[The Wavelength Drive-In Cinema is back for 2021, bringing you a range of surf cinema, cult classics and family favourites from the clifftops of Cornwall, including a screening of Endless Summer II. Browse the full lineup and get your tickets here. Or, subscribe to Wavelength now to get free entry to a screening of your choice.]
When Pat O’ Connell and Robert Wingnut Weaver surfed around the world in the follow up to the ES, following in the cross steps of Robert August and Mike Hynson 30 years before them, it felt like the fitting follow-up to what was then – and still is – the greatest surf film ever made.
The three decade gap had given the sport time to grow and evolve; sufficient maturation in performance, equipment and culture had happened to merit a feature length follow up.
There were the sons and daughters of surfers from the ES generation starring in the film, revisits to the same locations, and neatly tied up plot lines.
Even Brown’s own beautiful honey-tinged baritone narration had aged like wine.
With a catholic cast ranging from a young, hairy GOAT to good ol’ timer ex pat Americans in Costa Rica, to the corest of lords Gerry, Carroll and Curren, it was a celebration of the sport’s leading lights at its foremost locations, bound together with the timeless ES narrative, a relentless search for stoke.
What we didn’t realise, was that there would never be another surf film like it ever again.
John Margolis already concluded via his book that 1964 (the year of ES1’s soft launch) was The Last Innocent Year, citing JFK’s assassination and the Vietnam draft chief among agents of the paradigm shift.
Don Henley meanwhile, noting that the baby boomers were jaded, balding and divorced, heralded 1989 as the End of The Innocence.
Surfing, always a few clicks more youthful than the lifecycle of Middle America, would wait until ES2 ‘s release in 1994.
“In ’94 surfing’s popularity explosion – like cheap fossil fuels – was still regarded as a broadly… good”
Not that surfing has changed so much really, but more like the way we like to reflect it back on ourselves has almost entirely. Films would never really look or feel this way again. If you came up with a three word synopsis for ES2, it might well have been, ‘Haven’t we grown?’
A niche of a niche in California, Hawaii and Australia in the 60’s, ES2 was here to tell us surfing had gone all around the world. ‘Doctors and lawyers surf these days!’ seemed like the thing to say.
Bizarre as it may seem today, in ’94, surfing’s popularity explosion – like cheap fossil fuels – was still regarded as a broadly… good.
You could barely imagine a contemporary surf film calling itself ‘summer’ anything, unless it was deeply ironic. Summer as a surfing subject officially died around November 1999, being replaced by its edgier, more potent arch-nemesis, ‘winter’.
By contrast, modern surf films* must convey significant emotional heaviness. Must be mostly in a minor key. Sure, we’re going surfing, but there must be somewhere lurking, an ever present threat of melancholy. Our leading athletes, on their day-to-day endeavours, must be seen as vulnerable, troubled, somehow anguished.
Plot levity has given way to… training. It’s impossible to imagine 109 minutes of pro surfers without a kettle bell/boxing session, some kind of melodramatic come back from a sore knee that we the viewer must invest in emotionally in order to be able to enjoy the cutbacks.
Take some of the audio from JJF’s View From A Blue Moon or similar, the achingly important, sweeping build to epic soundscape and ask what great moment of human achievement is this the score to? The first manned Mars mission? Thunberg saving all life on Earth as we know it by singlehandedly averting the tipping point with little more than Davos dignitary deadpan, great vocabulary and ultra steely resolve?
ES2 wasn’t trying to set a tone or start a movement, reveal an avant guard leading edge or defeat all that came before it. Its simple mandate was, with the use of a massive budget, to reflect surfing at its best back upon us.
The moments behind the moments, rather than candid are goofy, contrived, yet somehow enjoyable. There’s no ‘I’ve had my struggles with #mentalhealth’, no ocean plastic, no existential threats.
The jeopardy comes in simple, relatable forms. Will they crash the car getting there? Would the swell be big enough? Will he make the drop?
ES2 almost seems more ‘of its time’ than the original in a weird way. A 70-something Brown, calling young French beach bare breasts ‘zoomers’ while the menfolk go surfing seems more out of touch with today than anything in the first film did in the 90’s.
The world is burning. The killer clowns are in charge. Humanity is shooting itself in the facemask with a K-Mart bought semi automatic. If you fancy a little easy mellow to douse out some of the harsh, ES2 is not Millennials eating cereal in pop up cafe to shield themselves from modern life.
It’s much, much better.
*A notable exception would be Keith Malloy’s brilliant 2012 love letter to bodysurfing, Come Hell or High Water, although, obvs ‘hell’ in the title, so…