Always click on the LEGENDARY SURFERS icon to return to this homepage. LEGENDARY SURFERS
A Definitive History of Surfing's Culture and Heroes
By  Malcolm Gault-Williams

This Chapter Updated:  17 February 2006
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Bud "Barracuda" Browne

Surfing's First Commercial Filmmaker

"Gun Ho!" movie poster courtesy of Bud Browne.


A lifeguard/surfer beginning in the late 1930s, Bud "Barracuda" Browne went on to become surfing's first commercial surf film maker. Throughout the 1950s, it was Bud's surf movies that provided the stoke and defined the genre. While other notable surf film makers followed, from the late 1950s onward, Bud continued to practice his craft and this has resulted in his cinematic influence continuing to present day.

I was fortunate to be able to interview Bud in the mid-1990s. That interview was published in Surfing magazine and is also included here at the LEGENDARY SURFERS website. It is much abbreviated, so if you don't have the time to read this chapter, here on this page, click on the Bud Browne Interview to get the "Reader's Digest" version. There's a few more pics there, too.



Contents

  • The Lifeguard-to-Surfing Progression
  • Waikiki, 1938
  • The 1940s
  • Hawaiian Surfing Movies, 1953-55
  • Trek to Makaha, 1956
  • The Big Surf, 1957
  • Surf Down Under, 1956-58
  • Cat On A Hot Foam Board, 1959
  • Surf Happy, 1960
  • Spinning Boards, 1961
  • The 1960s
  • Waves of Change, 1970
  • Going Surfin', 1973-77
  • You'll Dance in Tahiti, 1967
  • Barracuda Favorites
  • Surfing the 50's, 1994
  • Film Ho!
  • Index


  • "However, the real unsung hero, the man always in the background of surfing is Bud Browne. While the heroes are carving their names in the Surfing Hall of Fame, Bud is the photographer, bedecked with camera, wetsuit and fins, who sits hour after hour at the impact zone. He goes over the falls, shooting film of the surf heroes..."
    -- Fred Van Dyke
     
     



    In this day and age, most surfers think of the first surf movie as being the The Endless Summer (1963) by Bruce Brown. Yet, well over a decade before, Bud Browne -- no relation to Bruce -- was shooting surf footage and putting out surf films for surfers to get stoked over. Although "Doc Ball, John Larronde and Don James all took surf movies in the old days" before him, Bud "Barracuda" Browne was the first one to do so commercially. In fact, Bud was the originator of the surf movie genre. The surf movie, aka surf film or surf flick, became a primary form of communication among surfers between 1953 and the beginning of the 1980s. Bud's influence on surfing has been huge and largely unrecognized by later generations of surfers.
     
     

    The Lifeguard-to-Surfing Progression

    Born circa 1915, Bud grew up in the water and swimming played a major role in his life.

    "I was a Phys. Ed. major at USC beginning in 1931," Bud told interviewer Gordon McClelland, "and was the swim team captain in 1934. I also swam for the L.A. Athletic Club from 1931 to 1948."

    Swimming lead to lifeguarding which lead to surfing. It was not an unusual line of progression in the 1930s.

    "I started lifeguarding in Venice Beach in 1938," Bud told me. "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 Tulie Clark."

    The summer of 1938 lead to others full of lifeguarding, wave riding and diving, too.

    "In the summers, before and after the war, I lifeguarded at the L.A. City and County beaches, around Venice and Hermosa. That led to my interest in diving and surfing. I've always enjoyed diving and would go out every chance I could. When the water was clear we would paddle out on a mat and free dive for lobster. In those days we'd get some big ones right here off the coast, mainly at Palos Verdes, Pt. Dume and Laguna.

    "Whenever the surf was up, the water got murky and was no good for diving, so my diving partner, Jim Eubank, and I would ride waves on the mats."

    Bud also surfed "right next to the Sunset Pier on our station's Rogers rescue board... sand now extends 30-40 yards beyond the end of Sunset Pier." But, prior to World War II, Bud was into diving much more than surfing.

    "I went to the Red Cross Aquatic School on Catalina Island. They taught life saving techniques that are required of lifeguards. I dove around Catalina and also went to Todos Santos, Anacapa and Santa Cruz Island... diving for lobster and abalone. We used to give a lot of our catch away and sell some to make a few extra bucks.

    "At first we just went in the cold water in bathing suits. Then, I got some rubber from a company called Rubber Craft, made a pattern and glued some suits together with rubber cement. We put on long woolen underwear, then pulled the dry suit over them. You had to be careful, because if you tore a hole in the rubber with a spiny lobster or crab claw, water leaked in on the wool and you started getting wet and cold."

    At one point, Bud experimented with a device using a compressed air bottle with continuous air flow to a dive mask. "I saw the first 2 dry suits," Bud remembered, "by Charlie Sturgel, and began making my own from then on."

    When asked how he got into surfing specifically, Bud explained, "Back in 1932, I watched them surfing at Corona Del Mar next to that long, straight jetty and it looked like fun. While lifeguarding, I started riding waves on an old hollow Rogers paddleboard, mostly around Venice Beach. When the surf came up at Palos Verdes Cove , I put aside my diving gear, picked up a board and went surfing. There is a picture of me surfing on one of those hollow boards at the Cove in Doc Ball's California Surfriders book."

    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." The classic example of Doc Ball's photography stands in the immortal California Surfriders, 1946, a photo journal of surfing as it exhisted in California between the mid-1930s to the end of World War II. Gordon McClelland, in his interview of Bud in The Surfer's Journal, Winter 1995, entitled "Scenes from the Life and Times of Bud Browne," asked Bud about the number of waveriders surfing back in the '30s.

    "Not many compared with today," Bud replied. "Most of the lifeguards surfed at Malibu and Venice Beach. Also Tulie and Bud Clark, Doc Ball, Hoppy Swarts and Mary Ann Hawkins all surfed at Palos Verdes. Down south at Corona Del Mar and San Onofre, you'd find people surfing year-round. It was nothing like it is now, but there were a fair number of surfers then."

