Surfing filmmaker Bud Browne archives in Shell Beach woman's closet

Before most people even knew what surfing was, Bud Browne was out in the waves, filming the action and turning the surfers into stars

ppemberton@thetribunenews.comJuly 5, 2012 

In a small closet inside Anna Trent Moore’s Shell Beach home, dozens of 16 mm films are stacked on shelves, all meticulously labeled with titles such as “Underwater Diving,” “Animals—Birds—Dogs” and “Wipe Outs.”

But the ones labeled “Buzzy Trent” and “Buzzy Trent Family” have a special place for Moore — and they signify the relationship she had with Bud Browne, the man who made all the films.

“His history is so tied to my history,” says Moore, whose father, Buzzy Trent, was a big-wave pioneer and frequent subject of Browne’s surf films. “I don’t remember a time without Bud.”

Browne, who would have turned 100 this month, is considered surfing’s first filmmaker. But exploring the world in search of surf left little time for marriage or children. So, since he passed away in San Luis Obispo four years ago, his entire collection of films, photos, letters and posters — a surf museum’s dream cache—has rested with Moore, the keeper of the vault.

While she wasn’t related to Browne, she had a lifelong friendship with him that entailed numerous road trips, long conversations about surfing legends like her father and—when Browne was 88 —bungee jumping in New Zealand.

“My husband loves me deeply. My son loves me deeply, ” Moore says. “But Bud was my champion. To Bud I could do no wrong.”

Chasing big waves

Browne grew up near Boston, but in 1932 he moved to California, where he attended USC and became a member of the swim team. A teacher for many years, he quit that career in his 40s to pursue his passion—making surf movies. Some of his earliest subjects were surfing lifeguards he got to know in Southern California, including Buzzy Trent, a former USC football player who loved surfing and diving.

When Trent and other surfers decided to chase the big waves in Hawaii, Browne tagged along. And, luckily, Browne was an adept swimmer, because filming in the water on big swells entailed serious poundings. Yet, because he was able to take a beating, his films portrayed up-close footage of big-wave surfing.

And Buzzy Trent was one of his biggest stars.

“I would think a lot of his reputation was because of Bud,” Moore said.

The grandson of John Parkinson, an architect who designed many of the iconic structures in Los Angeles — including City Hall, Union Station and the Coliseum— Trent was born to privilege but lived simply.

“I grew up in a house with no television, no telephone,” Moore said.

After quitting USC with just two classes to go, the history major was determined to surf the biggest waves ever ridden. So in Hawaii, where Moore was born, he worked as a fireman and heavy equipment operator just so he could be close to the biggest waves available.

Known for his brave feats and his chiseled physique, he was a perfect film subject.

“I was always aware that my father looked different than other fathers because he looked like an action hero,” said Moore, whose recorded conversations with her dad, who died in 2006 at age 77, led to her book about him, “Increments of Fear.”

While Browne was a conservative man in his 40s at the time, he immersed himself with Trent and his buddies, rebels in their 20s. And because he filmed everything, he captured what was a unique lifestyle — a small group of guys who lived for the surf lifestyle.

In 1966, Bruce Brown’s ground-breaking film “Endless Summer” would become a hit even in landlocked America, but it was Bud Browne’s films — including “Hawaiian Surfing Movie” (1953), “Cat on a Hot Foam Board” (1959)” and “Cavalcade of Surf” (1964) that provided the inspiration— and became a fascinating look at the culture of the time.

“You’ve got the history of Dewey Weber, you’ve got the history of Phil Edwards, you’ve got the history of Greg Noll, you’ve got the history of Buzzy Trent,” Moore said, looking at her closet full of film. “Anybody who was iconic of that period, who laid the foundation of big wave surfing and early California surfing, is in here.”

For most of her life, however, Bud Browne was more than surfing to Moore.

“She was like a daughter to him that he never had,” said her husband, Ron Moore, a retired fireman.

While Browne never had a family of his own, he and Moore were in constant contact.

“Every major decision in my

life I always passed by Bud,” she said.

Her fondest memories of Browne, however, stem from their trips together. Those trips included multiple travels to Hawaii, plus road trips to Washington, Canada and Oregon. Just before giving Moore away during her wedding with Ron, he leaned over and quietly said, “I was wondering if you could go to Europe next summer.”

Ron said Browne was a quiet, frugal man with a precise recollection of events.

“If you were any kind of surf historian and had the interest, his recall was amazing, even up until the last year or so,” he said.

In New Zealand, which Browne and Anna visited three times, the aging Browne continued to seek adventure.

“He was famous over there at the bungee jumping place,” Moore said. “He used to jump all day long.”

Browne would frequently tell stories about Trent and the other surfers — or life in Hawaii and California in the 1950s and ’60s. Sometimes Moore would record the conversations for historical documentation. Other times she’d take copious notes.

“I did feel a sense of responsibility in that way,” she said. “Because I just know that when they’re gone, they’re gone.”

While Browne seemed ageless — surf legend Gerry Lopez recalled seeing him take a terrifying wipeout on a 30-foot wave when Browne was in his 60s — time eventually did catch up to Browne, who lost his sight in his later years. Knowing he didn’t have much time left, Moore moved him to San Luis Obispo from Costa Mesa when he was 92 so she could help care for him. And in 2008, she helped set up a tribute to Browne at the San Luis Obispo International Film Festival.

Four months later, Browne died in his sleep. His ashes were scattered at Pipeline, the famous surf spot in Hawaii.

“I think of Bud every single day,” Moore said. “My family had to have an intervention on me because I was wearing his socks around the house for about a year and a half.”

A legacy of stories

In Moore’s house, Browne’s editing table sits at the end of a bed. Nearby are several boxes containing photos and letters, a tattered old address book with names of legendary surfers, including Tom Blake, and brittle scrapbooks, including one labeled “My first Hawaiian trip 1938.”

“He put this together his entire life,” Moore says, looking at the books.

There are also countless posters for his films, including “Gun Ho!” “Surf Happy” and “The Big Surf.” And, of course, all those films.

Eventually, Moore said, she plans to have the films digitized, but it represents a massive — and costly — project. As for what to do with it all — she hasn’t decided yet.

“I get people approaching me all the time with ideas and suggestions,” she said.

Later this month, she will screen Browne’s film “Going Surfin’ ” in Honolulu. And she has previously screened his work in Manhattan and Southern California. Several other surf filmmakers, meanwhile, have leased parts of Browne’s films.

But while Moore wants to preserve Browne’s work, she also has a day job.

Like Browne, Moore made a dramatic career shift later in life, quitting her career as a dancer and dance instructor at 38 to become a fourth-grade teacher. And while her father took one last big wave at 43 and abruptly quit surfing, Moore was approaching 40 when she took up surfing.

“I surf almost every day now,” she says, the Pacific Ocean in plain view of her living room window.

Sometimes while in the water she thinks about her father and Browne — and all those stories.

“That’s one of the things I’m so grateful for,” she says. “The two most influential men in my life told me so many stories.”

Reach Patrick S. Pemberton at 781-7903.

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