Bud Browne (1912-2008)

I was fortunate to meet and then interview Bud "Barracuda" Browne, the "Father of The Surf Film," in the mid-1990s...

( Bud and I, San Clemente, 1994 - One of his last personal screenings )

The following is what came out of that meeting and interview; a detailed look at Bud's life as lifeguard and surfing's "Father of the Surf Film":

Bud 'Barracuda' Browne

Also, here's an excerpt of "Bud Browne, 96; father of surf-film genre," By Dennis McLellan, Los Angeles Times, July 29, 2008:

Bud Browne, a onetime Venice Beach lifeguard who became known as "the father of surf films" after he began showing his 16-millimeter surf movies commercially up and down the California coast in the early 1950s, has died. He was 96.

Browne died in his sleep Friday at his home in San Luis Obispo, said his close friend Anna Trent Moore, daughter of surfing legend Buzzy Trent.

"Bud created the genre of surf films," Steve Pezman, publisher of the Surfer's Journal, told The Times on Monday. "What was unique about Bud and his films was the water footage, and the fact that he lived with the surfers he was filming.

"All those surfers actually just loved the guy, and he was a great athlete himself."

A former captain of the USC swim team who learned to surf while working as a lifeguard at Venice Beach in 1938, Browne bought an 8-millimeter movie camera two years later and began making home movies of his fellow surfers.

In 1947, after serving in the Navy during World War II, he upgraded his camera to a 16 millimeter Bell & Howell and got more serious about shooting the action on the waves, particularly during his annual trips to Hawaii.

Several years later -- after working as a middle-school physical education teacher and attending the USC film school -- Browne had enough footage to edit into a 45-minute movie.

With handmade posters nailed to telephone poles near local surf spots, he debuted his first film, "Hawaiian Surfing Movies," at John Adams Middle School in Santa Monica in 1953.

Browne, who charged 65 cents admission, introduced his film onstage, then hurried back to the projection booth to narrate it via microphone with taped musical accompaniment.

A couple of other successful beach-town showings followed, and Browne gave up teaching to launch his career as a surf filmmaker.

Between 1953 and 1964, he released a new surf film each year, including "Trek to Makaha," "The Big Surf," "Surf Down Under," "Cat on a Hot Foam Board," "Surf Happy" and "Gun Ho!"

In the process, he captured on film longboard-era greats such as Phil Edwards, Miki Dora and Dewey Weber and first-generation shortboard heroes, including David Nuuhiwa and Gerry Lopez.

Browne, who shot big-wave action from the water with a waterproof camera housing of his own design, was known to be fearless.

"He was completely at home in the water," Matt Warshaw, author of "The Encyclopedia of Surfing" and a former editor of Surfer magazine, told The Times on Monday. "With a camera cased in housing, he was willing to go out and take lumps and get angles no one else wanted to get."

In a 2005 column in the Orange County Register, surfing champion Corky Carroll recalled "running over" Browne one day at Pipeline in Hawaii.

"He told me to surf like he wasn't there, so I did," Carroll wrote. "I am tucked deep into this monster barrel, and there is Bud, right in the way, filming me. I figured that he was gonna dive under before I ran him down. Wrong. He just stayed right here filming, and I took him out like a Greyhound bus nailing a highway dog."

As a surf-film pioneer, Browne predated other early surf filmmakers such as Bruce Brown, Greg Noll and John Severson.

Brown, whose film "The Endless Summer" became a phenomenon after opening nationally in 1966, remembered watching Browne's films as a teenager. In fact, Browne captured him on film surfing in Hawaii.

"That was a big deal to go to Bud's movies and to see if you were in it," Brown told The Times on Monday.

He held Browne in such esteem as "the originator" of commercial surf films that "when I got a chance to make one of my own, I went to Bud and said, 'I don't want to do it without your blessing.' He said, 'No problem; go for it.' "

Warshaw said the work of Browne and other early surf filmmakers was, to surfers, the equivalent of passing around a scrapbook.

"When Bud first came out, there weren't even surf magazines," he said. "Everyone was so starved to see imagery of surfing."

Nicknamed "Barracuda" for his tall, slender build and the amount of time he spent in the water, Browne was known as a top body surfer. In the early '60s, he was famous for body surfing at the Wedge in Newport Beach, the most dangerous body-surfing spot in California.

As a filmmaker, Pezman said, Browne "made a film record of the surf culture that he was intimate with.

"He was allowed inside as one of them, even though he was quite different than they were," Pezman said.

"He was a traditional, old-school gentleman, and they were rambunctious rebels, but somehow they coexisted, and he recorded their lives and their culture as it expanded from a few hundred [surfers] in the '50s to several million in the '60s, and he and his films helped fan the flames of that growth," he said.

Warshaw said Browne retired for a while in the mid-'60s, then came back in 1973 with what many consider his best film, "Going Surfin'."

Browne also shot footage for Greg MacGillivray and Jim Freeman's 1972 classic "Five Summer Stories" and was part of the team that filmed the surfing sequences for "Big Wednesday," director John Milius' 1978 feature film.

Born in Boston on July 14, 1912, Browne moved to Los Angeles in 1931 to major in physical education at USC.