    Gordon asked Bud about Mary Ann Hawkins and wasn't she an early woman surfer?

    "Yes, and a very talented woman," Bud replied. "She used to swim and surf well, and was the only woman I remember who was out regularly. We became good friends in the early 1930s and would see each other at the swimming meets, mostly ocean swims. She also worked in the motion picture business in Hollywood, doubling for Dorothy Lamour and other famous actresses. Later, as Mary Ann Sears, she had a swim school for tots at Waikiki. Several times I took underwater movies of her classes."
     
     

    Waikiki, 1938

    The year 1938 was an eventful one for Bud. That year, besides getting into surfing, he made his first trip to Hawai`i.

    "My first trip was on the maiden voyage of the steamship Matsonia to Honolulu in 1938. Duke Kahanamoku came out to greet the ship when it arrived, as he did on special occasions when VIPs were on board. Most of that trip was spent on Oahu, but I made a short visit to Kauai. Being short of cash, a friend and I wsent steerage on an inter-island boat and saw most of that island hitchhiking.

    "Hawai`i was an exciting experience for me. I'm quite sensitive to changes in sight, sound and smell, so Hawai`i's music, hula, flower leis and landscape had a profound effect on me. The tranquil, uncrowded conditions contributed to much of the charm. I didn't actually surf on my first trip. I watched them surfing at Waikiki in 1938, then in 1940, I brought my hollow plywood board to Hawai`i and surfed Waikiki."

    At Waikiki, Bud met both Duke Kahanamoku and Tom Blake. "Yes, they were on the beach at Waikiki quite a bit," Bud recalled. "We had mutual friends and Duke liked catamarans, so I'd film him sailing off the beach. There are several segments of footage showing one of these rides in the video Surfing the '50s, when a group of us went out on one of Woody Brown's catamarans."

    Of Tom Blake, Bud recalled "that he was really into health foods. One time I walked into a small Waikiki restaurant and saw him eating raw oatmeal; dry, nothing on it. That seemed a little odd to me, but he was a nice person and was very popular at the beach."
     
     

    The 1940s

    During WWII, Bud was in charge of the swim program at Terminal Island Naval Base. "I was a Chief Specialist in Athletics -- first at San Pedro, then in the Southwest Pacific," Bud said. "Our CASU and ACORN outfits supplied land-based Marine fliers with food, lodging, etc." He didn't get any surfing in, "but I did get some diving in, and I had time to hunt shells. I made necklaces out of the small ones and the guys eagerly bought them as novel presents to send home."

    It was at this point that Bud gained his nickname of "Barracuda." "During the war, when I was stationed at Terminal Island, in the navy, someone called me that and it was picked-up later by -- I don't really remember who -- It could have been someone like Mickey Munoz..."

    "... it just sort of stuck with me," Bud reiterated. "... it was given to me because I spent a lot of time in the water swimming and have a tall slender build."

    Before and during the war, Bud hadn't done much with film. "No, that was before I became seriously interested in movie making," he said. "I did shoot some 8mm film of underwater subjects and surfing then, but they weren't really movies per se. It was just a hobby with me then. The results encouraged me to buy a 16mm Bell and Howell movie camera after the war. That 's when I really began to shoot film in a more serious format."

    "I bought a movie camera in 1940," he told me. "-- 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 Hawai`i."

    "Everything... being a lifeguard, a surfer, a diver, kind of lead up to the point where I went back to Honolulu in the late 1940s, joined the Waikiki Surf Club and began taking 16mm color movies."

    "The Outrigger Club was expensive so most of us ended up joining the Waikiki Surf Club. I kept my hollow box board (built by L.A. City Lifeguard, Lug Carlucci) in the club's storage area downstairs, right there at the beach. I favored Canoes and Queens at the time, although I can remember mat surfing a big day at Public's and getting washed up on the inside reef."
     
     

    Hawaiian Surfing Movies -- 1953-55

    By the beginning 1950s, Bud was going back and forth to Hawai`i and Tahiti regularly, from the Mainland. "I had a teaching job with the L.A. Unified School District," he explained, "with summers off. I looked forward to those summers!"

    Bud didn't like teaching as much as he liked to be in the ocean. As time went on, his teaching position looked less and less attractive, "especially after I got a taste of the potential of doing something in the surfing world."

    "In the early '50s, I attended the USC Cinema School for a while to learn more about photography and editing. Probably the editing was the most important information I got there."

    Bud tells the following story of his very first showing, at Adams Junior High School, Santa Monica, 1953:

    "In the Summer of 1953, I was at Waikiki talking with Dave Heiser, a teacher from Santa Monica, and he became interested in the surf film I was shooting. He invited me to show the footage at Adams Junior High School where he taught. I spliced my film together, called it Hawaiian Surfing Movie and charged 65¢ admission."

    Bud was asked how he advertised.

    "Just nailed some handmade posters to telephone poles near popular surf spots and the word got out. It worked pretty good too. It drew a fair-sized crowd of beach goers at the first showing."

    Bud was asked if he remembered how it went.

    "Oh yeah! That evening, after introducing the film on stage, I hurried up to the projection room to join the operator of an arc projector I had hired. I could see the screen from a small window, I had a microphone in hand and a tape player with music. It was a nervous time, trying to coordinate telling the projectionist when to switch from sound to silent speed and vice versa, playing music in some places and not in others, and narrating when needed. Sometime during the show I remember the take-up reel quit turning and much of a 45-minute reel of film piled up on the floor. Although this was a sort of nerve-wracking experience, I've always thought of the overall event as going pretty well."

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

    "I quit the teaching job, and for the next twelve years, I released a movie each year. As surfing got more popular, I increased the number of places I would show them; like in La Jolla, Redondo Beach, Oceanside, Newport, Hermosa, Santa Cruz, San Francisco, all up and down the California coast at school auditoriums and recreation halls mostly. Surf shop owners like Jack O'Neill in the Bay area, would find places to rent, then I'd show up with the movie. Also promoters like Larry Stevenson in Santa Monica, Buzzy Bent in La Jolla and Ken McLentyre in New York would rent the movies to show at special surf-related events."

