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We caught up with ES2 star Pat O’Connell the day after the Rumble at the Ranch, pro surfing’s official 2020 reboot. The fact that while very much in the hot seat running pro surfing’s elite tour as the Men’s CT Commissioner, in its most tumultuous season ever, he took time out to chat about ES2 speaks to both his vibe, and the warmth still felt for the film. Pat picks up the story:
“The whole thing first came about when I heard talk that ‘they’re gonna do another Endless Summer.’ At the time, my group was what’s now called the Momentum Generation; we weren’t called that at the time, we were just a group of friends. Kelly hadn’t won a world title yet, nobody had done anything. Kelly, Taylor, Rob, Shane, Ross and myself were all just trying to get on Tour, doing the trials at events, as this was before the ASP set up the two WQS/ WCT tours (1991).
So in February ’92, there was this talk of looking for a surfer for ES2, and Kelly was obviously the person that was gonna get it. So I get a call one day, and there was no caller ID back then, and it was around the time everyone was always prank calling each other, pretending to be someone, every time you’d think your friends were fucking with you.
This voice said, “Hey it’s Bruce Brown” but I played it down, thinking, ‘There’s a super good chance this is one of my friends’ dads…’ Anyway, it became a bit more real, he was up at The Ranch in Santa Barbara and said “Can you come up?” There was a contest coming up near there so I said, “In a couple weeks?” and he said, “How about tomorrow?”
I drove up the next day.
We got on pretty good, we knew the same people in Dana Point, where he was originally from, I think that’s how I got in, really. I wasn’t the best surfer, but I was outgoing, and we had a great hang out, talking about anything but making movies.
I went up two weeks later again for the comp, and brought Shane Dorian and Todd Chesser with me to his place. His son Dana said, “Either you’ve got a lot of balls, or you’re really stupid; you brought two better looking, better surfers with you to a job interview.” I hadn’t thought about it that way.
As it went, not too long after that I was on my way to Costa Rica to film. From a distance, it seems like this huge thing, but at the time, I was young, it was more like, ‘Oh we’re doing this today, cool.’ I wasn’t really overawed by the ES legacy or that I was the shortboarder guy, never gave it too much thought, we just went surfing. At that age everything is about what’s right in front of you, you never really thought about the big picture. I had to take two years off competing at a time when everyone in our group was really focused on making the Tour, that seemed like the bigger thing at the time, in a way.
Wingnut is truly epic, man. He’s a really, really good human, and just an exceptional surfer. We liked to make fun of each other, that was our thing. He’s very, very anal, likes his shit where he likes it, he’s sort of controlling, and I am a bit controlling too, so that was our dynamic. For some reason I always did all the driving, and Wingy always got the walkie-talkie, I was never allowed one. I thought I was calling the shots by driving, and he thought he was by having the walkie-talkie, and he was right. The big difference was I guess he really knew what he was getting into, how big a deal it was, what it meant. I was younger, I had other goals, so it maybe wasn’t until sometime later when I realised. He had a better understanding of how important this stuff was, the history, the lineage, all that stuff. He’s so into it.
For all the travels we did, and all the people we surfed with, for me, being a regularfoot, and being from America, South Africa really blew my mind. It’s so far away, and all those right points, that was a dream to me. We had a chance to meet John Whitmore, who was in the first ES, I’d seen it dozens of times so I knew all the characters. He was a pioneer of South African surfing, he was the guy that brought the Hobie Cat to Cape Town, just a fucking rad dude, full on legend.
Tom (Curren) was my hero, still sorta is really, but you know I’d bump into those kinda folk anyway, that was more normal to me. It was some of the non-surfing folk that I found super interesting. What I got out of doing ES2 was a lot different than when I went into it. I was just a horny surf grom, I just wanted to surf all day. I mean I still did when we finished, but what I found was really neat, was all the rad people that had nothing to do with surfing, from outside our bubble.
Mike Hoover, who was our Director of Photography, had been in Afghanistan for the Afghan-Russia war, shooting Dan Rather (legendary CBS News anchor), and just had so many rad stories and insights. He and his wife Beverly Johnson had done a bunch of time on Everest, they were super experienced mountaineers. Honestly, most of the time we sat at dinner, we didn’t talk about surfing at all. It was so cool.
The whole feel of the movie, the warmth of the storytelling, that was Bruce. In the world that we live in today, Bruce would be like, ‘Surfing, how could you be negative about surfing?’ If you think about him and his buddies growing up, making a living from surfing, that had never happened before. They were all about fun, and he understood that that was what pulled people in, he had a really strong sense of that. They built a lifestyle out of having fun, and that’s all he ever wanted to portray.
I’m sure he saw some of the negative stuff, the rough edges, but he wasn’t interested in portraying it, that was one of the first things I noticed about him. He was a super no bullshit guy, but he was certainly never going to portray surfing in a negative light. To survive, to find a niche, people need to develop an alternative view, and his alternative view was to take the beach blanket bingo kooky thing, and say ‘We’re gonna explore the world, our way.’
It’s a bit like what’s happening today, really. We all wanna be healthy fit, happy, keep the environment clean… but they were inventing ways to do that back then. Think of like the longboard era guys and the Hobie Cat, well guys like Kai Lenny or John John, they’re still doing that pure, old school thing today. Wake up, ‘Oh it’s flat? It’s windy? I’ll foil or sail, or downwind paddle.’ Using the ocean everyday, living for it and around it, looking for kicks, that’s the legacy. ‘Life is so hard’ was never Bruce’s point of view.
I didn’t win many events in my career, but ES2 is always something I can sit back and look at, show my son, and be proud of. I always used to laugh because people would constantly ask “Has your life changed?” I never got a better seat at a restaurant, or skipped a queue once, no kick backs (laughs).
But one thing that has changed after all this time, is that now I do get a lot of people coming up to me saying, “Oh man, ES2, that’s what made me surf”, “I saw that movie and changed my life, you got me in the ocean, man” stuff like that. And that’s pretty fucken cool.”