Bud Browne: A Body Surfer

Written by Anna Trent Moore

Bud Browne created the first surf films, documenting surfing and its culture from the birth of modern Big Wave Surfing through the short board evolution. A teacher until the age of forty, he left teaching to invent the career of a surf filmmaker. He produced his first film, Hawaiian Surfing Movies, in 1953, and then went on to produce 13 more. Now recognized as the father of the surf film and the creator of the genre, the pioneer spirit in which he tackled his craft has led and inspired an industry that has grown into the mainstream psyche. His contribution to the art of surf filmmaking is immeasurable, and he is revered in the industry as a Surfing National Treasure.  
Bud Browne (1912-2008)

Yes, he is the godfather of the surf film, capturing the golden period of modern Big Wave Surfing in the early 1950’s, through the short board revolution of the 1960’s through mid-1970’s. But perhaps nothing defined Bud Browne more as a man of water than that of a bodysurfer.

Like every bodysurfer, his connection to the water began with swimming. In fact, it was his exceptional power as a swimmer that coined him the moniker, the Barracuda. He was captain of the USC swim team and a stellar athlete, but it was while swimming competitively for the L.A. Athletic Club that a chance encounter with the legendary Duke Kahanamoku inspired a visit to Hawaii. Duke was visiting the LAAC in 1930’s when he observed Bud swimming the freestyle stroke in the pool. He approached Bud, and after introducing himself, offered some swimming pointers on the freestyle. It was this friendly exchange that led to Bud’s visit to Hawaii in 1938. Traveling there on the Matsonian Mariposa’s maiden voyage, he met up with Duke Kahanomuku once again, filming him in Waikiki surf, and became a member of Hawaii’s Waikiki Surf Club.

It was in the 1930’s as a lifeguard that Bud first learned how to surf on the lifeguard rescue paddleboards. Later, he took a surfboard to Hawaii in the 1950’s, leaving it there so that he would have a board to surf whenever he returned to the islands. The board was used by various friends and eventually lost, but by then, Bud had already shifted gears, spending less time on a board and more time behind a camera.

What began as a hobby soon became a serious pursuit. A teacher for the Los Angeles County School District, Bud made the decision to leave the secure job of teaching to invent the career of a surf filmmaker. Attending USC to study film editing, he began to study the craft of filmmaking in earnest, eventually filming fourteen full-featured surf films.


Although he left surfing, he never left bodysurfing. Devoted to the freest form of wave riding, he filmed bodysurfing prolifically in California and Hawaii from the 1960’s through 1980’s. Every single one of his films that he produced included bodysurfing. Bodysurfing and swimming himself until he was well into his eighties, he never left the water until the loss of his eyesight prevented him from doing it any longer. Still, toward the end, he dreamed of it.

At the final stretch of life, when time was pressing, we began to talk about the ‘favorite beach.’ Often noncommittal in his opinions because he never wished to offend, he was hesitant to swear allegiance to one place over another. Still, we mulled over the different spots, and the one constant was that it was always somewhere in Hawaii.

I think at this point in ones life, the summation of your life is weighed by where and what you gave the best of your self to. And it was perhaps for this reason that his choices narrowed between Makaha and Pipeline. Interestingly, the first, Makaha, was where he began his career as a filmmaker, and the second, Pipeline, was where he filmed his final full-featured film.    

   Then, shortly before he passed, I asked him for the umpteenth time, “What’s your favorite beach Bud?”

   And this time without pause he said, “Pipeline.

   “What’s your favorite spot to film?” I had become relentless.

   Again, without missing a beat he said, “Pipeline.”  

   I needed to get this one right. “What’s the prettiest wave?”

   He paused here before saying, “Pipeline.” 

   Then, I don’t know why, but maybe because I wanted no stone unturned, “What’s your favorite place to bodysurf?”

     “Pipeline.” And that’s how it was decided.

     He was so right of course. As usual. Because Pipeline is where he gave the best of himself. It’s exactly where he should be bodysurfing for all eternity. Lucky! Long live the Barracuda.  

