Its title comes from the idea, expressed at both the beginning and end of the film, that if one had enough time and money it would be possible to follow the summer around the world, making it endless. The concept of the film was born through the suggestion of a travel agent to Bruce Brown during the planning stages of the film. The travel agent suggested that the flight from Los Angeles to Cape Town, South Africa and back would cost $50 more than a trip circumnavigating the world. After which, Bruce came up with the idea of following the summer season by traveling around the world.
The narrative presentation eases from the stiff and formal documentary of the 1950s and early 1960s to a more casual and fun-loving personal style filled with sly humor. The surf-rock soundtrack to the film was provided by The Sandals.The "Theme to the Endless Summer" was written by Gaston Georis and John Blakeley of the Sandals. It has become of the best known film themes in the surf movie genre.
When the movie was first shown, it encouraged many surfers to go abroad, giving birth to the "surf-and-travel" culture, which prizes finding "uncrowded surf", meeting new people and riding the perfect wave. It also introduced the sport, which had become popular outside of Hawaii and the Polynesian Islands in places like California and Australia, to a broader audience. In addition, it set the style for later surf-and-travel movies, including Momentum, (These Are) Better Days, and Thicker Than Water.
In 2002, The Endless Summer was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".
In 1994, Brown released a sequel, The Endless Summer II, in which surfers Pat O'Connell and Robert "Wingnut" Weaver retrace the steps of Hynson and August. It shows the growth and evolution of the surfing scene since the first film, which presented only classic longboard surfing. O'Connell rides a shortboard, which was developed in the time between the two movies, and there are scenes of windsurfing and bodyboarding. The film illustrates how far surfing had spread, with footage of surf sessions in France, South Africa, Costa Rica, Bali, Java, and even Alaska.