Browne, who lived in Costa Mesa for many years before moving to San Luis Obispo three years ago, was inducted into the International Surfing Hall of Fame in 1991 and the Huntington Beach Surfing Walk of Fame in 1996.

He was honored in March at the San Luis Obispo International Film Festival for his contributions to surf films.

Moore, who said Browne remained active until he developed health problems due to diabetes, recalled that she and Browne went on three bungee-jumping trips to New Zealand together in the 1990s.

"He loved to bungee jump, and he bungee jumped until he was 86," she said.

Browne, who never married, is survived by two nieces and a nephew.

At Browne's request, close friends will scatter his ashes at Pipeline on Oahu.

A celebration of his life will be held at 7 p.m. Aug. 25 at Waimea Falls.

( For the complete text version of the above article, please go to:
Bud obit, LAT )

Additional Bud Browne links:

Surfline: Comments

Surfline by Jason Borte

SurfClassics: Bud's posters

Bud Footage @ SurfNetwork

Malcolm's first interview with Bud, 1994


On Tue, Jul 29, 2008 at 12:42 PM, Gary Lynch wrote:

Joe & friends,

My head is full of details from speaking with old timers now long gone and a few surface now and then but many more are lost somewhere in the crevices of my grey matter. Like Lou Reed stated; "Unfortunately those memories are no longer available".

Mary Ann told me before Bud had any commercial movies he would show his films either on a sheet, small screen, or the side of buildings in empty lots in Malibu and elsewhere just for a small gathering of friends. We know the popularity grew and what happened as time went on.

Bud Browne (not to be confused with Mary Ann's first husband, Bud Morrissey) and Mary Ann dated as youngsters and Bud's mother drove them to the beach on at least one occasion. Mary Ann had a really nice photo of Bud at about age 15 when they were a semi item. I never did copy it and but I am confident her children have that small image. It looked like it was from a photo booth. Bud was a healthy good looking adolescent.

Another bit of information to go back and review is the rare footage taken by Doc Ball of Bud Browne body surfing with a wet suit and inflatable matt at the pier (Hermosa?) The surf is large and the straight off drop is rather spectacular and the speed is intense for those that were not aware this is Bud Browne or have not seen that footage. It shows a number of takeoff as well as Bud walking on the beach in his wet suit and with his surf matt. This footage predates Bud's work by many years. I believe it to be from the 30's. Probably the earliest footage ever of Bud. The homemade wetsuit is another fine pioneering effort by the watermen of the era.



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Pow Wow on Shaping Alaias

Over the past three years or so, I have been in contact with and a whole lot envious of Tom Wegener, in Noosa, Australia. Tom's been shaping and riding wooden boards, the templates of which are based on the plan shapes of the few Hawaiian traditional surfboards still in existence.

Tom has a newsletter that he puts out periodically and I recommend it. Here's an excerpt from his latest, writing a little bit about what they're learning about how the alaia actually rides:

A long time ago I competed in the longboard contests in Southern California... turned to making surf movies to enjoy surfing and try to make a livelihood from it... but then I found my happiest times were spent making boards.

Recently, for two weeks I lived the shapers dream - Thomas Campbell came to town to film the alaias surfing the Noosa points. A tremendous crew of surfers came to stay for the filming and the points were firing the whole time. My brother Jon came down as well to shape the numerous boards for the crew. Thomas called it Jon and my "pow-wow on shaping alaias." Jon has been shaping them for the USA and I for Australia. During the day we surfed and studied the shapes. At night Jon and I milled wood and shaped boards.

Watching all the surfers experiment with board after board really helped us come to terms with the finer points of the alaia. In the end we came up with a list of things that do and do not work. Our most important finding was that the edge on the bottom rail makes for a faster board and that making drops on a board with flex is a lot easier. The boards with the heavy concaves perform “lala” easier, while the flatter bottom boards go faster across the wave. We learned the gradients from when a board is too stiff or a plank to when it is just right and then to when it is a wet noodle. None of the rules are hard and fast because each board has to be made for the size of the individual and how they will surf the board. But we definitely have parameters for shapes and sizes. I was personally hoping to find one shape was favored over the rest but that was not the case at all.

... the search continues for the best tube ride on the alaia. I don’t know why but this seems to have become the Holy Grail for the current crew. Jon made some boards for Rob Machado who has been surfing Uluwatu on the boards. Rumor has it a big, heavy tube ride was filmed and is now in the can but we will probably not know until “The Present” comes out. Dan Malloy is presently waiting with a camera crew for a big swell to hit his favorite spot in Central America. Meanwhile, David Rastovich feels that the best alaia style is backside and he is in Chile searching for the perfect left. Chris Del Moro has stayed closer to home carving up Swamis in North San Diego County. But, so far, the best documented tube is a Sunshine Coast screamer of Jacob Stuth shown here below and shot my Nigel Arnison of www.onsurfari.com.au

By focusing on the alaia surfboards for the last three years, I have been able to step back from my finned boards and look at them from a distance... The most amazing thing about “primitive” alaia surfing is the “lala,” defined by the Hawaiians as “the controlled slide in the wave face.” I interpret this to mean the side-slip as well as trim. The alaia is more like a hovercraft that can go forwards, sideways and backwards. The finned boards are meant to go straight ahead with the tail following the nose. But finned boards do a little bit of the lala as well. They do actually slide sideways a little. It is not really a lala in the real sense because of the fin so I will call it “drift”. I never really thought about this element of surfboards much until now but I think it is very important especially for my traditional longboards.