Anna Trent Moore is a teacher, writer, surfer, and curator of the Bud Browne Film Archives, the most significant film collection of surf history in the world. Born and raised in Makaha, Hawaii, she is the daughter of legendary Big Wave surfer Buzzy Trent. Anna has written numerous articles on surf history and has published three books, Increments of Fear: The Buzzy Trent Story, One Ocean, and Laughing at Water. Anna divides her time between the California coast and Hawaii, where she writes about surfing and it’s people.

Copyright BBFA 2015


Fin Quiver: Kyle Stock


Churchill Swim Fins
-Created during the post-war recreation boom of the late 1940s, these are the second generation Churchill. Unique because they float and they are the first swim fin with color. They are made of the softest rubber compound of any fin I’ve felt. It is difficult to believe that they could even provide much thrust, but I suppose when the only other option was your barefeet, they were relatively powerful. I purchased these on Ebay. A pair of “Greens” show up occasionally and the price varies on who is selling them and who is looking for them at the time.

-Developed for military use in the 1940s, resurrected in the 1980’s and going strong today. There is a dedicated crew of older riders that will wear nothing else. UDTs are recognizable by their 10inch blade, the longest available for a bodysurf fin. They are very powerful but it takes a little while to get used to the different, longer stroke it requires to get them really moving. UDTs excel when gaining momentum to take off early. I found the brown gum rubber UDTs buried in the back of an antique dealer’s truck in Ocean Beach, SD. I asked him if he had any vintage fins and he pulled these out…exactly the kind of thing I was looking for. The green and brown UDTs are the modern reincarnation developed by Greg Deets. 

IMG_1911MS Vipers
-Designed by waterman and wave-riding guru Mike Stewart. My personal favorite fin. They are my everyday riders from ankle-high to well overhead. Comfortable, plenty of power and excellent drainage. Although, they have been parasitic to my feet. They’ve added (mostly) painless knobs and bumps to my feet that get shredded when I try any other fins. But the MS’s themselves remain very comfortable. Wonder if that’s part of the business plan?

-Classic style. SURF’Ns are recognizable with the sharp color way and intersecting ribs on the blade. I can find very little information about them. They were sold at Hawaiian swap meets in the 80s and 90s and apparently also come in all blue. 

IMG_1919Viper V7
-Built specifically for bodysurfing by Fred Simpson in 1980, these are the most respected bodysurfing fins ever made. The 7inch blade is very powerful and the padded upper foot pocket makes for a comfortable ride. These aren’t swim fins, they’re SURF fins. Unfortunately, they are no longer manufactured, having been replaced by the synthetic Vector. The used market for V7s sets a premium price.

IMG_1933Crystal Scarborough Swim Fins
-She was a Beverly Hills celebrity swim instructor for 30 years. Scarborough developed a method of instruction for children involving arm floaties and swim fins. These kid’s fins appear to be vintage and closely modeled after early Churchills.

IMG_1939Snorkel Fin
-No, you aren’t scoring any tubes wearing these, but there aren’t always tubes or even waves for that matter. A good pair of snorkel fins can open a new world of underwater exploration.

IMG_1906Voit Vikings
-My first pair of fins. I was a hodad that wanted to try bodysurfing but didn’t know anything about it. I rode a few waves and thoroughly enjoyed the experience, regardless of what fins I was wearing. Within a few sessions, one of the Vikings blew off my foot never to be seen again.

IMG_1908Churchill Slashers
-My second pair of fins and by far the worst fins I’ve ever worn. Uncomfortable, heavy and powerless.







Ride More Waves in the Crowd

The goal is to ride in the best waves. Some of us live near bodysurfing protected spots like Point Panic or Wedge, but the rest of us are tasked with finding our own way through the surf crowd. This doesn’t have to take the jam out your donut, navigating surf crowds is a practiced skill and here are a few things to keep in mind when navigating the lineup.

  1. Don’t be too proud to take scraps.

You’re not going to tread out to 8-10ft Pipeline and find yourself dropping in on the peak in the middle of 60 surfers. Quit daydreaming. You can however sit on the shoulder of great waves and score head-high perfection. Some of my favorite bodysurfing sessions have been on maxed out beach break days when all the surfers are scrambling way outside because they don’t want to get caught inside by a set. We bodysurfers had slightly smaller, but far better shaped 5-6ft waves all to ourselves. I love a big wave as much as the next guy, but there are days when the scraps are really the main course so don’t let your ego ruin the chance for an amazing session.


