'The Endless Summer' Director Bruce Brown Has Died At 80

Bruce Brown, who molded the modern image of surfer as seeker and transformed the sport with his 1966 surfing documentary "The Endless Summer," has died He was 80.

Alex Mecl, general manager of Bruce Brown Films, said Brown died of natural causes in Santa Barbara, California on Sunday.

Bruce Brown

'The Endless Summer' Bruce Brown Films June 15, 1966 1966: A scene from the documentary 'The Endless Summer' directed by Bruce Brown. (Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images) (Getty Images)

Along with the music of the Beach Boys, Brown took surfing from a quirky hobby to a fundamental part of American culture.

Surfers had largely been portrayed as beach blanket buffoons in the mindless party movies of the early 1960s.

Then came Brown and "The Endless Summer" with his beautiful, soulful story of surfers on a quest for fulfillment — an image that became emblazoned on the cultural psyche.

"Thank you for showing us the world as you saw it, Bruce Brown," Kelly Slater, 11-time world champion surfer, said in an Instagram post Monday. "There are never enough words to say goodbye properly."

'The Endless Summer' Bruce Brown Films June 15, 1966

'The Endless Summer' Bruce Brown Films June 15, 1966 1966: A scene from the documentary 'The Endless Summer' directed by Bruce Brown. (Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images) (Getty Images)

Brown, who took up surfing in the early 1950s, had made five other documentaries about the sport before "Endless Summer," including 1958's "Slippery When Wet" and 1960's "Barefoot Adventure."

Like all the others it was shot on a tiny budget with Brown performing nearly every duty, from camera man to narrator.

The film follows two surfers, Robert August and Mike Hynson, as they hop hemispheres to constantly surf wherever it is summer, from Hawaii to Australia to South Africa to Senegal.

Surfers considered Brown a peer who just happened to carry a camera instead of a board. He shot the film loosely and casually and the style proved infectious when the public saw the movie.

"I never had formal training in filmmaking, and that probably worked to my advantage," Brown said in a 2004 interview for his film company's website.

Bruce Brown

Dana Brown 43, left, is the writer–director–editor of a new documentary about surfing called Step Into Liquid. He is the son of Bruce Brown 65, right, whose film The Endless Summer and its sequel are the best–known surfing films ever made. Dana has criss–crossed the world to show what today s surfers are all about in his new movie. Photo by ^^^/ Los Angeles Times Digital image taken on 07/17/03 (Photo by Stephen Osman/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images) (Getty Images)

The trio's charisma and — the film's natural beauty — made it an unlikely hit.

"The beautiful photography he brought home almost makes you wonder if Hollywood hasn't been trying too hard," Roger Ebert said in his 1967 review of the film in The Chicago Sun-Times.

The film inspired many surfers to leave their home beaches, drop out of their sedentary lives, and seek isolated places with bigger waves.

Some surfers blame Brown's film for turning their serene spots into forever crowded hotspots.

"A lot of people try to make me feel guilty about that," Brown said in the 2004 interview, "and while I'm sure 'Endless Summer' hurried it up, the sport was growing by leaps and bounds simply because it's so much fun. No one could have stopped it."

Brown went on to make many other documentaries, most notably the 1971 film "On Any Sunday," which gave the same treatment to motorcycle riding as "Endless Summer" did to surfing. A sequel, "On Any Sunday II," was released in 1981.

In 1994, he revisited his classic and made "The Endless Summer II" with his filmmaker son Dana Brown.

In 2009, he narrated a surfing-themed episode of "SpongeBob SquarePants" called "SpongeBob vs. The Big One."

Brown was born in San Francisco and raised in Long Beach.

He retired to a ranch near Santa Barbara, putting down the camera to ride motorcycles and surf.

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