Bruce Brown pioneered the surf film genre with the 1966 classic The Endless Summer, and the family trade has not been lost on his son Dana, whose 2003 documentary Step Into Liquid is regarded as a landmark of modern surf cinema. The film remains one of the most intriguing, entertaining and exciting portraits of what is still essentially a niche sport. With Highwater, his latest surf documentary, documentarian Dana Brown looks to expand his family’s legacy even further.

Dana’s son Wes Brown has also been utilizing the family trade in some small surf films for some time and is credited as producer and film editor on Highwater. Dana is extremely proud of his son’s work ethic.

“He’s a hard worker. He’s funny and patient, and he was the right guy for the job. He would have been regardless if he was my son or not. When you spend hundreds of hours in the edit room, you need to be around someone you can stomach, and he fit the bill and did a wonderful job.”

While Step Into Liquid took Dana literally all over the world, Highwater is more of a localized affair, focusing instead on the North Shore of Oahu. The North Shore is a mecca of modern surfing, packing in more brand name waves and surf contests than anywhere else in the world. The film focuses on 2005’s Triple Crown of Surfing, which took place over the span of 55 days and included three different events.

Dana notes that making Highwater “was a way for us to tell a story about the more professional side of surfing. It’s still so offbeat. When Kelly [Slater] comes out of the water, there’s no security. He’s just surrounded by people on the beach. Obviously, Derek Jeter doesn’t wade through the crowd to get to the plate.”

Even without the help of world-class surfers, the North Shore has the power to entrance viewers with its beautiful yet powerfully violent waves. Couple the amazing waves with some equally stunning film work and cinematography and we’re left with a result that is nothing short of magical.

As Dana so eloquently states, “The ocean is really the star, not the surfers. The surfers are great co-stars.”

However, it’s not all white wash and sun burns. During the shoot, the contest suffered the tragic death of 25-year-old Tahitian surf phenom Malik Joyeux.

“I’m a surfer, but I’m not a big wave surfer like those guys. It’s fascinating that they take such risks. When Malik died, I thought some of these guys were gonna reassess what they do but none of them did for a moment. They understand the risks of what they do more than those on the outside like us looking in,” Dana comments about the dangers of big wave riding and how the death of Joyeux was a huge reminder of the risks involved.

Though Dana’s new film is told on a smaller scale than Step Into Liquid, Highwater remains more than anything a highly compelling portrait of not just a sport but a way of life.

The Brown family legacy has sought to bring the joys and wonders of surfing to TV sets all across Cincinnati, Ohio, and anywhere else there might be a young, budding Kelly Slater ready to drop everything and move to the North Shore. It’s this ever addictive, life-changing element of surfing that will forever baffle and intrigue people of all ages throughout the globe.

Dana tries his best to explain the undeniable power and addiction of this activity: “There is something so basic and pure about surfing. It keeps you centered. It’s something that I try to avoid verbalizing because it starts to sound kind of ridiculous. There is definitely a passion that is all consuming.”

Even in this era of corporate-sponsored wetsuits and million-dollar contest purses, surfing has maintained a mysterious sense of cool; an ability to merge sex appeal and personal freedom in a way that no other activity can even touch. It’s the California dream; the Middle-American fantasy of riding a piece of nature while bikini-clad, bronzed women play ukuleles on a hot summer day.