He is an American documentary film director, known as an early pioneer of the surf film. He is also the father of filmmaker Dana Brown.
His surfing films were Slippery When Wet (1958), Surf Crazy (1959), Barefoot Adventure (1960), Surfing Hollow Days (1961), Waterlogged (1962), The Endless Summer (1964), and The Endless Summer II with his son in 1994.
He has also made a number of short films including The Wet Set, featuring the Hobie-MacGregor Sportswear Surf Team and one of the earliest skateboarding films, America's Newest Sport, presenting the Hobie Super Surfer Skateboard Team. These short films along with some unused footage from The Endless Summer were included in the DVD Surfin' Shorts, as part of the Golden Years of Surf collection. Brown has gone beyond surfing a few times with the ski film, The Incredible Pair of Skis (1967), a film about motorcycle sport, On Any Sunday (1971) which is held in high regard as one of the best motorcycle documentaries of all time, and a documentary about extreme sports, The Edge (1975), On Any Sunday II (1981) Baja 1000 Classic (1991), and On Any Sunday, revisited (2000) He made a guest appearance in the SpongeBob SquarePants episode SpongeBob vs. The Big One.
Brown is a 2009 inductee into the Surfers' Hall of Fame in Huntington Beach, California.
The Endless Summer
In The Endless Summer, Brown follows two surfers, Mike Hynson and Robert August, on a surfing 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, Eugene Harris, 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 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 one 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.
Brown took the The Endless Summer to several Hollywood studio distributors but was rejected because they did not think it would have mainstream appeal. In January, he took The Endless Summer to Wichita, Kansas for two weeks where moviegoers lined up in snowy weather in the middle of winter and sold out multiple screenings. Distributors were still not convinced so Brown rented a theater in New York City where his film ran successfully for a year. After the success of the run, Cinema 5 won the distribution rights.
When The Endless Summer debuted, it grossed over US$20 million.
Roger Ebert said, "The beautiful photography he brought home almost makes you wonder if Hollywood hasn't been trying too hard."
Time Magazine wrote, "Brown leaves analysis of the surf-cult mystique to seagoing sociologists, but demonstrates quite spiritedly that some of the brave souls mistaken for beachniks are, in fact, converts to a difficult, dangerous and dazzling sport."
The New York Times' Robert Alden wrote, "The subject matter itself — the challenge and the joy of a sport that is part swimming, part skiing, part sky-diving and part Russian roulette — is buoyant fun."