    Other show sites included "School auditoriums, sometimes gymnasiums, cafetoriums," explained Bud. "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, Hawai`i, Australia and New Zealand."

    Hawaiian Surfing Movie (1953) was followed by Hawaiian Holiday (1954), more Hawaiian Surfing Movie (1955) and Trek to Makaha (1956).
     
     

    Trek to Makaha, 1956

    "I spent winters in Hawai`i every year," Bud continued. "Buzzy Trent had a Quonset hut at Makaha, and from 1957 I rented rooms and houses on the North Shore... Makaha, Sunset, Waimea and later Pipeline. In California, I'd go to the better spots, Malibu, Wind N' Sea, Trestles, Steamer Lane, Rincon ; just places where good surfers would be out when the surf was up."

    In those days, the North Shore "was kind of remote," remembers Bud. "I first remember people surfing at Sunset. Peter Van Dyke, Dick Barrymore, Wayne Land and some others were living in panel trucks on the point at Sunset Beach. They had some saw horses on the lawn and were shaping surfboards. Mike Diffenderfer and Pat Curren lived by the beach at Pipeline, and others pooled their money together and rented small houses.

    "In those days many of the guys who surfed were more all around watermen. They lived near the ocean; swam, free dived, lifeguarded, bodysurfed, raced paddleboards... did a lot of water related stuff which included surfing. Also, most of them kept in good shape, so when the big surf came up on the North Shore or Makaha they would be physically prepared for surf sessions.

    "It all started in 1952 when a group of guys went out in big surf at Makaha and Scoop Tsuzuki, a Honolulu newspaper photographer, took some still photos of them surfing large waves. Those photos went out all over the world, popularizing Makaha as a big wave surf spot.

    "After 1955, big wave riders spent most of their time surfing on the North Shore, where the waves were consistent and there were more spots to surf. But... when it got too big began closing out on the North Shore, the waves wrapped around Kaena Point and rolled right into Makaha, so everybody would head there under those conditions."

    Bud's early films, like the Hawaiian Surfing Movie series and Trek to Makaha, unfortunately, are no longer together in their original forms. Bud's 1956 offering, Trek to Makaha "was mostly filmed at Makaha and featured George Downing, Buzzy Trent and Walter Hoffman riding the large winter swells," described Bud. "It also had some of the early Makaha International Surf Championships that had begun a few years earlier. By 1956, the contest was attracting surfers from all over the world and large crowds of tourists from the Waikiki hotels."

    Events at the Makaha International Surf Championships included "Paddleboard -- individual and relay races. Tandem riding and mat surfing were other featured events. I got first place twice in mat surfing at the contest, I think it was 1955 and 1956."

    "When it's smaller [at Makaha] you can shoot from the beach, so often local people and swimmers could be seen in the movies... like those taken at the Makaha Surf Championships. When it gets big, the only spot to shoot from is out on the point. Otherwise the surfers are too far away and become a small image in the frame.

    "I've seen it fully 25 foot, but heard of it being bigger. They told me 30 foot sets came in during a January 1958 swell. Pete Peterson borrowed a movie camera to film the riders, but ran into a problem. On non-reflex cameras the viewfinder isn't always lined up with what the telephoto lens sees. Pete had taken some excellent shots of the wake behind the surfers! Unfortunately, I missed out on photographing this epic event... I was in Australia at the time."
     
     

    The Big Surf, 1957

    On the North Shore, Bud Browne was the first to name Laniakea, "after having seen a sign on a house" with the same name. A crew of people consisting of Pat Curren, Buzzy Trent, Peter Van Dyke, Fred Van Dyke, George Downing and Wally Froiseth surfed Laniakea for the first time in memorable November 1955 surf. Fred Van Dyke recalled Bud that day and the cinematic aftermath: "Bud Browne... climbed to the top of a water tower... and set up his camera... no waves under 15 feet all day.

    "We were exhausted when we drove back to Honolulu. Two days later Bud Browne got his films back and we screamed and yelled at wave after wave, 15-20 foot walls 200 yards long rolled by on film. In those days we could measure pretty accurately the size of waves by looking through a view finder, and using pieces of paper to measure our stance. Then you multiplied the stance by the number of times you could put it against the wave."

    In 1956 , Van Dyke noted that, "Bud Browne went back to California with his new film [probably The Big Surf], and it was an instant success -- with one drawback. Crowds came to the North Shore -- or what we considered crowds -- about 20 new guys in all..."

    Of all Bud Browne's surf movies, The Big Surf probably made the biggest impact on surfers in the United States. Many 1950s and '60s surfers remember this movie. One such surfer was world champion Mike Doyle:

    "The first surf movie I ever heard of was The Big Surf, by Bud Browne," recalled Doyle. "We were all excited when it came to Culver City in 1957. I went with Herb Dewey in his '52 woody on opening night. I can remember driving around the corner and seeing the marquee that read, in giant red letters, The Big Surf.

    "The theatre was one of those old-fashioned places with steep aisles, cheap baroque walls, and purple velvet curtains. By the time Herb and I got inside and found seats, the place was filled with a raucous crowd of surfers who had come all the way from Santa Barbara, to the north, and from Windansea, to the south. Every surfer (and wannabe surfer) in Southern California must have been there.

    "We all knew before the movie started that it was going to be about surfing in Hawai`i -- why else would it be called The Big Surf? Most of us had never seen film of Hawaiian surf before -- just still photos. We expected the waves to be big, but when the film finally started and we got our first look at Sunset, Waimea, and other surf spots on the North Shore of Oahu, we were astonished at the speed and power of the waves. They were beautiful and fascinating, but also intimidating.

    "I can especially remember Conrad [Cunha], a heavyset Hawaiian, riding Ala Moana; he had an old pig board he could turn with amazing speed. Another surfer who really stood out was our own Dewey Weber, from the old 22nd Street Gang, wearing bright red trunks at Makaha and running back and forth on his board like a little wound-up puppet. Dewey was really building a reputation for himself in the surfing world as the first ripper and slasher. He had grown up surfing the same waves I had, so I felt encouraged when I saw that he could handle the best surf Hawai`i had to offer.

