Bruce Brown was a visionary film-maker who almost single-handedly brought the worlds of surfing and motorcycling together.
His award-winning documentaries captured the spirit of freedom for a generation and inspired thousands to take to the roads and ride.
A Triumph Cub owner, his Oscar-nominated 1971 movie On Any Sunday effortlessly brought the colour, exhilaration and fun of motorcycling to the masses. The film, starring Triumph-riding The Great Escape icon Steve McQueen, documented the 1970 season of AMA Grand National racing as it followed defending champion Mert Lawwill.
Brown’s big break came five years earlier with the 1966 surfing movie Endless Summer, charting the adventures of two surfers as they toured the world in search of the perfect wave. Here was a movie that made everyone want to give surfing a go, a film that shattered the prejudice that all surfers were beach bums.
By the time On Any Sunday premiered, there was a clamour among the wave-chasing community to see if he could do the same for motorcycling. They weren’t disappointed.
I think many people changed their minds about motorcyclists after watching the movieBruce Brown
When they watched young people like themselves having a great time on dry land, from the Baja California Desert to the International Six-Day Trials in Europe, many made the move and bought a bike. The film’s stars – McQueen and his The Great Escape double Bud Ekins – simply added to the growing allure of Triumph.
Brown used the same close-up techniques from Endless Summer in the motorcycle movie, filming the most dramatic riding shots in extreme close-up and slow motion using telephoto lenses. His pioneering techniques didn’t end there. He also used a helmet cam to give his audience a first-hand view of what it felt like to ride long before the advent of GoPro.
That gritty reality struck a chord with youngsters, who hid in cinema washrooms to watch it again and again and then started saving money from their paper rounds and summer jobs to buy a minibike.
“I think many people changed their minds about motorcyclists after watching the movie,” Brown once said.