BOARDING SCHOOL

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

lifestyle.

      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

Entertainment Weekly.

      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

completion.

      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

learning."

     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

will run.)

      "But I know a place where the waves won't kill

you," Brown says. "You may only lose some front

teeth."

      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

Pu'u, laughing.

      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

shape.

      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

defeat" music.     

      "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

blade.

      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.'"







 

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