    " Mickey Dora was at the theatre that night, pouting, it seemed, because everybody was paying more attention to the movie than to him. He was wearing a white sheet, like an Arab costume, but that wasn't good enough to compete with our first look at twenty-foot Sunset. Just as the movie was ending, we heard a series of loud concussions coming from the restrooms. Dora was throwing cherry bombs in the toilets.

    "They didn't show surf movies at that theater again for a long time."

    I asked Bud about this element of rowdiness at surf movie showings that would become a trademark of the genre for decades following. He clarified that there had been rambunctiousness "almost from the start. Not in '53 or '54, but, I would say '56 or '57, around there, that I noticed it."

    Bud acknowledged the impact of The Big Surf. "My movie The Big Surf that I showed there [first in Australia, in 1957] featured huge 15-25 foot waves, filmed at Makaha and on the North Shore of Hawai`i. This was the first time many surfers had ever seen waves that big being ridden. And... it is true that surfers from all over California and Australia began showing up in Hawai`i on a regular basis after this film was shown around. It's hard to know these things for sure, but it does seem that way."

    "One reason for the enduring appeal of surf movies -- even when they're bad," postulated John Grissum in his book Pure Stoke, "-- is that surfing translates beautifully into film, particularly when shot in slow motion. Not only does a celluloid rendering of a wave and a rider invite a vicarious identification, but one is able to see clearly the subtleties of positioning and movement which are often missed when observed during their actual execution, particularly on fast-breaking waves. Apart from that, the movies are fun and escapist, providing an opportunity for a fairly crazed ritual gathering of a still largely misunderstood subculture, whose members share a specialized knowledge (and matching language) about which the rest of the world knows little and cares less. To be sure, behavior at surf movies occasionally gets out of hand..."

    Nat Young, in his History of Surfing noted the rowdy tendency exhibited in 1959, when a "highly publicised screening was held at Santa Monica High School, where just about everyone who rode a board converged to see a collection of movies by Bud Browne, Don James and Walt Hoffman. Someone set off a firecracker, the lights went out and everyone sat mesmerised by sequences of waves at Sunset and surfers like Buzzy Trent and Jim Fisher coming down and proning out on huge Makaha waves. Screenings of surf movies soon got a reputation for being rowdy, undisciplined events..."

    Bud didn't deny the rowdy factor. "For about the first minute or two of the films, especially at the Santa Monica Auditorium, when the movie started, they would all start yelling so loud and flipping bottle caps, no one could hear the music or sound track for awhile.

    "Once I was showing a film and one of the big reels wasn't fastened into place. Suddenly it flew off the projector and went rolling down the floor. Then there was that time in the elementary school auditorium in Culver City when someone set off cherry bombs in the auditorium and men's room. After that, surf films were banned there... And you had to make sure the sponsor had guards at all the exit doors to keep out freeloaders. Bad events like these were few and far between though... for the most part everyone including myself had a good time at the surf film showings."

    The surf film became a "tribal celebration." The reason, wrote John Grissum in his book Pure Stoke , was because "the audience is surfing that film, making every take-off, carving every bottom turn, and living for a few moments in the world of pure stoke... it is hard to conceive any [other type of social gathering, including music concerts] equaling, much less exceeding, the sheer intensity of passion displayed by audiences that flock to surf movies in either hemisphere..."

    With the rising popularity of surf films, others began to join Bud, beginning in 1957. " Greg Noll came in around '57," Bud recalled. "1958, Bruce Brown and John Severson came in and then Grant Rohloff came in after that."

    Beverly Noll remembered when she and Greg first started shooting. "When it was time, we'd get situated. I'd always go out on the point, next to Bud Browne. Bud would have his cameras there and I would have mine and we'd shoot film all day..."
     
     

    Surf Down Under, 1956-58

    In 1958 , Bud shot and showed Surf Down Under, a surf flick that has been credited as "the first truly international surf film."

    "I went there to show surf movies and to shoot film for my next annual surf film," Bud recalled. "It was an interesting trip. I'll start from the beginning. In 1956 a group of U.S. lifeguards went to Australia for some international life saving competition in conjunction with the Olympics at Melbourne. There were some good surfers on the American team, including Greg Noll and Tom Zahn, and in their free time they surfed at the local beaches and amazed large crowds of cheering onlookers with a surfing style and surfboards never before seen in Australia. Upon leaving, the Americans left their boards or patterns as models for a new generation of Aussie boards, but for the present they had to make do with hollow boards of plywood because they could not yet get balsa from South America. That was the situation when in December, 1957, I sailed from Honolulu aboard a liner with Bill Coleman, an excellent bodysurfer from Hawai`i. In my stateroom, I put together two 90 minute films I titled Surfing in Hawaii and The Big Surf. With the help of surf entrepreneur Bob Evans, I showed them in the surf lifesaving clubs north and south of Sydney. My days were spent searching for and filming any surf I could find. Not only are Australia's summers their poorest surf season, but that particular summer was below normal. But the lifeboat races intrigued me, and I wanted to get some shots inside the boat while they caught waves. I arranged for a boat crew to take me out after work in the late afternoon, the day before I was to fly back to Hawai`i. I mounted my camera on the bow pointing back at the crew. When a wave approached I'd start the camera and then try to hide in the boat out of the camera's view. It all went well, but later when I opened the camera -- you guessed it -- I had forgotten to load it! A photographer's nightmare. I was lucky to contact another boat crew who took me out early the next morning fo rsome good shots, and I made it to the plane okay."

    Australian Nat Young had this perspective, addressing the growing surf movement along Australia's coast: "Bud Browne, the American surf-film maker, heard about what was happening in Australia and filmed the start of the explosion down under. One of the surfers he met was Bob Evans; he and Evans developed a rapport and Bob agreed to show Bud's surf movies in Australia. The movies gave Australians a window on the surfing world overseas and showed them what had been happening just a few months ago in California and Hawai`i; soon local riders were making every attempt to emulate the action they saw in the movies...

