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A Definitive History of Surfing's Culture and Heroes

By Malcolm Gault-Williams    THIS PAGE UPDATED: Monday, 14 October 2002

LEGENDARY SURFER
Bud Browne

Aloha and Welcome to "Old School Stash," a profile I wrote on Bud Browne, surfing's first commercial filmmaker, for Surfing Magazine, Volume 31, Number 7, July 1995. An expanded look at Bud and his work will be included in my book in-progress, LEGENDARY SURFERS, but is not available, yet. Bud's still making his work acessible through Gordon McClelland. Call 800-248-8057 for Bud's "Surfing The '50s" video or his original 1964 production, "Gung Ho!" Tell Gordon Malcolm sent ya.


Artwork based on a photo by Bud of Phil Edwards. Courtesy of artist Ken Auster and Waterman Art Gallery.


"Old School Stash"

Surfing, Volume 31, Number 7, July 1995. Bud Browne profile.

The Surfing Q & A by Malcolm Gault-Williams

Before Bruce Brown and The Endless Summer, there was Bud Browne and The Big Surf. Last year, Bud "Barracuda" Browne, surfing's first commercial film maker, released the best of his 1950s film footage transferred to videotape. This classic footage predates the first Endless Summer by a decade and Bruce Brown's earliest work by over five years. Bud's Surfing the 50's is the last in a line of visual offerings that began in 1953 when he pioneered the tribally-celebrated art form we know as the surf film.

Malcolm: When , where and with whom did you first surf?

Bud: I started lifeguarding in Venice Beach in 1938. I lived down there and started surfing that summer, using the lifeguard rescue board. When I began, I surfed with mostly Venice lifeguards and some guys who were members of the Palos Verdes Surfing Club, cuz I surfed there; guys like Adie Bayer and Tule Clark.

When did you start shooting surfers ?

In the 1930s, Doc Ball was the first surfing photographer, but he didn't make a commercial film to show around like us other surf film makers did, later on. I bought my first movie camera in 1940 -- the two hobbies just came together naturally. I first started shooting moving pictures with an 8 millimeter Bell and Howell camera. It wasn't until 1947 that I got a 16mm and continued taking surfing movies with that; mostly in Hawaii.

When did you show the first commercial surf flick?

I had my first showing at Adams Junior High, in Santa Monica, in 1953. I had one or two showings that year. I think I showed in La Jolla that same summer, but that was all. Hawaiian Surfing Movies was the first commercial surf film to be shown anywhere. It encouraged me so much I kept doing it. So, I had a new film every year for about 13 years.

Where were the first surf films shown?

School auditoriums, sometimes gymnasiums, cafetoriums. At that time, not many theatres were rented. We'd show them in community halls, like this one, here [San Clemente community center]. As it got more popular, over the years, I was encouraged to keep on doing it and show them at more places throughout California, Hawaii, Australia and New Zealand.

You used a unique water-proof housing for your in-water shots in McGillivray/Freeman's Five Summer Stories in 1972 and Five Summer Stories Plus Four in 1976. What's the story with that?

It was a water-proofing like nobody else has done. I put the camera in a rubber bag. All the others were plexiglass or a metal box... When you get hit by the surf, you're more likely to lose a box or even have it hit you. Instead, I just stuck the bag between my legs and used my arms for swimming... I used that rubber sealing for all my water shots.

Your last movies were Going Surfin' in 1973, and The New Gone Surfin' in 1977. By then, who were your favorite surfers to shoot?

There are various surfers for different spots, for small or large surf. I'd rather not go into naming any favorite surfers because I liked those who would perform the best in their favorite places to surf. Like, in the old days, Buzzy Trent and George Downing at Makaha; Gerry Lopez and Rory Russell at Pipeline. But, they were more or less the old timers... I'd hate to name surfers and leave people out that need to be mentioned.

What about favorite music to use in the movies you did between 1953 and 1977?

It depended on the sequence you were using it with. There was hot dog music for small surf and there was dynamic or classical music for big surf and there was lilting, fast music for comedy sequences... You might say the guitar was my favorite...

What about your all-color video Surfing the 50's?

One day early in 1993, I realized I had all this pristine surf film on the shelf that no one had seen in more than thirty years, and that it would be of value as a historical record of an important time in the early years of surfing. Music was contributed... I must have gotten 35 or 40 audio cassettes. Out of those, I used 23 individual selections.

What about the actual film clips, themselves?

The available footage I had to select from consisted of both original and often projected print film, which picked up scratches over the years. I thought viewers would prefer to see the best footage of the fifties rather than the limited film that survived with no imperfections.

At age 82 [in 1994], you have a perspective few can lay claim to. What's your advice for anyone who wants to get into making surf films, today?

I was once asked that question about 40 years ago and I said, 'Yes, stay out of it!' because I didn't want competition. But, since then, there have been -- I don't know -- 60, 70, 80 surf photographers along the line... I would say, look into the cost of buying the equipment and the film, which has gone up considerably since I was buying film, and look into the market for it and see if it's worthwhile for you to start it; worthwhile to get into the business rather than try something else; some other life's work.



Malcolm interviewing Bud, October 1994, San Clemente Community Center

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