09/19/1994 at 01:00 AM EDT
TWENTY-EIGHT YEARS AGO THE ULTIMATE surfer movie, The Endless Summer, made unlikely stars out of two California protodudes, Robert August and Mike Hynson. When The Endless Summer II hit the screens this summer, there again, in a guest-starring role, was August, now 49—slim, tan, still surfing, and selling his own line of boards (31,000 and counting) for a living. His brief appearance seemed to answer one important question—can you really make a career out of being cool?—while raising another: Uh, by the way, whatever did happen to that other guy?
The answer: not much that was good. A few months before Endless Summer II's June premiere, Mike Hynson, 52, sat in a San Diego county jail, finishing a three-month sentence for a probation violation and possession of crystal methamphetamine. Says he: "I've been in jail all my life." He's speaking metaphorically, although he has had plenty of trips to the slammer, usually on drug-related charges. Some might see his life as a cautionary tale; Hynson sees it as a kind of triumph. "I never gave in to the system," he says proudly. "I don't even know my Social Security number."
Hynson grew up pursuing his two passions, golf and surfing, in San Diego and Hawaii, where his father, a naval engineer, was stationed. He was already a hotshot wave rider when director Bruce Brown invited him to travel the world and surf for the cameras. Made for $50,000, Endless Summer earned about $30 million when it was released nationally in 1966. Although Hynson says he was never paid (he turned down the $5,000 Brown offered, insisting he deserved more), the impact of his instant celebrity was huge: access to parties with Jimi Hendrix and Andy Warhol—and to a world of drugs. "He was the true golden boy," says Melinda Merryweather, a former model who married Hynson in the early '70s. "Everyone wanted to be like him."
Then the glow began to fade. A couple of attempts to start up businesses with Merryweather fizzled. And by the time the couple split around 1980—after having a son, Sun Michael, now 18—Hynson was working little and partying a lot. Director Brown says he keeps his distance from Hynson: "I don't trust him." Former costar August last saw him at a surf-industry trade show a few years ago. "I introduced him to my son," recalls August. "After Mike left, my son said, 'Jeez, what happened to him?' "
Hynson's own son might wonder the same thing. Sun Michael, who attends college on the East Coast, doesn't see much of Mike. No one does. He was back in jail as recently as a few weeks ago. When he is out, he lives mostly where he can find a bed. In past months, he has stayed in the spare room of a friend's house in San Diego. Occasionally he works, painting designs on surfboards and, he says, giving surfing demonstrations. Where do these demonstrations take place? "In my mind mostly," confesses Hynson, smiling.
JAMIE RENO in San Diego