A Sport Comes of Age!
Written by SurfWriter Girls Sunny Magdaug and Patti Kishel
Surfing – once the sport of Hawaiian kings – is a multibillion dollar business now that draws people from all over the world to ride the waves. The surf culture itself transcends any proximity to the beach, being as much a state of mind as a sports activity.
This wasn't always the case. Surfers in the 1950s were often viewed more as juvenile delinquents and troublemakers than athletes - beach bums, who would rather surf than work or study.
Thanks to two very different movies, though, this all changed: Gidget and The Endless Summer.
Think Yin and Yang. Female and male. Opposite points of view. These coming-of-age movies brought the surfing experience to a generation and created a movement.
Gidget, the 1959 beach movie with film star Sandra Dee, was based on the bestselling novel by Frederick Kohner, Gidget: The Little Girl with Big Ideas. Kohner, an Austrian-born novelist and screenwriter who emigrated to America and worked in the Hollywood film industry, got the idea for his book from the stories his daughter Kathy told him about the surfers she met on Malibu Beach near their Brentwood, CA home.
The book/movie is told from the point of view of the lead character 17-year-old Franzie, a surf-crazed teenager who wants to be accepted into the male-dominated surf culture. Not only does she achieve her goal, and find romance along the way, but is given a nickname by the surfers – Gidget (Girl-Midget).
A Hollywood movie to its core with co-stars James Darren and Cliff Robertson as surfers Moondoggie and The Big Kahuna, Gidget transcends the beach movie genre that it created, conveying the true exuberance and heart of surfing.
It has some pretty good surf moves, too, with champion surfer Linda Benson on board as Dee's surfing double.
When it was first released surfers themselves didn't think much of Gidget. Its global audience felt otherwise, turning surfing into a mega-sport and helping to launch a surf industry made up of boards, clothing, music, and more.
The Endless Summer 1966 surf movie is the perfect example of independent filmmaking. Written, produced, directed and filmed by Bruce Brown on a $50,000 budget, it found its audience through sheer perseverance, screening in rented movie theaters and auditoriums around the country.
Film distributors didn't think there was a big enough audience for it. But surfers and non-surfers alike turned out to share in the adventure of two real-life surfers – Mike Hynson and Robert August – following the sun around the world in an endless summer searching for the perfect waves.
Viewed by surfers as the ultimate surf movie, The Endless Summer had the creds and authenticity to satisfy surfing purists and the excitement, photography and cool orange and pink poster art to draw in even the landlocked.
Brown's surfing oeuvre extraordinaire went on to generate $20 million in worldwide revenues, turning him, Hynson and August into icons in the surf community.
Ultimately, a little girl with big ideas and two surfer dudes out to score some bitchen waves caught a bigger wave than they could imagine and sent surfing crashing onto the shoreline of the public's consciousness.
Surfing as a lifestyle had arrived and everyone wanted to get on board!
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