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Where Dad left off

Dana Brown, son of 'Endless Summer's' Bruce, also has made a surf documentary.

August 05, 2003|Robert W. Welkos | Times Staff Writer

Gaviota, Calif. — When he was just 19 or 20, Dana Brown recalls, he set out to conquer Hawaii's famed "Pipeline" and its monster waves that beckon thrill-seeking surfers from around the world. He was lucky to make it out alive.

"I made the first wave, so I became a little cocky," said Brown, now 43. "The next wave, I take off, free-fall, land, and my trunks blow right off my body because I hit with such force. I tumble around and I'm thinking, 'I'm naked and I'm going to drown.' "

Now, all these years later, Dana Brown is taking up where his father, famed surfing filmmaker Bruce Brown, left off with his seminal 1966 surfing documentary "The Endless Summer" and its 1994 sequel, "The Endless Summer II."

When Bruce Brown began in the 1960s, surfing was growing in popularity, but it was almost a Zen-like quest for wave-riding enthusiasts. Today, the popularity of surfing has exploded into the mainstream. Only last weekend, for example, an estimated 85,000 people crowded Huntington Beach to watch the some of the world's great surfers perform at the Honda Element U.S. Open of Surfing.

Television today is also awash in surfing shows like "Surf Girls," which follows a group of young female surfers trying to make it onto the pro circuit and WB's "Boarding House: North Shore," which the network hyped as "an intimate look at the largely unknown culture of surfing and the aggressive world of competition." In addition, Fox Sports Network has two shows that include surfing, "54321" and "Off the Wall," while Fox Sports West 2 has another extreme sports show, "Bluetorch," that, again, touches on surfing. And on Aug. 16, KNBC Channel 4 in Los Angeles will air "Hawaii's Ocean Games" that spotlights surfing in Oahu.

Tapping into this global phenomena, Dana Brown has filmed a new surfing documentary called "Step Into Liquid," where the cameras chase some of the biggest and meanest waves. The film opens Friday in Los Angeles, New York and Hawaii.

Ask famed big wave surfer Laird Hamilton what Bruce and Dana Brown mean to surfing and he'll say without hesitation: "They are the documentarians of our sport and [their films] come second only to the performances of the surfers themselves. They are artists ... who share the wonderful world of surfing with the world and they seem to be able to do it decade after decade."

For "Step Into Liquid," Hamilton rode the giant waves at Jaws off the island of Maui and even surfed the remote north coast of Rapa Nui (Easter Island), where the bottom, he said, looks like "a minefield of urchins."

Dana Brown, who has assisted his father on various film projects over the years, said he was always open to doing his own feature-length surfing film, but not if it was perceived as just another sequel to "The Endless Summer." He believes he has accomplished this, with different stories and locales and enough cutting-edge surfing footage to deliver today's audiences the same "Oohs" and "Ahhs" his father elicited in "The Endless Summer."

At times harrowing, funny, and poignant, "Step Into Liquid" provides an abundance of thrills -- like watching daredevils Gerry Lopez and Kelly Slater ride Hawaii's always dangerous, powerful "Pipeline."

But the film also roams the world looking for other, more offbeat tales that give a broader context to why surfing is so popular. Places like:

* Sheboygan, Wis., where surfers with Fargo accents get "stoked" riding storm-tossed waves on Lake Michigan. "They're just into it," Brown says. "Every night they'd be throwing parties. You'd go to the beach and 80 guys would show up with surfboards. It's hard to believe."

* Galveston, Texas, where surfers ride the wakes created by supertankers navigating their way along the Galveston ship channel.

* Cortes Bank, an area in the middle of the ocean 100 miles off San Diego, where some of the world's top surfers -- Peter "Condor" Mel, Kenneth "Skindog" Collins, Mike Parsons and Brad Berlach -- brave sharks as they descend frightening waves cresting over 60 feet. How dangerous is it to surf these waters? "If somebody is swept in," says Dana Brown, "nobody is going to be able to see them."

The film was produced by John-Paul Beeghly, who also served as director of photography, and features other top surfers like the Malloy brothers, Rochelle Ballard, Jesse Billauer, Keala Kennelly, Layne Beachley and Rob Machado.

Growing up near the beach in Orange County's Dana Point, young Brown said he learned to surf from early childhood. "Back then, you could walk one way to Doheny or walk the other way through vacant lots to get to Salt Creek," he said. Now a divorced father of three, he lives in the Naples area of Long Beach.

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