Thank You, Bruce Brown, And Goodbye

A tribute to the man who helped change our sport.

Bruce Brown
Bruce Brown left the world at age 80. He passed away in his sleep at his home in Santa Barbara, California.American Motorcyclist Association

“Damn, I really wish I’d been along on that ride.” That thought is the legacy filmmaker Bruce Brown left in my life.

Not that I had the good fortune of knowing Bruce personally. But by applying his signature touch in sharing his passion for surfing and motorcycling through his two most iconic films, The Endless Summer (1966) and On Any Sunday (1971), he adopted millions of fans into his world and made us at least feel like we had just met our new best friend. The fact that he narrated his own films gave everyone a personal connection to Bruce as well as the story playing out on screen. That, and so much more, is the magic Bruce Brown brought to so many lives.

Bruce Brown and Dana Brown "On Any Sunday"
Bruce with son Dana at the 2014 premier of On Any Sunday: The Next ChapterBrian Hatano

I had just entered my teenage years when I first viewed The Endless Summer, and although I wasn't a surfer, that film sure made me want to be a surfer—just like millions of others the world over. But when On Any Sunday hit the big screen five years later, I was already a fully hooked motorcyclist. And here for the first time, I as well as millions of other riders had a voice and means with which we could share our love of the sport. Friends and family who could never understand our fascination with motorcycles could finally grab a notion of what the riding experience was all about, because Bruce slipped us the ultimate-access insider pass into the full realm of the sport. In short, he made us wish we could have been along for the ride.

To achieve such results, Bruce brought innovations into his craft, such as mounting big, heavy film cameras onto several riders’ helmets to capture on-track racing footage with a firsthand view—in this pre-digital era, tiny GoPro cameras weren’t even a distant wish. The harrowing, thundering opening scenes of OAS showcasing Mert Lawwill sliding sideways on the Mile while battling through traffic still raise goose bumps to this day. Other times, such as during the 1970 ISDT in El Escorial, Spain, it was just Bruce with his handheld camera documenting the efforts of Malcolm Smith in world-class competition. These scenes highlight the genius of Bruce’s storytelling abilities in straightforward fashion—and again, we wished we could’ve been there.

Bruce Brown On Any Sunday
Brown pioneered the use of onboard cameras, offering audiences an exciting new perspective.Motorcyclist Archives

But in the end—literally—it's the closing scenes in On Any Sunday that make this Oscar-nominated film a true classic, whether or not you ride motorcycles. The scenes of Steve McQueen, Malcolm, and Mert out cowtrailing in Mexico together capture the real reason we ride: close friendships, the joy of the open trail, the sore-muscle exhaustion of a long day in the saddle, with too many laughs and warm memories to count.

I, as well as so many others in our favorite industry, continue to work hard to bring motorcycling enthusiasts the news, technical advancements, and real-world riding reviews of new motorcycles and related products in our sport. But my overarching personal goal whenever I write, especially in motorcycle travel articles, is to leave readers with one thought: “Damn, I really wish I’d been along on that ride.”

For that, Bruce Brown has earned my eternal thanks.