    "The film Bud Browne shot in Sydney was included in his new movie of '59 and it was inevitable that some of the more adventurous American surfers would see it and be turned on to Australia as a new frontier where a pure surfer could stay one jump ahead of the masses. Bob Cooper was virtually the first American surfer to do this. He came in late 1960..."

    The film Bud shot in Australia in 1956 and 1957 became the primary footage for Surf Down Under, shown in 1957, "but I was concerned about not having enough good surf footage," Bud said. "Perhaps I could include other aspects of life in far off Australia that the U.S. surf audiences would appreciate, such as Australia's indigenous animals, surf carnivals and some skits. Later, at the premiere showing at a Pacific Beach school auditorium, my worst fears were realized when noises started coming from the audience, including cat calls. I sweated out that showing and thought about how I could change it for the next evening's show at the same place. I spent the next day ruthlessly cutting and editing film and music tape that eliminated much of the non-surfing. The second showing went better and I never again misjudged surf film audiences."
     
     

    Cat On A Hot Foam Board, 1959

    Surf stylist Phil Edwards once called Bud Browne "the Matthew Jack Brady of surf photography." Edwards recalled the making of Bud's 1959 production: "he had been shooting movie film all up and down the West Coast. And Browne -- like others -- was beginning to get hooked on this surfing-ability kick that would make the movies something different from what they had been up until that time.

    "Browne planned an epic to be called Cat on a Hot Foam Board... which was to be the first surf movie whose theme bent around surfing ability.

    "By epic, I mean I was actually to get paid for it. My fee: plane fare to Hawai`i. (Later, when the movie was exhibited on the great high school tour -- a pubescent Minsky's Circuit for the underground movies of that day -- I was to collect a little more money from it. Nothing wildly profitable; Browne was kind enough to give me some of the action in a couple of small towns where he showed the film.)

    "Still, I was poised for a first starring role in a movie, with Dewey Weber, another surfer, which began to indicate that a life devoted to surfing was not exactly a misspent youth. Remember, youth spent in pool halls can only make a hustler of you. There is no way to hustle anyone on a surfboard. I add that little comment as the underlying moral of this book. You may quote me.

    "Hot Foam Surfboard under my arm -- everything I owned in a small suitcase -- I headed for Hawai`i. But not by plane.

    "I pocketed the money Browne had given me and signed on as a crewman aboard an 83-foot sloop that was to be delivered to Hawai`i...

    "Seventeen days after we had left California, I met Bud Browne on the dock, surfboard still intact, ready for the movie.

    "It turned out to be a good one..."

    "In the Fall of 1958," Bud recalled, "I met with Hobie and some others at Hobie's shop and talked about filmmaking and different surfers. From that meeting came the idea of Phil Edwards, L.J. Richards, Hevs McClelland and I spending a month in Hawai`i doing a movie.

    "I went over first, bought an old blue Buick for $50.00 and for $90.00 rented a house close to Sunset Beach. Hevs and L.J. arrived later and Phil came over on a sailboat. Dewey Weber was there too.

    "Each morning we'd go out looking for good surf. Phil and L.J. surfed and I filmed. Hevs surfed some, but he had a natural comic talent and he appeared in humorous sequences in several of my films. That's about it, it just happened."

    "By 1959 and '60," recalled Fred Van Dyke, "there are six guys making surf films... and crowds fill[ed] the surf movies..."

    Mike Doyle recalled the North Shore winter of 1959/60 when, "There was a filmmaker living at Kawela Bay, Bud Browne, who'd made the first surf movie I'd ever seen, The Big Surf . They called Bud 'the Barracuda' because he was so thin and because he was a great swimmer. Bud was eccentric in some ways. Back in California he lived in a one-room apartment above a garage in Costa Mesa. He'd been a schoolteacher before he started making films. He only ate one meal a day, dinner, and most of that was sugar; canned pears and fudge were his favorites. Because he was so fond of sweets, he had a lot of bad teeth that had been repaired with gold bridgework.

    "Every winter Bud would go to Hawai`i to work on his surf films. He was very innovative, and they say he developed one of the first underwater cameras. He was also a very kind man. He appreciated my surfing ability and took me under his wing. I lived right next door to him at Kawela Bay, so when he took off every morning to go filming, I jumped right in his car. Bud and I spent a lot of time together, driving around the island looking for surf.

    "When Bud Browne made a movie, instead of just showing a whole bunch of guys out surfing, he would pick a couple of surfers he thought were hot, and he'd build the whole movie around them. It made a nice story, with real characters that people could relate to. And instead of just showing all surf shots, Bud liked to record the day-to-day lives of surfers living on the North Shore -- the house, the cars, going to town for groceries, and so on. One time he took a group of us up to Waimea Falls, where he filmed us jumping from the cliffs to the water eighty feet below; [and at the Pali] we'd lean off the cliff and let the wind blow us back. And another time he filmed us sacrificing old cars and old surfboards to the surf gods, a ritual surfers still practice."
     
     

    Surf Happy , 1960

    Mike Doyle recalled a certain day in 1960. "I was driving home from work one day, when I pulled up to a corner stoplight and noticed a poster stapled to a telephone pole. The poster was advertising a new surf movie that was going to play at the Pier Avenue School in Hermosa Beach. There was a photo on the poster of a powerful, Hawaiian-looking wave. The surfer in the photo was leaning hard into the wave, crouched down with one hand on the rail and one hand raised in the air. There was something vaguely familiar about it. Then I realized the movie was Bud Browne's latest, Surf Happy, and the surfer on the poster was me.

