll kill you on the ride home,"
Bruce jokes (I hope).
After three more tries, I manage to stand for
about a millisecond before wiping out onto ocean-
bottom rocks that tear a small gash in my toe.
I did it. I hung about a 1.5 instead of 10,
but I did it. I'm now a surfer dude.
Overcome by the desire to celebrate my
achievement by dancing to bad guitar music on a
blanket, I scan the shoreline for Frankie Avalon
and Annette Funicello.
"Not bad," says Bruce, who claims I can star
in his next surfing movie.
"Yeah, if I ever make 'Dorf on Surfing.'"
Click here to return to home page