A surfer’s tale that sucks you in

Genevieve Giambanco

Literally raised in his father’s directorial shadow, director Dana Brown redefines the saying “like father, like son.” His father, Bruce Brown, legendary director of surfing documentaries “Endless Summer” (1966) and “Endless Summer II” (1994), let his son tag along for shoots on the beach. The younger Brown emerged from this father-son experience wiser and with a directorial expertise obvious in his new film, “Step into Liquid.”

The production leaves the audience in awe; it is a documentary of unprecedented proportions-think Discovery Channel meets the buff, bronzed and bleached club. Brown follows devout surfers of all shapes, sizes and abilities around the world with a motive: to convey the fun of wave-riding along with the theme of universal human experience. Not only are we shaken by fast, furious waves, but we are also moved by the human element. Brown aims to wipe out cultural differences and unite all in this common passion for surfing. The documentary combines intense interviews, shots of majestic landscapes and the fun, freewheeling confessions of surfaholics.

Brown says surfing is “a passion; beauty without a dress-code.” He adds, “We figure it’s not even a board; it’s an experience that does something to you. It’s a constant state of simplicity and enlightenment, a moment of freedom. In that moment, things get in perspective. I wish I could have that feeling all the time! It’s a sanctuary.”

Another element heightening the appeal of “Liquid” is the mind-blowing cinematography and the enrapturing beauty of location, location, location. Brown and his film crew flirted with waves of shades and successions of astonishing aqua marine-blues not yet formulated by the people at Crayola, revealed through relentless globe-trotting to everywhere from Hawaii, Vietnam, Tahiti, Rapa Nui and Western Australia. Just a few minutes into “Liquid” and get ready to be shocked by fierce, often recklessly bold surfing.

Brown admits to having been tempted by his paradise-like locations to drop the camera and join the fun. “Tahiti was surreal,” he says. “You just kind of stop and stare at how spooky-clear and beautiful the water is. Our work is basically chasing a hobby, so you can’t get too serious or make the mistake of losing your noggin. There were definitely days where we took a break and grabbed our boards.”

Brown aims to give dignity to a sport often ignored by serious sport fans. Brown notes that surfing receives significant coverage around the world, and specifically in Australia and Europe. It seems American coverage of surfing lags behind that of other countries. The sport gets attention in minimal publications and occasional mention on ESPN’S Sports Center. Coverage may be spotty because, as Brown says, “It’s hard to harness nature; the playing field is always running away from you. America is the only place where surfing hasn’t gotten a lot of play. It’s pretty much accepted everywhere else around the world. I mean there are 125,000 people and they don’t even know what to do with it. Contests are boring; we need to come up with better things.”

However, the popularity of the sport among Americans seems to be growing steadily, despite lack of news coverage. Surfing reached new heights when MTV launched its reality TV show, “Surf Girls.” Brown sees this as a positive step for the sport, adding, “It’s a little glamorized, a little too MTV, but the real story is fascinating. It’s a good thing – a little open-handed push is gentle and great for progress.”

The growing interest in surfing themes in American entertainment is encouraging for Brown, who is considering straying from documentaries toward the fresh, interpretive freedom of a narrative in the future. “I would love to do it, but the learning curve would be steep. I’d want to start small. I respect actors, so I think that putting up with varying styles of working would be tough. A narrative would be like shooting fish in a barrel. But I’m optimistic and willing to do anything. Well, not anything … no porno!”

Brown chuckles at the thought, gives a nod of assurance and concludes his thoughts on the future with words that echo in the pipelines of his work: “I feel pretty lucky. Life is good.”