    "Some people have forgotten how surf movies were distributed in those days. The regular film distribution channels weren't open to surf movies -- there just weren't enough surfers to make it worthwhile for the big film distributors. So filmmakers like Bud Browne, John Severson, and Bruce Brown had to create their own channels. Every little beach town up and down the coast had a civic auditorium, a high school gym, or YMCA that could be rented for one or two nights. The filmmaker would send out a crew a few days in advance of the showing to nail posters on telephone poles and bulletin boards. Then the news would spread by word of mouth. The filmmaker would roll into town with the film the day of the showing and help set up chairs in the auditorium. He would even sell the tickets at the door himself. Because a lot of the early films didn't have sound, he would do his own live narration. If a good crowd turned out, he might have enough money to get a motel room for the night. If not, he would sleep in his car."

    The surf flicks Bud had been making and the ones that Noll, Severson, Brown and Rohloff joined him in creating were quite unlike the Hollywood surf movies then beginning to appear. With the release of Gidget (1959) and a short list of "beach blanket" movies, surfing was introduced to the general public for the first time. As Mike Doyle put it, the Hollywood surf movies "were the first glimpse most people in the country had of the surf culture, and I think because the movies were so badly made, so phony and just plain dishonest, the image of surfing, at least in the mainland U.S., was forever stamped as being silly, adolescent, and superficial. There were authentic surf movies being made, too -- by Bud Browne, John Severson, and Bruce Brown -- but they were never distributed outside the relatively small beach communities of California, Florida, Texas, and New Jersey, and were rarely seen by anyone who wasn't a surfer."
     
     

    Spinning Boards, 1961

    During the early 1960s, when the Hollywood movies were dominant, Bud continued to show his. Spinning Boards followed Surf Happy, in 1961.

    "Before 1961 all of my films were personally narrated," Bud said. "Usually I'd go from a script, but sometimes I would just freely talk about what was happening. During the showing, I would have a tape recorder with some prerecorded music that went along with the film.

    "In '61, in Hawai`i, Peter Cole and John Weiser helped me put together sound tracks with narration and music starting with Spinning Boards. Weiser owned KUMU radio station so we had access to sound facilities.

    "At a Honolulu film studio, Cine Pic Hawai`i, when Peter narrated, he would just start talking about what he saw as the film was running. It was live so to speak. When a mistake was made, the studio technician would have to rewind the film and music tape for another try. But when we knew his patience was at a breaking point, we'd just let it go, mispronunciation and all... but it had a spontaneous feeling, so it worked out okay.

    "Having the sound track right on the film also made it possible for me to rent the films out for showings in other states and in other countries, without traveling there myself."
     
     

    The 1960s

    Cavalcade of Surf (1962), Gun Ho! (1963), and Locked In (1964) completed Bud's most prolific period.

    "One advantage," said Bud of the mid-'60s international popularization of surfing, "was that there was more interest in surf films in countries like Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, France and England. The general public became more aware of surfing, but since basically only surfers came to see my films, I don't think there was much impact on attendance really. A lot more people started making surf films in the '60s, so the overall attendance increased [because of that]."

    Bud was once asked about his cast of characters:

    " Phil Edwards, Dewey Weber, Buzzy Trent and Peter Cole were in nearly every film, and let's see... there was Mike Doyle, Mickey Muñoz... just about all of the best surfers of that time. David Nuuhiwa and Gerry Lopez appeared quite a bit in my films of the '70s."

    After Locked In, in 1964, Bud ended-up not making another surf movie until 1970. I asked him about the "flat" period and what happened with the ill-fated collaboration with Bruce Brown who, by this time, had made a major contribution to surf film making and had even succeeded in getting a real surf film into national distribution. That movie was The Endless Summer (1966):

    "As I remember... one year, I just didn't go over to Hawai`i. Another year, the surf was so bad, I didn't have enough footage to make a film... I had a lot of good footage after another year of so, but then I talked to Bruce Brown and he was gonna edit it and narrate it and get a distributor for it." It turned out to be more work than Bruce had bargained for. "So, I took it over and went in with McGillivray/Freeman on their film Waves of Change."
     
     

    Waves of Change, 1970

    At the beginning of the 1970s, "I began working with Greg MacGillivray and Jim Freeman who had joined together to form MacGillivray-Freeman Films," Bud said. "They liked some of the film I was shooting and added it to their film to produce a number of surf movies."

    Most notably, there was " Waves of Change, which was later updated, blown up to 35mm, and called The Sunshine Sea and Five Summer Stories. And sometime in there they released The Surf Movie which had a lot of different stuff from mine and other people's surf films."

    Although Waves of Change (1970) is a MacGillivray and Freeman production, Bud's contribution was significant. He continued to deliver innovative water camera angles, using a water-proof camera housing of his own design. It was "a water-proofing like nobody else has done." Bud told me what he did with the camera: "Put it 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." Bud "Stuck the bag between my legs and used my arms for swimming... I used that rubber sealing for all my water shots."

    In another interview, Bud elaborated further:

    "I made some waterproof bags for my cameras, using the same kind of rubber I had used to make the 'dry' diving suits. Most of the film was taken while I treaded water, near the impact zone. I'd swim out with my camera strapped to my body and when I sized up a wave, I'd quickly try to swim to the best photographic spot. I believe I was the first person to go out in the water with a movie camera at Pipeline. Sometimes it was pretty dangerous, but most of the time I just had to do a lot of swimming and diving. If the surf was outstanding, I'd be out there for 3 to 5 hours. Timing is important. If you don't dive at the right time, you could get hit by a board or sucked over the falls. I only got hit once -- at Pipeline... I remember Jeff Crawford and I were both completely inside a tube and his board hit me on top of the head, but it didn't hurt much. I've been pretty fortunate... many times they came within inches of me. You have to duck under at the last moment when they come directly overhead."

    Waves of Change went through the same kind of evolution that The Endless Summer had gone through. It was so popular, Greg McGillivray and Jim Freeman blew up the 16mm to 35mm and went for a general release, renaming the film The Sunshine Sea (1971).

    Bud also collaborated with McGillivray/Freeman on their classic Five Summer Stories, which was released in 1972, and Five Summer Stories Plus Four, released in 1976. Leonard Lueras, in his book Surfing, the Ultimate Pleasure, wrote that "Bud Browne's water photography at Pipeline set the standard for every movie that followed."
     
