The passing of surfing icon Woody Brown

Gary Kewley
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Friday - April 25, 2008
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Woody Brown surfed all the way to age 90
Woody Brown surfed all the way to age 90

Howzit, surfers?

Actually, I know how you are ... stoked! That south swell hit over 6 feet last week Friday.That one may turn out to be one of the biggest all season. Who knows? On the same day, country spiked up and hit over 6 feet. There’s more of the same as MidWeek hits mailboxes. Paradise was and is brimming with surf, sun and smiles.

Indeed, we’re just kicking in with the next round of good times for both town and country. The North Shore will top the list with waves near double overhead from the “North"angle vs.“West-Northwest.” If you’re looking out to sea, the sweep will come from your right. Spots like Laniakea love this type of swell and will max out the wave heights and crowds. Now, add in those ever-popular sleeping turtles and you have a zoo. I’m shocked no one’s been run over crossing Kamehameha Highway. But that’s another story.

Also, another good-sized south swell is on its way and will be filling in this Monday and lasting for several days. Now, it’s not as big as the last one, but it will be near advisory levels of 8 feet in the face. Check for the latest model output.

The main human story for us wave warriors is Woody Brown’s passing last Wednesday (April 16) on Maui. Many youths have yet to hear much about this pioneer,pilot, sailor, inventor and big-wave rider. But, hey, at 96 years of age, that’s understandable. Woody was a classic, period ... one of surfing’s first great icons. He had more stories to share than there are bodies on Waikiki Beach. He always had this gleam in his eyes, a smile on his face and a visceral enthusiasm for life.Woody lived a full one.And with his “spider” frame, he rode waves all the way to 90 with a hoot and holler.

There’s far too much to say and too little space here. However, a “short list"is essential.Woody built the first-ever modern-day catamaran. He was creative, yet meticulous. He shaped boards, too. Woody would turn others on to the joy of being moved by a wave off Waikiki. He hung out and surfed with Duke Kahanamoku and friends during that classic period. Woody also was among the first to charge big Makaha back in the early ‘50s. See the photo taken by Thomas “Scoop” Tsuzuki: It got worldwide exposure and is credited for the first inspirational migration of California surfers to Hawaii.Woody was the only surfer to “make the wave.” Yes,Woody was a skilled,rush-seeking daredevil. “He was one of the first five or six people on the planet to surf Hawaii’s big waves,“said David Brown (no relation), who produced a documentary on Woody’s life.In the 2006 documentary (Of Wind and Waves),Woody Brown talked about surfing Oahu’s North Shore: “I always wanted to challenge death. I loved to get just as close to death as I possibly could and then dodge it. That was my thrill in life.”(Honolulu Star-Bulletin)

Woodbridge “Woody” P. Brown, left, along with big-wave riders George Downing and Buzzy Trent on a 20-foot wave. This photo ran on the front page of the Star-Bulletin Nov. 27, 1953, and in papers nationwide

This is an understatement when you hear the epic story of Woody and Dickie Cross paddling out on a rising, warning-level NW swell back in 1943! This was decades before forecasting, and let me tell you, they didn’t know what they were in for or they’d have stayed on the beach. Woody luckily lived to tell one of the most hair-raising surf stories of all time. Sadly, Dickie was never found.Woody last heard that Dickie tried to body surf a giant wave at Waimea Bay (after losing his board) in a desperate attempt to save his own life. Dickie Cross was just a teenager.

Surfer Joe Teipel and I interviewed Woody on Maui in the late ‘80s while producing a pilot surf show (before there were surf shows). We had such a blast. As soon as I “digitize"the “tape,“I will put it up on the SNN website for all to see just how precious Woody was. Personality and pizazz are just a few words that spring forth.

Aloha,Woody,and thank you for your inspirational life.

Woody Brown is survived by his wife, Macrene Brown; three sons, Woody Brown Jr., William Parker Brown and Jeffrey Sellon; two daughters, Mary Sue Gannon and Jennifer Snyder; 10 grandchildren and 19 great-grandchildren. A wake will be held from 6 to 9 p.m. Friday at Ballard Family Mortuary, with a service at 7:30 p.m.The family requests casual attire. (

See you back here for more on Woody next week in MidWeek.

GQ, dropping in 4 U!


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