Bud Browne pioneered the surfing movie art form in 1953.
He influenced generations as an independent filmmaker,
shooting, directing, editing, and producing well over
a dozen feature-length surfing movies. All of the top
surfers in the sport were featured in Browne’s
films: Phil Edwards, Dewey Weber, Corky Carroll, Buzzy
Trent, Peter Cole, Mike Doyle, Micky Munoz, David Nuuhiwa,
and Gerry Lopez to name a few.
While early surf movies had been made by people like
Doc Ball, Jon Larronde, and Don James, Bud Browne was
the first person to show these films commercially. His
work as a filmmaker began as a hobby in the 1940s, shooting
surfers and underwater subjects in 8mm. In the 1950s,
he released the first commercial surf movie and since
then has devoted most of his time documenting the development
of surfing in California, Hawaii, and other parts of
In 1947, Browne bought a 16mm Bell & Howell movie
camera and began a more serious attempt at making films
of surfers. He trekked to Hawaii, joined the Waikiki
Surf Club, and began taking 16mm color movies. In the
early 1950s, Browne attended the USC Cinema School to
learn more about photography and film editing.
Browne developed some interesting “tricks”
and techniques for capturing some of the most amazing
and unusual water shots ever seen in surfing movies.
Besides using a stationary camera on the beach, and
telephoto lenses to capture the action on the waves
up close, he made waterproof bags for his cameras and
took them into the water with him.
Between 1953 and 1964, Browne filmed and released a
movie each year. As surfing became more popular, the
number of places his films were shown increased; from
La Jolla to San Francisco, all up and down the California
coast at school auditoriums and recreation halls. Surf
shop owners like Jack O’Neill in the Bay area
would also find places to rent where Browne’s
films could be shown.
When the sport of surfing gained international attention
in the mid-1960s, there was more interest in surf films
in countries like Australia, New Zealand, South Africa,
France, and England. The general public became more
aware of surfing although it was mainly surfers who
came to see these films, and each time one was shown,
the event became an esoteric, tribal celebration.
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Browne began to work
with filmmakers Greg MacGillivray and Jim Freeman. They
took some of the film Browne had produced and added
it to their own films such as Waves of Change, Five
Summer Stories, and The Surf Movie. He also contributed
footage to 1978’s Big Wednesday, one of the best
surfing-themed, non-documentary movies ever made.
In 1996, Browne was inducted into the Huntington Beach
Surfing Walk of Fame during the U.S. Open of Surfing.
A most appropriate honor for a man considered by many
to be the “father of surf movies.”
Courtesy Bud Browne
Illustration Jim Evans
Bud came out of retirement to make his last and best
film. Included footage of his classics, Gun Ho! and
Cat on a Hot Foam Board.