(This spot is pretty good, too.)
If you were a surfer in the early ‘60s, where was your local surf spot? Chances are it was in southern California, and for surf-traveling, Hawai’i was probably the only place you considered—Malibu and Waikiki were the world’s most perfect waves, you’d say, so why go anywhere else?
But then came Bruce Brown’s seminal surf-travel film The Endless Summer, which in the mid-1960s injected an unprecedented dose of stoke into minds nationwide, surf and non-surf alike. With performances by young Californians Robert August and Mike Hynson, audiences in Kansas and New York were stunned to learn rideable waves existed in the exotic west African nations of Ghana, Nigeria, and Senegal.
Moviegoers in Santa Cruz and Dana Point were equally amazed, but nothing could have prepared them for a six-minute, 15-wave segment mid-film, the legendary footage of a sand-bottomed, right-hand South African point called Cape St. Francis.
After a staged “three-mile” march across hot desert dunes (actually filmed the day after the soon-to-be-famous session), the Cape was revealed, and Brown showed surfers worldwide what they all inwardly sought, with Hynson gliding straight into surf history across a clean, green, backlit dream.
“On Mike’s first ride, the first five seconds,” Brown narrated, “he knew he’d finally found that perfect wave.”
Malibu was the perfect wave in 1964. Cape St. Francis thereafter upped the ante, launching a treasure hunt into an apparent South African goldmine—and this came after the discovery of Jeffrey’s Bay.
“Every surfer dreams of finding a place as good as Malibu or Rincon,” Brown told us. “We found a place that’s better, and it’s better every day.”
Paraffin-toting longboarders soon set out to mimic Hynson’s hallmark ride, but, alas, it wasn’t long before the dust settled.
In his chummy, corny cadence, Brown continued: “From all the information we could gather, we figured it’s like this about 300 days of the year. The water was 70 degrees, the prevailing wind there straight offshore. A perfect wave, and perfect conditions.”
Three hundred days a year? Hardly. Cape St. Francis was (and is) badly fickle and inconsistent, the prevailing wind is onshore, and instead of firing daily, the spot produces properly for perhaps a week total each year.
Brown: “I couldn’t help but think of the hundreds of years these waves must have been breaking here. But until this day, no one had ever ridden one. Think of the thousands of waves that went to waste, and the waves that are going to waste right now at Cape St. Francis.”
In truth, Brown’s crew was supremely lucky (they surfed for 90 minutes before the waves vanished), and the session spawned a number of failed Cape St. Francis surf trips, which ultimately led to the realization of nearby gems like Jeffrey’s Bay and Seal Point.
When probed by Longboard magazine in 1992, Hynson questioned the migration: “If we didn’t make The Endless Summer, do you think there would even be this quest for the perfect wave? Huh? You think anybody would even care?”
Regardless of the film’s effect, those six minutes of footage effectively flung us halfway around the world, away from our beloved Malibus and Waikikis, to South Africa, of all places. Finer waves have since been found, yes, but it is Bruce Brown and Mike Hynson whom we credit for initially showing us the way to South Africa, shedding light on its incredible waves.