The Endless Summer is one of the first and most influential surf films, creating and defining an entire category of cinema, which has endured and evolved in the decades since its release in 1966. Director Bruce Brown follows two surfers, Mike Hynson and Robert August, on a surf trip around the world. Despite the balmy climate of their native California, cold ocean currents make local beaches inhospitable during the winter. They travel to the coasts of Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Tahiti and Hawaii in a quest for new surf spots and introduce locals to the sport. Other important surfers of the time, such as Miki Dora, Phil Edwards and Butch Van Artsdalen, also appear.
Its title comes from the idea, expressed at both the beginning and end of the film, that if one had enough time and money it would be possible to follow the summer around the world, making it endless. The concept of the film was born through the suggestion of a travel agent to Bruce Brown during the planning stages of the film. The travel agent suggested that the flight from Los Angeles to Cape Town, South Africa and back would cost $50 more than a trip circumnavigating the world. After which, Bruce came up with the idea of following the summer season by traveling around the world.
The narrative presentation eases from the stiff and formal documentary of the 1950s and early 1960s to a more casual and fun-loving personal style filled with sly humor. The surf-rock soundtrack to the film was provided by The Sandals.The "Theme to the Endless Summer" was written by Gaston Georis and John Blakeley of the Sandals. It has become of the best known film themes in the surf movie genre.
When the movie was first shown, it encouraged many surfers to go abroad, giving birth to the "surf-and-travel" culture, which prizes finding "uncrowded surf", meeting new people and riding the perfect wave. It also introduced the sport, which had become popular outside of Hawaii and the Polynesian Islands in places like California and Australia, to a broader audience. In addition, it set the style for later surf-and-travel movies, including Momentum, (These Are) Better Days, and Thicker Than Water.
In 2002, The Endless Summer was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".
In 1994, Brown released a sequel, The Endless Summer II, in which surfers Pat O'Connell and Robert "Wingnut" Weaver retrace the steps of Hynson and August. It shows the growth and evolution of the surfing scene since the first film, which presented only classic longboard surfing. O'Connell rides a shortboard, which was developed in the time between the two movies, and there are scenes of windsurfing and bodyboarding. The film illustrates how far surfing had spread, with footage of surf sessions in France, South Africa, Costa Rica, Bali, Java, and even Alaska.
In 2003, Dana Brown, Bruce's son, made what is seen as the "third movie", Step Into Liquid. It follows the evolution of surfing over the last 10-15 years from shortboarding to tow-in surfing.