"RB transformed what a surfboard could be into something that all surfers could ride to glory in the realization of one’s wildest dreams."
Dick Brewer aka“RB” went off to the big blue wave on the other side just over a week ago(May 28, 2022) after a long, extraordinarily creative and prolific life, one that touched and enhanced the lives of millions of surfers and otherwise revolutionized both what a surfboard is (or could be) and what surfing is (or could be).
Brewer was a visionary, a creative collaborative genius, a master craftsman, an all-around waterman, a wizard-like guru to the best and most innovative surfers and shapers of multiple generations, and, because of all that and more, perhaps one of the most important individuals in the modern history of surfing.
Suffice to say, were it not for the ever and always ambitious Brewer — THE GREATEST SURFBOARD DESIGNER AND SHAPER OF ALLL TIME — we wouldn’t be catching and riding the waves we surfers do every day.
Once asked what “recommendations” he had for young people, Brewer replied:
Surfing is the most beautiful thing you can do. What we’re really doing when we are surfing . . . is the real you; the best possible you as a surfer.
And that’s what we’re trying reach! And when we’re really sincerely trying to get better and improve — in addition to the physical exertion, exercise, and hyperventilation — we actually get younger! We do get better! We get pure!
Closer to the Jesus Christ that’s in every one of us!
Born in Minnesota in 1936, Richard Allan Brewer was the son of a tool and dye maker who moved his family to Long Beach in Southern California to work as an aircraft machinist in 1939.
The young Brewer was trained by his father in the trade of “shaping” things, primarily metal, as well as wood and plastics.
“It’s very easy for me to shape something,” Brewer reflected, “I worked with my dad shaping steel since I was 16 years old. I feel comfortable in my work,” presciently observing that: “My skill level is probably way beyond what I’m doing [as a surfboard shaper]. I like not being over my head.”
His exceptional skills for hand-crafted precision were matched by a brilliant, creative mind that envisioned the highest range of performance possibilities.
These creative possibilities began not only in his father’s tool and dye machine shop, but came to fruition in the study and application of how things work (i.e., go fast and turn), firstly model airplanes, where he learned the fundamental physics of aerodynamics; and later in the motor-racing industry, where he learned mechanics.
This is an important point of distinction worth emphasizing, in that Brewer didn’t see himself so much as an “artist,” per se, as rather more of an engineer — a hands-on scientist.
Although he never had much interest in art or woodwork (“I’m no carpenter” he has said with a mixture of pride and derision), RB studied mechanical engineering in college. Brewer saw himself, in his words, as a “tool and dye maker,” a kid who worked hard with his father and could “run every machine in the shop by the time I was 13 years old. I’m an engineer: a precision man. I can make anything out of steel.”
What he learned from building high-performance model airplanes was how to construct “stunt and combat remote control” systems on a wire.
After having won all the meets on the West Coast, Brewer traveled the country flying his model airplanes, making 3rd Place in the “Stunt & Combat” event in the 1956 U.S. Championships.
RB was also racing and tooling on cars — hot rods and dragsters — at Southern California dragstrips and speedways. In the air and on the track, Brewer’s designs were the fastest and most maneuverable — a promising sign of things to come . . .
Brewer started surfing in 1958 when he got a board from Dick Barrymore.
“It was similar to a mini-gun,” he said, “and probably more advanced than any other board in California at the time.”
As a designer of model airplanes, he “knew that the design [of surfboards] had a long way to go.” Brewer shaped his first surfboard soon thereafter in 1959. He hit the ground running.
I started in my garage in Surfside, California. I dropped out of college that year  and moved to Hawaii. I never went back. I started Surfboards Hawaii that year.
In Hawaii, on Oahu’s fabled, remote, rural North Shore — the big-wave Mecca of the universe — Brewer opened the first “surf shop” in Haleiwa in 1961 called “Surfboards Hawaii.”
As a way to promote his fledgling business, RB put a broken Greg Noll big-wave surfboard in the window display. The implications were obvious enough. If one wanted a real surfboard — one that worked in the demanding and merciless waves of Paumalu (Sunset Beach) and Waimea Bay — then one needed a Brewer. Such confidence and audacity!
Greg Noll was, at the time, probably the most prominent “big wave rider” and retail surfboard builder, due mostly to his own unrelenting self-promotion.
In such regard, Brewer was once overheard remarking: “Show me a photo of Greg Noll on a wave he actually made!”
In any event, the physically-imposing Noll, much larger than Brewer, was less than amused by this cocky upstart’s advertising campaign, confronted RB aggressively at a party in Haleiwa not long afterwards and punched him in the face, giving Brewer a bloody nose. Such are the beginnings of Surfboards Hawaii.
Nonetheless, Brewer was a quick study and adapted his creative skills to the best waves for the best surfers in the world. Not coincidentally, he was mentored by the greats of the era: Pat Curren, Bob Shephard, and Joe Quigg, most prominently, as well as his lifelong friend and contemporary Mike Diffenderfer. Learning and taking off from where these pioneers left off, Brewer literally revolutionized the shape and design of the modern big-wave gun.
When I opened Surfboards Hawaii in 1961, Joe Quigg, Pat Curren, and Bob Shephard were in their prime. I was a tool and dye maker and I understood everything that was happening at the time. These guys had the greatest impact on my shaping. Bob was my teacher, however. And he learned from Joe, a really mellow, great designer. Quigg was into soft rails, dropped in the back. Whereas Curren was into hard rails and flat bottoms. Pat put as much flat bottom as he could on a board . . . . Anyway, Pat and Bob were the greatest, but both dropped out and I took over where they left off. From 1962 until late 1970, my boards — Brewers — literally ruled Waimea Bay. To this day, 10 [or more] out of 30 boards will be Brewers when Waimea breaks. In 1967 I dropped out of[the scene/lineup]at Waimea; but I rode it every time it broke for seven years before that.
