Laguna Beach attracts visitors for a wide array of activities, but it was a local legend that had the residents out in force earlier this month.
A Coast Film Festival showcase of “Birth of The Endless Summer: Discovery of Cape St. Francis,” starring Laguna Beach surfing icon Dick Metz, drew a sellout crowd to the downtown area inside Hobie Surf Shop.
Standing over a stack of posters that he would eventually sign for the audience was the 92-year-old Metz, undoubtedly reminiscing as he watched the film documenting his world travels that would help make surfing a global phenomenon.
The film tells the story of how Metz began a three-year journey abroad by hitchhiking in front of the Sandpiper, a bar known to locals as the Dirty Bird, in 1959.
Motivated by what he called a lifelong “passion for surfing,” Metz had five things he hoped to accomplish while he was gone: meet the girls of Tahiti, surf in Australia, travel to Africa, run with the bulls in Pamplona, Spain, and to go to the Olympic Games in Rome.
There were wild tales, including a close encounter with a rhinoceros, but the most consequential meeting was when he crossed paths with fellow surfing pioneer John Whitmore in Cape Town, South Africa.
Whitmore immersed himself in all things surfing, picking Metz’s brain throughout his months-long stay. When Metz left town, Whitmore told him that there would be good surf found in Cape St. Francis. As it turned out, the waves of Cape St. Francis captured his attention for several days.
Metz returned to Laguna Beach in 1961. Following the journey, Metz reported to Whitmore via letters that filmmaker Bruce Brown would be coming to film in South Africa with a group of surfers, winding up with the creation of “The Endless Summer,” a 1966 film that would inspire people to travel and experience cultures using surfing as a vehicle.
“When Bruce Brown passed away about four years ago, I noticed everyone from all generations writing in and paying tribute, and I realized that this was a story that connected every surfer,” Richard Yelland, director of “Birth of The Endless Summer,” said. “That’s one thing that every surfer could agree on is that Bruce Brown meant something to them.
“In the back of my mind, I felt, ‘What a fitting way to tribute Bruce Brown than to tell this backstory,’ and I had this inkling of a notion that Dick might have been there first.”
Captivated by what they saw, those who attended the screening could not wait to hear from the man himself. In the discussion that followed, Metz promptly proved that he is the definition of young at heart.
Although the original trip that had him find never-ending waves in Cape St. Francis, South Africa, happened 60 years ago, Metz retold stories vividly and with such detail that it was as if the events happened yesterday.
“I waited 17 days for one car to show up,” said Metz, describing the less romanticized side of his travels amid roars of laughter. “Now, I knew one wasn’t going to pass me by. I would have stopped him no matter what.”
Metz went on to reveal his thought process for choosing a college major — by determining what he did not want to do. Metz and his childhood friends had established the criteria for their future careers.
The jobs should not require coats, ties or hard-leather shoes. Just as importantly, they should not be on the inland side of Coast Highway. That really narrowed it down.
One member of the viewing public asked Metz his secret to being so full of life at his advanced age.
“There’s three things,” Metz answered. “Young girls, fast motorcycles and small waves.”
A common theme for the speakers at the Nov. 10 screening was that the film could inspire people to feel the freedom to pursue their passion.
“I think by having a love of something, that’s a strong motivation,” Metz said of the advice he would give based off his life experience. “I would say if you wanted to be a plumber…that’s a better deal than trying to go to school and be something that you really aren’t.”
The film captures the relationships that Metz built while chasing his own passion, and that communal experience is something that Yelland hoped to provide.
“The ability for one to tell the story that has never been told is exciting, to kind of discover that and reveal it,” Yelland said. “But also, then to share with people and bring everyone together — I think it was really about trying to have a kumbaya moment with everyone across generations to celebrate.
“I think that the takeaway would be to appreciate our relationships more, appreciate the ocean more, to respect our history and kind of, also at the same time, think about how we sustain the planet and history to come.”