As we were gathering one month ago for the world premiere of "On Any Sunday next chapter" ( San Sebastian Savage cine festival), I asked our friend Bernard Testemale to share with us his recent Journey in South Africa with Sam and Robert August. Fifty years ago exactly Bruce Brown, filmmaker, would write an historic page of the Surf movies, and a few years after he will eventually achieve the best of the Motorcycle movie ever: "On Any Sunday".
We were lucky enough to meet the legend itself and shoot some portraits.
Driving into Cape St Francis was beyond anxiety for me...after waiting almost 30 year to see it for my first time, I wondered what it would really look like and how dad would reflect.As we looked over the edge the break looked to set up amazing.Of course we were lacking another 6 ft in swell to actually make it work...All the talk of it being not what it was is actually not accurate.Speaking with south african ripper Ricky Basnette and he mentioned the epic day he and his buddy shared not too long ago saying it can challenge jbay when its right.Felt amazing to paddle out as dad witnessed only can imagine what was going through his mind....
I wanna be a dentist....
First and foremost, I must say it was a great honor to witness Sir Robert August's return to Cape St Francis, more than 50 years after his unique passage in 1963, and his legendary session for Bruce Brown's mythical movie, "The ENDLESS SUMMER".
A unique session which changed life for him and millions of surfers.
He made the promise he would return to South Africa with his son... A promise that he took 30 years to honor for his son Sam, now 47 years old.Back in 1963, both Robert and his pal Mike Hynson, get Bruce Brown's invitation for a South African surf adventure. First stop : Cape town!19 years old Robert, freshly graduated from Hutington Beach school, already has a clear plan for the future: he will be a dentist! Little does he know, this trip will definitely change his life...
Robert raised in a family with solid surfing background (his dad « blacky » August, was a reknown California Surfer) profoundly influenced by the 50's surf scene and Duke Kahanamoku.
At the top of his art in 1963, Robert is one of the best competitors of his era, and has starred in some of Bruce's previous movies...
Bruce Brown's plan at the time is to head to Cape Town where surfing was starting to grow thanks to John Whitmore after he started importing the first Gordon Clark foam blanks.
What seems natural and easy nowadays was more a mission then in the 60's! To reach Cape Town, you had to enter the Africain continent in Senegal and then go down south with multiple stops: Ghana , Nigeria then South Africa.
No to mention there was no daily flight, sometimes weekly or monthly...
It is hard to imagine and value the logistics miracles Bruce has accomplished to organize such a trip from an unknown country to another with 3 peoples and all their gear! Missing one flight would mean getting stucked for weeks!
50 ans later, its in company of 6 young Huntignton Beach Surf School surfers and their coach Andy Verdone, that we set base at Jeffreys Bay, very close to Cap St Francis' « Bruces's beauty » in South Africa.These young surfers have an incredible privilege to travel in Africa with Robert, and I bet it will take time for them to realize what an exceptional present it was.
Pepper Street, Beach House and African Perfection, we can almost touch the magical wave of Jeffrey's bay from our window. I realize that Robert discovers it for the first time, and his sole experience of this area will have been this epic day at Cap St Francis back in 1963.
As the kids paddle out with Sam, Robert attentively observes everyone's rides . One of the kids has a special place in Robert's heart, since he saw him grow up in Costa Rica: 20 years old Tomas King, the oldest and most experienced surfer in the group.
These past years, Robert has spent a lot of time in costa Rica, which he discovered during the shooting of Endless Summer 2 early 90's. There again he contributed to put a name on the surf world map..."Tamarindo-Costa-Rica »
Along these 2 weeks shared with Robert, my curiosity and his natural simplicity to tell stories made a perfect match. A great pleasure to hear him recall his adventures during and after what's has been called « THE ENDLESS SUMMER ».
From all these old stories one pops to my mind: his first surf trip abroad to baja at 17 years old with 3 other friends.
As they cross the border, they get stopped since they are minor. Frustrated but not giving up, they try to cross from another check point, hiding the minors in the trunk!
So seeing this one guy in the car with 4 boards on the roof makes the customs agent a bit suspicious! He finds the kids in the trunk and sends them straight to prison where they will spend a 24 hours trip!
