Monday, April 21, 2008

Woody Brown 1912 - 2008

~photo by Skip Tsuzuki

Woody Brown, legendary big-wave surfing pioneer died last week in Kahului at 96. Woody, with George Downing and Buzzy Trent, was photographed charging giant Makaha in 1953. That photo triggered the mass exodus of California surfers to Hawaii…surfers like Greg Noll, Pat Curren and Mickey Munoz.

In the late 1930’s Brown lived in La Jolla and described surfing the big waves of PB Point on a hollow paddle board. "The biggest place was down at PB -- Pacific Beach; that point there where the sand beach comes up to that rock point, where La Jolla starts, you know? There's houses there, now, but it used to be all bare. We built a shack there and you climbed down the cliffs to go out. They form out there off the rock point and then swing in. But, the point would make 'em break way out and they'd have a nice shoulder going in. You'd pull out before you got to the regular break. I've seen that 20-25 feet. Being a point, I'm sure it was 25 feet."
Following the death of his first wife, Brown left La Jolla for Hawaii in 1940 and never left.
In December 1943, because there was no surf in Waikiki, Woody Brown and his friend Dickie Cross paddled out at Sunset Beach in a rising swell. The surf rose quickly, a heavy rip preventing them from paddling in. They had passed Waimea Bay previously and thought they could paddle in there, but by the time they got there huge surf had closed out the bay. Some outside sets Brown estimated at 60 feet…”You could paddle 10 paddles and you're still going up the face of the wave!”.
As the two scratched over the giant sets, Brown described Dickie Cross losing his board. “…these big sets would come every 10 minutes. So, [Dickie] was going in and I would see him go up over these swells and come back out off the top. The next one would come and he'd disappear and then I'd see him come up over the top and it looked like he was trying to catch 'em. Yeah, that was the only thing I could think of. Finally, one wave he came up over the top, he'd lost his board.”
Brown tried to paddle in for Cross but had to turn to face an incoming set, ultimately ditching his board and diving deep. By this time the sun was setting, there was no sign of Cross and Brown dodged monster set after monster set, eventually washing onto the beach too exhausted to stand. He and Cross had been seen from shore, he asked about Cross and was told “…we never saw him after he got wrapped up in that first big wave.” After Cross’ death, Brown didn’t surf the North Shore anymore and surfers avoided Waimea Bay for nearly 15 years afterward.


clayfin said...

I met Woody once 02', really nice old guy. Check out the documentary "Surfing for Life" about aging and surfing, lots of interviews with him.

Anonymous said...