Let’s go surfin’ now, everybody’s learning how, come on on safari with me. /Surfin’ Safari, music and lyrics by Brian Wilson
Surfing has strangely been on my mind lately. I’ve been reading the book Barbarian Days, A Surfing Life by William Finnegan. In it, Mr. Finnegan chronicles his early fascination with the sport, sparked not only by his family’s proximity to surfing meccas in Southern California and Hawaii, but also by the surf culture of the early-to-mid sixties, indelibly captured by the guitar driven surf music of Dick Dale and The Ventures and in films such as Beach Blanket Bingo, Gidget, and Ride the Wild Surf. I grew up during in those days, only an hour or so drive “down” the Jersey Shore. And though my sporting interests were rooted in terra firma, I recall my family’s first visit to Long Beach Island, a sliver of a barrier island north of Atlantic City. After a day in the sun, the five of us sat on logs around a small fire and listened to a local cover band tear through a credible version of the ultimate surf instrumental, Wipeout. I fell asleep that evening with visions of taking drum lessons and then mesmerizing my classmates with a virtuoso performance of Wipeout’s iconic drum solo. But when school rolled around that September, I was given a Bundy clarinet, began free lessons, and was forever consigned to the woodwind section, several strata below the rarefied cool of brass and percussion.
Around that time, in 1966, a bunch of us kids walked downtown to see a film called The Endless Summer. Produced and directed by Bruce Brown, the movie followed two surfers on a surfing trip around the world in search of “the perfect wave.” Again, I was a city kid who had as much contact with surfing and surf culture as I had with bullfighting. Yet the film’s exotic locations and thrilling action photography captivated me like no movie before or since.
So, with surfing and The Endless Summer on my mind, I was surprised by the odd coincidence of seeing The Endless Summer in today’s intellectual property news. According to IP 360, “The filmmaker behind “The Endless Summer” is suing Nike and Foot Locker for trademark infringement, alleging that an ad campaign that ran last year used the movie’s title and graphics from its poster to sell shoes and other apparel.” In the Complaint filed in, where else, Los Angeles, the filmmaker’s company alleges not only that The Endless Summer is “considered to be one of the most influential films to depict surfing and the surfing lifestyle,” but also that “The Endless Summer and the images emblematic of the Endless Summer film poster have become famous and distinctive brands.” The Complaint goes on to allege that the Foot Locker/Nike “Endless Summer” ads confused consumers into thinking that the filmmakers had approved the campaign. The question posed by the case is this: Does The Endless Summer have to Rs–the “r” in summer and the “Circle R”–the registered trademark symbol? And, yes, the filmmakers do own a federal registration for THE ENDLESS SUMMER. The case is Bruce Brown Films LLC v. Foot Locker Inc. et al., case number 2:20-cv-02553, in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.
The Endless Summer has been on my mind for another reason. In 2003, Bruce Brown’s son put out a sequel to The Endless Summer called Step Into Liquid. Naturally, I had to see it. And I did–during the aftermath of a massive storm that knocked-out power in D.C. for nearly a week, leaving us unmoored and insecure. I’d been thinking about that small disruption during our current, more dire, national public health crisis. And reading William Finnegan’s surf memoir has been transporting me back to The Endless Summer of 1966 and to that film’s classic poster: the faceless silhouettes of three male surfers against an eye-popping Day-Glo background dominated by a giant yellow sun.
Today, during the first week in what likely will be a long and challenging test of our collective resolve, compassion, and ingenuity, when my age demographic appears to be at greatest risk, it’s strangely comforting to see that something so intertwined with my generation’s collective cultural consciousness–a film about a challenging journey, about risks, about courage and about the danger and beauty of the natural world–remains as vital and relevant today as it did over 50 years ago. Let “the perfect wave” be a metaphor; never stop searching.
"You can go right or left, but you can’t very well do both at once."