Robert took the lesson and swore to never ever again go against the law...This leads to the this honest and generous man I got to meet and know more everyday...
After having recovered from the heavy jet lag from our long trip from USA through Dubai, it is time to jump in the van and head to Cape St Francis, 30 minutes away.As the kids strap their 5'10 superlight boards on the roof, I realize how much ground has been covered in 50 years. Back in 63 Robert and Mike had to carry their 45 pounds big heavy boards with fixed fins, without any boardbag, leash, nor wetsuit. Not even wax!
The only way would be to use some candles but it would never be really efficient in too warm or too cold waters!
Imagine being on 45 pounds longboards with no accessory and you can figure how was surfing then... Then imagine surfing perfect waves never ridden before, just you and your friends with no surfer around and you can figure what Bruce Brown portrayed and immortalized at Cape St Francis in his documentary.
Personally I knew about this amazing bay, for having been there before. But I was wondering if Robert would still remember and feel the place more than 50 years after. Back then, John Whitmore had to clear some bush around in order to access the place. You had to walk though high dunes along the bay before accessing the "holy graal' of surfing of the era, and the highlight of the "Endless summer".
To reach the spot today, you just have to slalom though residential neighborhoods. On the parking lot, you can read on a memorial sign: " BRUCE'S BEAUTY. Home of the perfect waves ".
Of course we are far from the 1963 images frozen on Bruce Brown's camera. It 's a grey day, waves are average...The dunes have been replaced by a stretch of beautiful houses with a little bit of vegetation on the way to the beach.
Sam savoures the moment...He jumps in his wetsuit and runs to the water with the HBSS kids.
It's touching to see Robert standing on the same rocks which witnessed his session 50 years ago, admiring today his son and the team prowesses. This "father and son" connexion and communion, make this moment timeless and unforgettable.
Hard to tell if the wave itself has changed through the years. We know it is a very capricious wave really breaking 5 to 10 times a year according to the locals...
One certainty, is that she offered her prime conditions that day to Bruce, Robert and Mike!
One would think that they spent some time there, that they camped in the area to make the most of their time and the place. But they just had this day, having to head back to Johannesburg to go to Australia with stops in Kenya, Yemen, India, Ceylan, Indonesia, etc...
From this epic day in surfing history, Robert explains that after having surfed all day this perfect right, Bruce asked them to walk in the dune for this clip we all saw in the movie.
They were exhausted from this long session and had to walk thought the dunes with those heavy boards and go around not to leave tracks for the needs of the shot... After the first take, Bruce asked to make another one! On the edge of rebellion, they finally went back a mile around the soft sand african dune!
It’s exactly at the same place that 50 years ago, a group of friends made the cornerstone of the surf spirit!
During this trip, they will have crossed Africa from west to east, sometimes though bush trails, camping here and there in the bush or some remote villages who had never seen a white man or a surfer! Consider wild animals were totally free then!
So many stories came back all along this two weeks with Robert, that he could probably write a book...(I suggested he should do it!).
Two stories have to be told here:
- This little note book Robert filled everyday with stories, names..., which he forgot in a plane!
Bruce and Robert tried their best to find it but the precious document seems to this day definitely lost.
- 8 month later, back from Africa, Robert recalls a conversation he had with his dentist, who was also a surfer. How could he become a dentist after this African experience? Working on teeth was not a walk in the park then, the dentist having to fill dental cavities all day for not much reward with uncomfortable tools and unhappy clients... (this has barely changed though!)
It's finally surfboards that Robert decided to nurse! On his dentist advice, he started to learn the ropes at his sponsor/shaper Jacob's Surfboard factory. Repairing dings, filling holes, and sanding boards for happy surfers is something else than dental medicine!
Endless summer premiered in 1964, and impacted the world for many years, planting the seed of modern surfing...
Robert and Mike became « rock stars ». In 1974 Robert creates his own company, Robert August Surfboards.
Sam took the succession but Robert still shapes and uses his old plane.
As surfers, we all owe to Sir Robert August, and the "Endless Summer" team, who redefined surfing. Robert will never be a dentist....