The Honolulu Surf Film Festival always closes with a film by Bud Browne, known as the father of surf cinema. These festival-ending nights are a nostalgic, feel-good experience that culminate with a line-up of local surf legends talking story on stage. Last year was a tribute to Peter Cole—and the stories his buddies told about him were priceless. This year, for the festival’s 10th anniversary, on stage will be Reno Abellira, Clyde Aikau, Ben Aipa, Joey Cabell, Jeannie Chesser, Peter Cole, Kimo Hollinger, Ira Opper, Randy Rarick, and Jock Sutherland. (These always sell out early—if you want to go, you should buy tickets online now.)
At the heart of these vintage nights is Anna Trent Moore, the owner and curator of the Bud Browne Film Archives. Moore, who is the daughter of big wave surfing pioneer Buzzy Trent, was born and raised in Mākaha, and now oversees a treasure trove of images preserving surf culture and history. In anticipation of Honolulu Surf Film Festival 2017’s closing night on July 30, we asked Anna some questions about surf films and the annual gathering of legendary watermen.
How would you describe the evolution of surf films from Bud Browne’s era to today?
Quite extraordinary, really. When Bud Browne began creating the first surf films, he was literally a one-man show. He did all the filming and editing, then, when the film was done, he would create his own hand-drawn flyers, which he would nail to every telephone post in the vicinity that he was showing. On show night, he would sell the tickets at the door, before running the projector himself as he narrated the entire film live. He toured his films at every high school and junior high school that would permit him to rent the auditorium. It took tremendous energy! Let’s remember that when Bud filmed the earliest surf films, it was the only up close and personal experience of seeing surfing in exotic places such as Hawai‘i. He was not only the creator of the surf film genre, but he did so by traversing the Pacific, capturing an extraordinary time of surfing big, blue waves with the purpose of stoking surfers on distant shores.
In Bud’s early time, it took more effort to travel, and of course great hopes that when he got there, the epic surf would come. And when the surf did come, there to surf it was a small handful of daring surfers making history themselves, pioneering modern big wave surfing, with Bud documenting it all. Today, with the advent of technology, filmmakers have access, prior knowledge of advancing swell forecasts, and highly talented surfers whom, because of sponsorship, are free at any given moment to be there now! There were no sponsored surfers in Bud’s day, so it was by the grace of timing, circumstance, and luck that he captured what he did. That’s why he came often to Hawai‘i. He was always lucky in Hawai‘i!
Why do Bud Browne films still resonate with a contemporary audience, surfers and non-surfers alike?
Whenever you look at something in retrospect, there is a different appreciation. You know, I have seen the films many times over and I can honestly say that each and every time it’s still new because the daring of the time still resonates today! I never tire of watching big Mākaha Point surf being surfed just as beautifully then as it is today! And Waimea Bay! I am keenly aware that what I am viewing are rare treasures—a peek into a window of the time of many firsts. I never lose the curiosity. When I sit in a theatre, I sense this in the audience too. Bud Browne traversed the decades of surfing, capturing the ethos of his time. His work was not docudrama. He captured many iconic moments, as he saw it, as it happened, and it is an important part of surfing’s history. We are intertwined because of history. We cannot escape it. In fact, I think when we forget the path behind us we become a little lost. Bud’s work is the path behind us, a reminder of the shoulders on which we’ve climbed, because no one does it alone. We’re here because of the quest that preceded us. The human endeavor—be it surfing, climbing mountains, or painting. It is all part of the never-ending story, which is to live life with purpose and joy. Bud Browne’s work reminds us of this.
What makes this annual coming together of local surf pioneers so important for the community?
I am a keeper of oral history. You can read about something, but when you hear it, it is passed on in a sacred way. The Hawaiians knew this. And time is limited, so it is of utmost importance that while there is breath we must gather the stories from our elders into our hearts, so that we can pass them on in an authentic way. What we do here, at the Honolulu Surf Film Festival, is an extraordinary thing of such enormous value. We are breathing in the stories of the people that truly lived the experience, as it truly happened. The talk story portion of the night is an unimaginable gift, and Bud Browne Archives is so proud to have a part in this, in such a historical building that treasures art and the stories of people.
What is it like to be the caretaker of Bud Browne’s films and materials? When you look at the work of Bud Browne, what do you take away from it?
Bud Browne never married or had children. I was hānai to him in so many ways. The scope of his work is daunting because of the breadth of it all. There are times that I simply cannot believe the faith he had in bequeathing it to such a small person like myself. Each day I ponder this. Seriously. Every single day. I’ll be honest, at times I fear it’s cost me living my own life because I’ve become consumed with the preservation of others, some who have now passed on. What do I think when I look at the work of Bud Browne? I think of how much work there is yet to be done. I think of how much he loved me, and how much I loved him.
What can we look forward to in this year’s closing night film Going Surfin’?
This is the perfect film selection for the 10th anniversary! Going Surfin’ was the final 16-millimeter film of Bud’s career. All roads led him to this film. He himself felt it was his finest, the one that he gave the best of himself to. I call it his Ode to Pipeline! What we can look forward to an incredible representation of surfing’s giants! Among which will be Joey Cabell, Clyde Aikau, Reno Abellira, Randy Rarick, Peter Cole, Kimo Hollinger, Jeannie Chesser, and Jock Sutherland. A special treat will be a short film about Bud produced by Ira Opper, who is also flying from the mainland to be here! The air will be filled with the smell of pikake—Bud’s favorite flowers—here where Bud captured it all, in Hawai‘i nei.
Event info: The Honolulu Surf Film Festival Closing Night features Goin Surfin’ Sunday, July 30, 6pm. Ticket includes live music by Men in Grey Suits and pūpū by EAT Honolulu. Beer, wine, and soft drinks available for purchase. A short film on Bud Browne by Ira Opper will be shown before the presentation of the featured film Going Surfin’, at 7:30pm. Get tickets here.