Statue of filmmaker Bruce Brown joins other surf icons in Dana Point

September 19, 2019

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They were dubbed ‘the Dana Point Mafia.”

Hobie Alter shaped his iconic surfboards, ridden by style master and friend Phil Edwards. John Severson created Surfer Magazine, running ads and features on surf world happenings. Bruce Brown documented and shared with the world surf adventures that transported people to the waves.

“That’s why Dana Point is the most historic surf town in California, by far,” said Dick Metz, a friend who was also part of the tight-knit group that transformed the surf scene in the ’60s. “We really did kind of control the industry, in a small way. That’s why we had the name Dana Point Mafia.”

Stories flowed at a gathering at the Watermen’s Plaza on Thursday,  Sept. 19, where a bronze statue with filmmaker Brown’s likeness has joined surf and sailing icon Alter, the first to be put up just south of the bridge over Pacific Coast Highway, and Phil Edwards, an iconic surfer who made waves decades ago as the best surfer of his time.

The public unveiling of the new statue drew family and friends, along with legends in the surf world, including Edwards, Boogie Board inventor Tom Morey, Capo Beach surfer Mickey Munoz, women champions Jericho Poppler and Joyce Hoffman and more.

Brown, who grew up in Long Beach and attended Wilson High School, started his film career in the then-sleepy surf town of Dana Point.

He enlisted in the Navy after graduation, went to submarine school and finished at the top of his class before being assigned to Hawaii, where he started making 8mm movies. After his stint in the Navy, he returned to California and worked in San Clemente, when surfboard shaper Dale Velzy put up $5,000 for a film to promote his surf team.

Brown moved to Dana Point in 1958, plotting and producing the iconic film in the city. “The Endless Summer,” released in 1964 and featuring Huntington Beach surfer Robert August as one of the stars, became a cult-classic around the world.

Though it is his most widely recognized work, “The Endless Summer” wasn’t Brown’s first stint behind a camera. His first film, “Slippery When Wet,” was released in 1958. It was followed by “Surf Crazy,”  “Barefoot Adventures” and other movies that were showcased in high school auditoriums up and down the coast – Brown narrating live in front of the salty, sandy crowd.

The iconic photo used on the “The Endless Summer” poster – created by famed artist John Van Hamersveld – was taken at Dana Point’s Salt Creek Beach. A mosaic of the poster was also unveiled at the Waterman’s Plaza

Adding to the stories of those early days, Metz on Thursday talked about a time when the town of Dana Point didn’t exist, before the post office and the police and fire stations – a time when they could throw wild parties.

“It’s great for the city to recognize what they’ve got, because for years, when we were partying, they weren’t recognizing anything,” Metz said, drawing a chuckle from the crowd.

What those young men and women didn’t know, was they were changing the world, infusing surf culture into the mainstream.

“They started a culture, a lifestyle, the clothes, the attitude,” said Metz.

R. Paul Allen also talked about the early days, back when Brown was a “broke, struggling filmmaker.” Allen became the promoter for “The Endless Summer,” taking the film national and then worldwide.

“The magic of his creativity and his narrative – how can you not help promote the most fantastic movie you’ve ever seen?” he said, calling Brown “the most incredible individual I’ve ever met.”

While Brown was a well-known figure in the surf world, he also made waves with his film “On Any Sunday,” which earned him an Academy Award nomination – it is regarded as one of the best motorcycle documentaries ever created.

Brown in 2009 was inducted into the Surfers’ Hall of Fame, and in 2014 he was given the first Surfing Heritage and Cultural Center Lifetime Achievement Award. In 2015, the Smithsonian Institute hosted the exhibit “Wave of Innovation: Surfing and The Endless Summer.”

Brown spent his later years in Santa Barbara. He died in December of 2017 at 80 of natural causes.

Dana Brown, Bruce’s son and also a filmmaker, stood in front of the crowd with the statue as a backdrop alongside his family, including great grandchildren of Brown and his wife, Pat. Dana Brown said Bruce Brown was just as good a father and friend as he was a filmmaker.

“This is just too much, thank you so much,” he said. “And to all you fans, it makes it that much more special.”

The statue installations by the city will continue in upcoming months, with interpretive signs and other art pieces added. The life-sized sculptures of local surf industry legends are being created by artist Bill Limebrook, who grew up nearby on Beach Road in Dana Point.