Director Dana Brown visits his dad Bruce to discuss a family legacy of moviemaking; one that has profoundly affected action sports films with its honesty and heartfelt spirit....father to son and filmmaker to filmmaker -about their influences, challenges and achievements.
IT was a bad day for surfing. The wind was low, the waves small, and a reporter brand new to the sport was nearly inept. Plus, it was Long Beach on Long Island — not exactly a hotbed of surfing. Still, that didn’t stop the surfing filmmaker Dana Brown from trying his best to help the reporter catch a wave and actually ride it.
“It’s just balance,” said Mr. Brown, 54, whose film, “Highwater,” has been released nationwide. “If you do it enough times, you get used to the feeling. It’s like riding a bike.”
Easy for him to say: he’s been surfing since he was 2. Indeed, with his blond hair, blue eyes and deep tan, he looked like the proverbial surfer dude. He even grew up in California, and lives in Long Beach, near Los Angeles. Really, if anyone has the right to be a beach boy, he does: His father, Bruce Brown, was the force behind “The Endless Summer,” the 1966 film that put surf culture on the map.
“I actually don’t remember learning how to do it,” Mr. Brown said of surfing. “It was just something I always knew how to do.”
Same with filmmaking. When he was around 29, his father asked him to help with “The Endless Summer 2,” and from then on the younger Mr. Brown was pretty much hooked on moviemaking (his first surf film, “Step Into Liquid,” came out in 2003, to mostly excellent reviews). “I thought: ‘I’m good at this. O.K., I’ll do it.’ ”
“Highwater” takes place during the Triple Crown, a two-month competition on the North Shore of Oahu. Dubbed the Seven Mile Miracle, the stretch is mecca for young surfers drawn to the 30-foot waves.
“I really wasn’t going to do another surf movie after ‘Step,’ and then this idea of chronicling the North Shore, which is super well known, came to me,” he said. “Professional surfing’s been growing, and I thought, ‘Let’s chronicle it now because it’s going to change and get like other sports.’ Right now, there’s no security. It’s still mom and pop, kind of like baseball was at the turn of the century.”
Unlike the men and women in his film, Mr. Brown surfs strictly for fun. “When it gets to the danger factor, I don’t want to be out there,” he said. The highest wave he’s caught? “It felt like 500 feet, but it was only about 12 or 15.”
To a novice surfer, even a six-foot wave feels giant, and despite Mr. Brown’s best efforts (handing the reporter a long board rather than a short board, which is thinner and harder to paddle), she could not even get a toe on the board before falling into the ocean.
Mr. Brown was encouraging. “These conditions are really bad,” he said, gazing up at the overcast sky. “You want an offshore wind, because that’ll make the waves stand up a little bit. You want a wave that’s not breaking all at once, with a low edge, that has a nice shape to it.” (Translation: “It’s not your fault you can’t surf. You’re a victim of the elements.”)
But then it was his turn. He grabbed a short board, paddled into the sea, and the minute a wave foamed up he hopped on the board and glided into shore, a dancer crouched on a 19-inch-wide board.
Later, he stopped by Long Beach Surf Shop to return the boards, which he had rented. The owner, Luke Hamlet, seemed excited to see him in his store; people in the surfing community often recognize him, Mr. Brown said. “When I was in Oahu I was walking in town and this kid whizzes by me on a skateboard and crashes,” he said. “I ran over and said, ‘Are you O.K.?’ and he looked up at me and said: ‘You’re Dana Brown! Can I take a picture with you?’ He was all bloody, but he didn’t care.”
Mr. Brown, whose second film, “Dust to Glory,” a documentary on the Baja 1,000, an annual off-road race held on the Baja Peninsula in Mexico, hopes to make more movies about things besides surfing. But he’s learned many life lessons from the sport.
“Surfing is not really about the time riding the waves; it’s about the time getting there,” he said.