  1. Keep your head on a swivel and be in position.

Know your positioning at all times. We’ve all swam with guys who are “swell magnets.” They seem to always be in perfect position. These are the bodysurfers who are listening to what the waves are saying. They started watching as soon as they pulled up to the break, taking mental notes of where the waves are breaking best. These cerebral wompers are also watching which surfers are making the drop and which are not. All this information is vital to success because what you can see from the water is just a snapshot of what the entire break looks like. Getting yourself to that sweet spot is a combination of understanding the wave and being aware of the surfers around you. If you can find the area where you can remain while still monitoring the surfer dropping in at the peak, then you have the potential to score amazing waves when he chunks the takeoff. This strategy does retain a certain level of risk and to be safe you have be certain that the surfer will not make the wave, but if you can juggle those factors you’ll find yourself on some of the best waves of the day.


  1. Be loud to be safe.

When a bodysurfer is propelling into a wave most of their body is submerged. This presents an obvious difficulty for surfers to identify a rider coming down the line. Some surfers simply don’t respect a bodysurfer’s right of way, but I would argue that most drop-ins happen as a result of ignorance. Since our presence is often masked visually, you may have to resort to being heard rather than seen. A quick hoot down the line will make any surfer down the line aware of your intention. It is an unfortunate, but often times necessary safeguard since bodysurfers are keenly exposed to the trauma of a dropping in surfer. If you intend on using this technique at a premiere wave you should also intend on following tip 4.

  1. Make your waves.

If you are hooting and hollering when you make your drop, you can be sure there will be some eyes on you in a crowded line-up and just like any surfer if you can’t make the wave you’ll lose respect instantaneously. So, make the wave. There’s no better way to lose access in a crowded spot than to call guys off and then pop up 15 feet down the line. Like it or not, surfers are always sizing up the other guys in the water, so commit to your waves with vigor and you’ll find yourself with a fair size of the pie.


  1. Choose the right break.

There are waves that are great for bodysurfing and there are waves that are not. Any wave that can be fun for you is worth a look, but if you are looking to get great waves then your ability to perform on the wave should be part of your decision making process. I would argue that to maximize a session the bodysurfer should choose waves in their goldilocks zone. If I stood on the beach and looked out at 10 waves in succeeding heights and difficulty I would choose the wave at the top end of my comfort zone. Knowing this would push my ability to ride the waves and at the same time provide maximum enjoyment. In the end, you’re the only one who can make this call and respectively the only one who is affected by your call. Good luck out there.


Purple Blob Report: Winter 14/15 and Spring 2015

The winter swell season 14/15 began with a series of solid NW swells in early December.


December dropped an exciting 6+ inches of rain on San Diego county. The North Pacific swell and precip engine was alive and well.

A very cold storm brought the snow level down to 1000' on the night of Dec. 30, 2014.
A very cold storm brought the snow level down to 1000′ on the night of Dec. 30, 2014.

To begin the new year, high pressure settled over the eastern Pacific, effectively shutting off the precipitation. Sunny skies, hot days, light wind and warm water pervaded much of January and February.  

From our perspective, Sunday, January 25th was the best day of the winter.  Classic long period, NW swell started filling in on Saturday. The next morning dawned 6-10ft, glassy and pumping. 

Complex low pressure system in the North Pacific. Jan. 20, 2015. Photo: StormSurf
Complex low pressure system in the North Pacific- Jan. 20, 2015.                        Image: StormSurf

The rest of winter passed with consistently fun but not epic surf. Spring is acting rather strange. May 2015 is one of the wettest Mays in recorded history with well over an inch of rain. That brings our season total in San Diego to 9+ inches; only an inch below average but not enough to quench our thirst.

In March, Tropical Cyclone Pam devastated the South Pacific island nation of Vanuatu. The storm, moving east, then went extra-tropical and strengthened. A solid SSW swell reached California beginning on Sat. March 28th and peaking on Sunday the 29th. NW windswell provided just enough cross up to create stellar left-hand bowl sections.

Total Lunar Eclipse on the morning of April 4th.
Total Lunar Eclipse on the morning of April 4th.