     

    Going Surfin', 1973-77

    "I kept shooting," Bud said, "and came out with my own film called Going Surfin'," in 1973.

    "It came out in 1973," Bud said, "with Hevs McClelland narrating. Then four years later, a new version called The New Going Surfin' was released. Greg MacGillivray's work on the sound track was responsible for much of the film's success."

    "In one section I rigged up a small hand-held water-proof camera and let Gerry Lopez take it out at Pipeline. He filmed the inside of the tube looking out, then backwards into the tunnel and everything in between!"

    "Bud Browne's Going Surfin' ," wrote Grissum, "is a durable example of the best of the genre, drawing upon his... [many] years of film-making. There were vintage shots of Buzzy Trent, Greg Noll, and other madmen tackling North Shore monsters; old footage of Phil Edwards waltzing on southern California peaks; up and coming hotties from Hawai`i and the coast; and all of it interspersed with comedy skits, sight gags, horrendous wipeouts, sunsets, pretty girls in wet T-shirts, and a lot of rock 'n' roll with Beach Boys harmonies. Never mind that some portions don't hang together well, that up-dated footage makes for a few jerky transitions. Browne's cinematic trademark is a pervasive happy-go-lucky feeling, a go-for-it optimism, and a sense of humor -- and innocence -- that defines what one skit in Going Surfin' called 'The Stoked Life.' Moreover, Going Surfin' has been re-edited from time to time after hundreds of screenings to insure that, regardless of its cinematic shortcomings, it grabs you early and keeps you locked in and entertained for the duration."

    "Superb editing and pacing," wrote Lueras, "many truly funny moments."

    "We added a bit for The New Gone Surfin'" in 1977, Bud told me. Around 60 years old at the time, Bud also continued filming as a freelancer for ski photographers and windsurfers. Bud's last assignment actively filming surf sequences was for Big Wednesday , in 1977 and the last time he shot 16mm film for commercial production was in 1980. He uses a camcorder now, as a hobby, shooting mostly shots of friends, family, and his travels.

    "Once I broke a camera going over the falls at Pipeline; the front glass was shattered and water got in the camera. In 1977, when I was shooting for the theatrical release Big Wednesday, I took a real bad wipeout at Sunset. It was about 18 feet and I was filming Reno Abellira when I went over the falls and the white water kept me under nearly all the way to the beach. Another time, I took a wipeout at Waimea and lost a camera. Mike Doyle and Rusty Miller were coming toward me and it looked like both were inside this big beautiful barrel. I kept filming them a little too long and the crest caught me. There were more close calls, but for the most part I've been pretty lucky.

    "When taking water shots in big surf, whatever danger there was, I always felt the big surfriders were at far more risk than myself. They took such horrendous wipeouts, relying solely on their unaided swimming ability to get them out of trouble, whereas I had the use of swim fins which I regarded as an advantage out-weighing the burden of carrying a camera with me. An observation I made during my forays at Waimea was how far a 20 to 25 foot crashing wave -- the turbulent white water -- penetrated below the surface. I was surprised that it was no more than about 15 feet, as far as I could estimate. That it was no deeper worked to the advantage of imperiled surfers caught between waves of a large set."
     
     

    You'll Dance in Tahiti, 1967

    Besides surf films, Bud has also filmed travelogues of Tahiti, mostly for his own personal viewing. An exception to that was You'll Dance in Tahiti, which Bud showed in 1967.

    "I first went to Tahiti in 1940 on the Matson Line 'Mariposa' Steamship. Although I only spent two days there, I became enamored with the place. Then when the airlines started flying there, I visited nine more times from 1960 to 1990.

    "Tahiti with its vast beauty, exotic music, dancing and the carefree attitude of the people captivated me so that it became irresistible to put it on film, so that's what I did. It was a labor of love, so to speak. It hasn't made me any money, but that's all right. Like all photographers, I guess, when I see something, my foremost thought is how good a picture will it make, or will it be valuable in future years. In Tahiti, especially, I like to photograph kids."
     
     

    Barracuda Favorites

    Bud Browne's surfing years spanned the period 1938-57, "around that time," he said. Bud's surf films stretched from 1953 to 1977. Surfers that Bud caught on film reads like a who's who of legendary big wave riders of the 1950s and '60s. Bud organized the recollections by surf spots. "There was Waimea with Peter Cole, Fred Van Dyke, Ricky Grigg, Kimo Hollinger... Pipeline: there was Gerry Lopez, Rory Russell, a whole bunch of others... Makaha: there was Buzzy Trent, George Downing, Greg Noll, and lots of others."

    I asked him about Buzzy Trent. "I lived with him for six winters in Hawai`i at Makaha and the North Shore," Bud replied. I asked him why Buzzy had gotten out of surfing. "Well, I guess age has something to do with it and he got other interests like hang gliding, diving for fish, does bicycle riding, now. I think when you get in your 40s and 50s you just don't tackle big surf like you used to... It's a young man's sport, big waves."

    Bud said that, later on, "When the surf was good, I'd want to shoot. Guys would borrow my board, come back with dings in it. Got tired of that after awhile. I wasn't using it, so I sold it. Since then, I've been body surfing and mat surfing." That's not to mention the recent river rafting, hang gliding and bungie jumping this 82 year-old surfer and surf film maker has done to keep the adrenalin flowing. Also, he's continued with a "labor of love," his travelogues on Tahiti, visiting that island chain off and on over the years. On a regular basis, Bud swims "at the Y about three times a week and ride my bike."

    Does surfing's premier commercial film maker have any favorite surfers he particularly enjoyed shooting? He answered by putting it more in context of locations rather than persons. "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."

    Favorite music he particularly liked to use in his surf films? "It depended on the sequence you were using it with," Bud said. "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..."

    Favorite camera of all time? "I would have to say a Bolex, mainly because it had a reflex lens. You could look through the lens and see what you get. With the Bell and Howell [his first 16mm camera], you had an outside view finder which didn't always line up with the picture you were taking. It could be off a little bit. That was especially true with a telephoto lens... All the surf photographers that I knew of had a Bolex because of the reflex feature... I got the Bolex around 1960."

