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Is Endless Summer the Best Wine Movie?

6 ways the seminal surfing film could be recast as a movie about wine

Posted: Sep 6, 2012 12:00pm ET

By Jennifer Fiedler

From Sideways to Bottle Shock to A Walk in the Clouds, there are movies about wine aplenty. But could the best movie about drinking wine—like the real experience of drinking and learning about wine—actually be a surfing movie?

In the mid-1960s, filmmaker Bruce Brown took two young Californian surfers and a camera around the world, following the summer season across hemispheres in search of warm water and perfect waves. The result, Endless Summer—the documentation of their epic year-long surf trip to Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Tahiti and Hawaii—introduced a nation to surf adventure tourism. Forty years later, yes, parts of it are a little dated, but as longtime surfer myself, I find it still holds up as one of the best mashnotes to surfing ever put to celluloid.

Tucked within the docu-style narration are some gem lessons about surfing and traveling and, if you look at it with the right mindset, plenty of things that apply equally to learning about wine. Watching surfing will always be more interesting than watching someone drink wine (sorry!), but if you can get in the right frame of mind, here are six scenes that transfer well.

1. "Every surfer dreams about finding a wave as good as Malibu or Rincon. We found a wave that's better, and it's better every day."

Making an educated guess after looking at a map, the two young surfer stars, Mike and Robert, found the perfect wave in Cape St. Francis, South Africa. A peeling right with a sandy bottom and rocks along the shore proved to be the ultimate score of the trip. And it almost didn't happen, but for a hunch and a bit of luck with the weather.

How this works for wine: Every wine drinker dreams of finding a wine as good as Cheval-Blanc or La Tâche in an undiscovered region. And they can be found through a combination of research and luck.

2. Sometimes you get skunked.

The weather's bad. There's no swell. The tides are wrong. When the Endless Summer crew arrive in Australia and New Zealand, only to find mushy little waves, they spend more time talking about surf than actually riding waves.

How this works for wine: Between corked bottles, other flaws and weak vintages, wine has plenty of ups and downs, and during the downs, plenty of time to talk about wine.

3. "You should have been here yesterday."

Having shown up at Bells Beach in Melbourne, Australia, (site of Patrick Swayze's fabled 50-year storm wave in Point Break, for those keeping track) during the off-season, Mike and Robert can't find anything worth paddling out for. But that doesn't stop a few locals on the beach from telling them how great the waves were last winter. As Bruce Brown narrates, "In any group of surfers, there's always one guy who will say, 'You guys missed it, you really should have been here yesterday.'" The Endless Summer crew is not stoked about that guy.

How this works for wine: Are you at a tasting and still talking about that 1985 Château Margaux you had once? Yep, that dude. Don't be him.

4. Perfect can be boring.

Christmas Day, Raglan, New Zealand. 3- to 4-foot, peeling, glassy, rolling waves. Warm water. Rides that last literally half a day with no one else in the bay. But the boys' local guides have left to go spend the holidays with their families, and Brown narrates that they take to riding waves together, just so they'll have someone to talk to once the novelty of a long ride wears off.

How this works for wine: That perfect wine in your cellar will go a lot better with company.

5. "Ask anyone and they'll tell you there's no surf."

When the crew heads to Tahiti, locals tell them again and again there's no surf on account of the barrier reef. But when they arrive, Brown says, "They find something that looks an awful lot like surf." It was just a matter of finding the right beach with the right bottom contours.

How this works for wine: People used to say that wine couldn't be made in California too. Yes, there will be some geographical constraints, but wine can be made (and made well) in the right spot in most parts of the world. Today it's being made in far-flung regions from Canada's Niagara Peninsula to Tasmania to Patagonia.

6. Respect the classics.

Hawaii, the birthplace of surfing, caps off the round-the-world tour for Mike and Robert. The spots are all known—no more searching for waves. And there are crowds, too. But there's no wave in the world like Pipeline.

How this works for wine: In a world full of wine, it's easy to pass over the classics for the novel, especially because the market for the classics is overcrowded. But show respect—classic wines are classic for a reason, and you can still enjoy and learn from them.

What's your favorite movie about wine—or that applies to wine—and why?

Staffan Bjorlin
Los Angeles, CA —  September 7, 2012 1:47pm ET
Great topic! I've heard many times that Endless Summer is the best surf movie ever, but this is the first time I hear that it is the best wine movie. I have used #6 many times when trying to explain to friends why it is worth spending a lot of money on Bordeaux or Burgundy. If you want the best waves of your life (especially if you are on a limited budget) you would probably go to Indonesia, but in order to understand the surfing world you have to at least once experience the north shore in winter (even though it is over crowded and outrageously expensive). Same with the classic wines: they might not be the best values but--as you point out--they provide a reference point for all other wines.

But you left out one of the most obvious analogies: how intoxicating the experience of surfing can be. There is nothing that makes me forget the world around me like surfing does. Having a glass of truly great wine in front of me can have almost the same effect.

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