Mike and Tom have teamed up to make the Mike Stewart Model Alaia. Mike tested the boards in Hawaii last winter and found they worked great in smaller waves. In addition to the functionality of the boards Mike is really impressed with the way the boards are made and the operation of a “green” surfboard factory. Furthermore he likes their artistry and the link to Ancient Hawaiian culture that the alaias represent.

Mike and his family came to Noosa to meet Tom and check out the factory. He was most impressed with the sawdust going into the gardens and the amount of worms in the soil. They made several surfboards and tested them on some small peelers at Noosa National Park. Mike was also able to hand-sign a limited edition of the models.
Tom’s highlight was to find that the back corner of the bottom of Mike’s foam body board is very similar to the tail of the boards that Tom makes for David Rastovich yet they came to this tail from totally different directions.

The Alaia Story DVD

When I made this DVD I was worried that it was technically not good enough however the feedback I have received is very positive. It shows the work that went into the first two and a half years of the Alaia Project. It starts with the time in 2005 when the only people I knew of in the world that rode an alaia were Jake, Margie, my brother Jon and me. You can see the progression of the shapes from smaller to longer and then back to shorter. It is a great start for anyone curious about the alaia. It is simply a little look at the development of the alaia and the story of the boards.

(available for purchase)

You can contact Tom at info@tomwegenersurfboards.com and for United States alaia inquiries please contact Jon Wegener at jswegener@yahoo.com


To read about earlier efforts to make an exact alaia replica, please read what Wally Froiseth did with the Princess Ka'iulani board at: Princess Ka'iulani Alaia

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Butch and 1966

I've reformatted the chapters on Butch Van Artsdalen and the surfing year 1966.

Surfer magazine cover 1966-6

Please visit:

  • Butch

  • 1966
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    Bing Surfboards Book

    The Bing book by Paul Holmes has just been published in a limited edition, entitled "Bing Surfboards -- Fifty Years of Craftsmanship and Innovation"

    Here's the press release:

    "Bing Surfboards is one of the longest-running and most progressive labels in the surfing world and its boards are still exclusively handcrafted in California. Its founder, Bing Copeland, played a major role in making surfing and the surfboard industry what they are today. At 13, he started helping out at pioneer surfboard maker Dale Velzy’s workshop in Manhattan Beach. During the mid-1950s he surfed the big waves of Oahu’s North Shore and Makaha in Hawaii. In 1958 he sailed across the Pacific and introduced modern surfboards to New Zealand. By 1959, back in Southern California, he began making surfboards commercially. This is the story of Bing Copeland, the business he built, the colorful cast of craftsmen he employed and the visionary surfboards they made and continue to make to this day.

    "Here’s just some of what you’ll find in the new book 'Bing Surfboards—fifty years of craftsmanship and innovation' by Paul Holmes, former editor of Surfer magazine and author of 'Dale Velzy is Hawk,' published in 2006:

    "192-pages, high-quality, full-color, coffee-table format (9½" x 12¼") hardcover book featuring 300-plus historic and contemporary photographs including some 50 action surf shots of Bing Copeland and his illustrious contingent of team riders through the years taken by some of surfing’s all time great photographers.

    "The amazing life story of Bing Copeland and his company, and a complete review of all Bing Surfboards models and their contribution to surfboard design evolution. From early ’60s custom classics with inlaid curved stringers and parquetry skegs, to the mid-decade design progressions of the Noseriders, Lightweights, Pipeliners and Pintail Lightweights and on to the transition era of the Lotus, Karmas and Foils, all the way into the age of multi-finned shortboards with its twin-fins and cutting-edge, tri-fin Bonzer, the Bing Surfboards story shows how the evolution of contemporary surfboard design took place.

    "Reprints of all Bing Surfboards advertising in surf magazines—a classic blast from the past.

    "The story of the involvement of key team riders and shapers including Donald Takayama, David Nuuhiwa, Dick Brewer, Jock Sutherland, Dru Harrison, Steve Schlickenmeyer, Keith Paull, Rolf Aurness, Mike Eaton, Claude Codgen, the Campbell brothers, Peter Townend and many, many more.

    "Workers’ tales from the factory floor—some funny, some serious and some just plain crazy!

    "Photos and detail shots of more than 60 classic Bing boards along with serial numbers, dimensions and significant elements of their design and/or construction, and the Bing Surfboards fin timeline showing the development of fin design—fascinating information for collectors, surf history fans and anyone passionate about surfboards.

    "Brochures, price lists, original letters and other documents from the Bing Surfboards archive, plus logo lam art from every Bing Surfboards model ever made.

    This limited first edition imprint is available for $60 from: http://classicbingsurfboards.com

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