    Bud's first projector was a silent one, with no particular speed. "It had a variable speed, depending on how you adjusted it. But, for showings, I think I had a Bell and Howell sound projector." Even so, Bud's favorite is the one he presently owns. "The one I have now, I like. It's a Graflex. But, the disadvantage is that it's heavy and it's not really bright enough for big auditorium shows.

    "Now, MacGillivray/Freeman bought some Bell and Howell projectors with a xenon lens which, compared to the arc projectors that were used for auditoriums before that, were much brighter and better suited...

    "When I showed in big auditoriums in the old days, I used to hire an operator with an arc projector and used that. That Bell and Howell projector MacGillivray/Freeman had -- I would have liked to have -- was very expensive and, during the later years, I didn't want to invest in one... But, when MacGillivray/Freeman distributed my films, they used the good projectors, with the expensive lens, so I didn't bother to buy one."
     
     

    Surfing the 50's, 1994

    By the early 1990s, Bud was still pushing the envelope, hang gliding, bugy jumping and bodyboarding in river rapids. "It was thrilling!" he recalled of his escapades in New Zealand. "Recently I got my old surf mat out of the attic to try some more of the same thing here in the States... Sometimes I bodysurf and I still swim several times a week to keep in shape."

    In 1994, Bud edited and re-released the best material from the eight surf films he produced between 1953 and 1960. It took a year and a half, off and on, to put together. Surfing the 50's is 70 minutes of all color film on video tape, narrated by Peter Cole and John Kelly, "two old time surf experts," declared Bud. The video gives an historical background to surfing, touching on how the sport has been passed on from one generation to another; as Peter Cole put it, "keeping the good of the past alive." Surfing the 50's also features: a look at the San Onofre tradition; Australian water sports; tandem surfing; catamarans; surfing at Waimea for the first time (1957); huge Makaha surf; women surf pioneers; classic Phil Edwards, Dewey Weber, Duke Kahanamoku, Mickey Dora, George Downing, Buzzy Trent and many more great surfers of the 1950s.

    "One day early in 1993," Bud wrote, "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..."

    Bud said the video's music track consists of "Music contributed through an ad in the Surfer magazine." People sent him music from all over the world. "I must have gotten 35 or 40 audio cassettes. Out of those, I used 23 individual selections." This "voluntary music came from surf-oriented groups and individuals who asked only to be a part of the video," "plus other music I obtained." "I am grateful for their contributions," Bud said, "as the music played a very important role."

    "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."

    Bud gave special thanks for help with Surfing the 50's to Gordon McClelland, Jim Dunfrund, John Gardell, Surfer magazine and The Surfer's Journal. Post production was done by Dennis Richardson of Close-Up Productions.
     
     

    Film Ho!

    Due to the success of Surfing the 50's, Bud released his 1963 classic Gun Ho! and Cavalcade of Surf.

    Asked what his advice would be to future surf film makers or videographers, Bud responded, "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."

    Bud continued, "Now, no new surf films are being made that I know of. Bruce Brown's Endless Summer II was the last [most recent] one, but it was a big time Hollywood effort.

    "So, all the old timers are now changing their films into videos and selling them. Then there's guys like Herbie Fletcher who are making videos, but not making 16mm film, to show like the old film makers did."

    "I never went into this thinking I was going to amass a fortune. Actually, most of my films just paid for my daily expenses and made enough extra to invest in the next movie. The money just seemed to be there for the next step."

    I watched Bud set-up his Graflex, in the San Clemente Community Center's Ole Hanson Room. His movements were quick and practiced -- testiments of his being in his element and to his spirit, undampened by his 82 years on the planet. Two years or so, a similar observation was made and published in The Surfer's Journal:

    "Imagine seeing genuine 16 millimeter surfing films for free. What a departure from the norm... Browne settled into his narrative patter. The lights were off, the film reels were creaking and when the drive socket slotted into the perfs, all was right with the world. Men, women, children and dogs were all riveted to the screen. If it wasn't perfect, it was damn close... It was a lot like the first surf movies any of us ever saw; pure, utter magic in a black room."

    Back in the black room, Bud began showing some early 1950s footage of Dewey Weber and Linda Benson. The ever shout of "Down in Front!" reminded me of the tribal rite of true surf movie showings that Bud pioneered. Almost immediately, there were whoops and whistles, oooh and ahhs at the sights Bud delivered on screen. The Sun Rays sang "I Live for the Sun," as Bud made subtle adjustments to the Graflex.

    That night, legendary surf photographer LeRoy Grannis, also honored, was to sum-up the feeling most all of us had, with his own personal testimony:

    "In all my years of shooting surf and surfers," LeRoy said, "Bud was always at least 50 yards ahead of me."
     




    Sources Used In This Chapter:

  • California Surfriders, 1946
  • Cat on a Hot Foam Board
  • Cavalcade of Surf
  • Doc Ball
  • Don James
  • Five Summer Stories
  • Five Summer Stories Plus Four
  • Fred Van Dyke
  • Going Surfin'
  • Gordon McClelland
  • Greg MacGillivray
  • Greg Noll
  • Gun Ho!
  • Hawaiian Holiday Hawaiian Surfing Movie
  • History of Surfing
  • John Grissum
  • Leonard Lueras
  • LeRoy Grannis
  • Mike Doyle
  • Nat Young
  • Phil Edwards
  • Pure Stoke
  • Spinning Boards
  • Surf Down Under
  • Surf Happy
  • Surfer magazine
  • Surfing in Hawaii
  • Surfing the '50s
  • Surfing, the Ultimate Pleasure
  • The Big Surf
  • The Endless Summer
  • The New Gone Surfin'
  • The Sunshine Sea
  • The Surf Movie
  • The Surfer's Journal
  • Trek to Makaha
  • Waves of Change
  • Woody Brown
  • You'll Dance in Tahiti

  • Related Resources




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