The San Luis Obispo International Film Festival is delighted to present an historic and exciting night honoring the world’s first surf filmmaker, 95-year old Bud Browne. Bud, now a local resident of the Central Coast, will be honored by many of the surfing industry’s greats, including Gerry Lopez, Peter Cole, Ricky Grigg, Fred Van Dyke, Walter Hoffman and Jack McCoy. Buzzy Trent’s daughter, Anna Moore is helping to coordinate the event.
On Thursday, March 13, 2008, this group of legendary surfers from around the world, will take the stage at the grand Fremont Theatre in downtown San Luis Obispo to pay tribute to the man who inspired modern surf culture by creating the first commercial surf films ever. Surfing the 50’s will be the featured film, and the evening will also include a raffle, Q & A session and a post-screening Surf Party in the old Pier One building on Monterey St. (generously donated by Copeland Properties) with live music, surf films and the opportunity to meet the surf celebrities in attendance.
Born in 1912, in Newtonville, Massachussets, Bud Browne took to the ocean at a young age. He was a very strong swimmer and became captain of USC’s swim team before becoming a lifeguard in Venice Beach in 1938. It was that summer he started surfing and diving, spending much of his time in Venice, Hermosa Beach and Palos Verdes. It was on one of these beaches that he met Doc Ball, the first photographer to specialize in surf photography, which inspired Bud to buy his first camera.
1938 turned out to be an eventful year for Bud. He took his first trip to Hawaii on a steamship to Honolulu and struck up a friendship with Duke Kahanamoku and Tom Blake. “They were on the beach at Waikiki quite a bit,” Bud recalls. “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 Surfing the 50’s, when a group of us went out on one of Woody Brown’s catamarans.”
Filmmaking was just a hobby before and during the war, when Bud was Chief Specialist in Athletics, first in San Pedro and then in the Southwest Pacific. It was around this time he picked up the nickname “Barracuda” because of his slender build and swimming prowess. In 1940, Bud decided to purchase an 8mm Bell and Howell movie camera and then advanced to a 16mm Bell and Howell in 1947 when he became more serious about filmmaking and went back to Hawaii. In Honolulu, he joined the Waikiki Surf Club and started shooting 16mm color movies of local surfers.
In the early 50’s, Bud traveled back and forth between Hawaii and the mainland. “I had a teaching job with the L.A. Unified School District, with summers off,” he explained. He preferred being in the water and as he became more skilled as a photographer, he decided to attend USC’s FilmSchool to learn the craft. In the summer of 1953, he edited and completed his first surf film, Hawaiian Surfing Movie and screened it in at AdamsJunior High School, with live narration by Bud. He charged 65 cents admission and made his own posters. The film was a hit and word quickly spread.
This was the beginning of the modern surf film, which has been adapted by many accomplished filmmakers since then, including Bruce, Dana and Wes Brown, Jack McCoy, and Greg MacGillivray. Bud inspired the first group of American surfers to go to Hawaii and attempt to ride the big waves that mainland Americans had only dreamed about. Buzzy Trent, Fred Van Dyke, Rick Grigg, Peter Cole, George Downing, Walter and ‘Flippy” Hoffman and a handful of others set up camp in the remote North Shore and surfed the big waves of Makaha in the mid-50’s. Bud Browne was there to capture it on film. Not everyone was as delighted with his footage as he was. “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…,” laments Fred Van Dyke. World champion Mike Doyle remembers that film fondly – it was the first surf movie he’d ever heard of and was stoked by the Hawaiian footage. Later Mike would be featured in many of Bud’s films, along with Greg Noll, Gerry Lopez, Dewey Weber, Mickey Dora and many other infamous surfing personalities.
Bud traveled to Australia in 1956 and filmed what is considered to be the first truly international surf film, Surf Down Under. Bud’s other films were shown in Australia creating new interest in surf spots in Hawaii and California, and inspiring local riders to emulate the action they saw in Bud’s movies. During this time, Bud was developing his own revolutionary technology for a waterproof camera housing that helped him shoot innovative camera angles.
In the early 1960’s, he went from live narration to recorded narration and music. Peter Cole and John Weiser were the first to narrate his films. “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,” explains Bud.
Bud produced several more films before partnering with Greg MacGillivray who had just started the now-famous MacGillivray Freeman Films. The original film Waves of Change became Five Summer Stories and The Sunshine Sea, with footage shot by both Greg and Bud. In 1973, he released Going Surfin’, a film that includes revolutionary footage shot by Gerry Lopez inside a tube from all angles. Bud had clearly developed his own cinematic trademark style. Demonstrating a happy-go-lucky, go-for-it optimism, superb pacing, and breath-taking surf footage, all blended with a relaxed sense of humor.
In 1994, Bud edited and re-released the best material from the eight surf films produced between 1953-60, taking a year and a half to assembleSurfing the 50’s, narrated by John Kelly and Peter Cole. Many great surfers and surf spots are featured in this 70-minute color film that will be featured at the San Luis Obispo International Film Festival in honor of Bud Browne.
More information and updates can be obtained on the festival website.