When I was a kid I used to love to go to the surf movies. Back then they were all 16mm documentaries that were pretty much one step above a home movie.
The guys who made them would take their best stuff and edit it together into two reels that added about 60 to 90 minutes in total and then put some cool instrumental music onto a tape recorder. They would rent high school auditoriums, and places like that, to show their films and narrate them live with some sort of makeshift P.A. system.
A surf movie night was epic entertainment for the surfing community.
In the beginning there was Bud Browne, Bruce Brown and John Severson. Browne had the best surfing footage, Brown had the best narration and Severson’s were the most artful and creative. But all of them were fabulous if you were a little kid who loved to surf. That would have been me.
Other filmmakers came and went but two that definitely came and stayed are Greg MacGillivray and Jim Freeman. Both arrived on the surf movie scene in the mid 1960’s. MacGillivray did a nice film called “A Cool Wave of Color” that featured many of the top surfers from Newport Beach. Freeman actually did a 3D surf movie called “Surfing the Third Dimension.” The two met and decided to blend their talents into a new company, which they called MacGillivray Freeman Films.
MacGillivray lived with his parents in South Laguna when I met him. Knowing him had an extra perk too. I could call in and get a pass to park at their house, which was a short walk to surf at Salt Creek. I used this perk often. Both MacGillivray and Freeman were really cool dudes who surfed and were truly dedicated to developing their craft into something more than just a yearly surf film to make a few bucks.
In 1972 they knocked the surfing world on its ear with their legendary surf epic, “Five Summer Stories.” They just nailed it. The soundtrack was done by a local Laguna Beach band called “Honk,” that would go on to become one of the great, although not well known outside of Orange County and the surfing world, bands of all time. To this day they are still my favorite band.
This was also the first surf movie where the surfers in the movie actually got paid for it. Before that about the best you could get for being in a film was a ride to the beach and maybe lunch if you really surfed well. MacGillivray and Freeman were all about doing it right.
As they moved out of just doing surf films into the mainstream, they became enamored with the…