Between 1961-64 Brewer set the standard for big-wave board design. He simply made the finest, most elegant and functional Waimea Guns in the world. No one could (or did) dispute that basic fact. Brewers completely dominated the lineup not only at Waimea Bay, but also at Sunset Beach, Makaha, and, later, the Banzai Pipeline, Honolua Bay (on Maui), and Hanalei Bay (on Kauai).
Brewer was at the vanguard of not only the big-wave world, but of high-performance surfing more broadly considered throughout the Hawaiian Islands, including the celebrated “hot dog” surf spots of Town (Honolulu) and the South Shore of Maui.
And he shaped and designed (under other surfboard labels, including “Hobie” and “Bing”) for the best surfers of that — and subsequent — generations.
The pantheon: Buzzy Trent, Fred Van Dyke, Jose Angel, Ricky Grigg, Paul Gebauer, Peter Cole, Kealoha Kaio, Richard “Buffalo” Keaulana, Kimo Hollinger, Jock Sutherland, Butch Van Artsdalen, Eddie Aikau, Buddy-Boy Kahoe, Tiger Espere, Jackie Eberly, Barry Kannaiaupuni (BK), Jeff Hakman, and many, many more — including the President of the United States! Everyone wanted a Brewer!
Around 1962, Brewer started building “smaller” boards for summertime surf spots on Oahu’s South Shore. These “Summer Semis” ranged in length from 9’-9’8”.
In 1963, just after JFK had visited Oahu (the first time a President had visited the new state of Hawaii) in June, Brewer received a letter from the White House, Office of The President, commissioning a surfboard. JFK was an avid swimmer (he was on the Harvard Varsity Swim Team), body surfer, and occasional recreational surfer (he caught waves at his wife’s family’s beach club at Bailey’s Beach in Newport, Rhode Island). Kennedy met with Duke Kahanamoku during that June 1963 visit; it’s possible, if not probable that when (if) JFK inquired about the chances of acquiring a surfboard, The Duke recommended the best there was: Brewer atSurfboards Hawaii.
Not long after receipt of the distinguished letter of commission (certainly the first, if not the last in American Presidential history), RB made Kennedy a “Summer Semi”; but, tragically, JFK was assassinated in November of ’63 before RB could deliver it to the President. According to Brewer, he rode the board he made for Kennedy the following summer of 1964 at Ala Moana Bowls during a giant South Swell.³
By 1964, surfers on Brewer boards had won three Makaha World Championships and two Duke Kahanamoku Invitationals, which was the most prestigious contest in the world. Outside and beyond so-called competitive or “contest” surfing, Brewer’s search for and realization of perfection was manifest and actualized each and every swell, set wave after set wave, by the most outstanding and innovative surfers.
In 1966, while at Bing Surfboards, Brewer built the first “Bumble Bee Model” (named after the black and yellow color scheme) for surf prodigy (and later acid casualty) Jackie Eberly. This was the first ultralight pintail gun: a 10’4” with significant tail rocker. Brewer observed: “If you lifted the back third of that board, it would look almost identical to Roger Erickson’s board today [in 1990]. Jackie Eberly did fades and turns at Waimea Bay on that board that were [pause] unbelievable.”
Later, he made what he called “The Pipeliner” and “Lotus” models (under the Bing label) for Butch Van Artsdalen and Jock Sutherland respectively — two of the best goofyfoot (and swtichstance) surfers of all time — as well as the first Masters of Pipeline. Jock won the 1967 Duke Invitational on another Brewer — a 9’9” single fin pintail — with the Duke Label. It was at this time (1967) that RB started hanging out with an exceptional surfer from Huntington Beach named Gary “Chappy” Chapman. Chappy asked Brewer to make him an 8’6”. The Doors of Perception were about to open . . . wide. Brewer remarked: “Chappy was actually the one that encouraged me to keep going shorter and shorter.”
Chappy had been riding Brewers (under both the Harbour Surfboards and later Plastic Fantastic labels) on the Coast (California) before he transitioned to Paumalu (Sunset Beach) on the North Shore. He was an underground hot shot — arguably the most advanced surfer at the time in terms of high performance — that surfed and thought like nobody else. And Chappy gave Brewer the feedback, insights, and motivation to go shorter, lighter, and thinner. At a time when Sunset and Waimea guns were averaging 10’8” in length (and weighing in at 25-30 lbs. or more), Chappy was spurring RB to design and shape him ultralight 9’ and 8’ “mini guns.”
Not only did these rocketships exceed Chappy’s expectations, but they impressed other progressive surfers of the era, perhaps most notably BK (Barry Kannaiaupuni), who thrilled at the new horizons in wave-riding that had been revealed. These were mini guns, lithe, sharp stilettos —not just cut-down, clunky, round-bottomed tankers like the Australians (Bob McTavish and Nat Young) were riding, which didn’t work in the Island Juice at spots like Sunset Beach and Honolua Bay.
Where the Aussies were spinning out and dragging-ass, the Brewer Team was Blowin’ Soul and laying out progressive new lines of power surfing from deep within and behind the curl. Brewer and Chappy and the rest of the Brewer test pilots were on the cusp of something entirely new and different . . . they knew — and could feel — it palpably.
Around 1967-68, while still with Bing, Brewer began experimenting with LSD and building some radical new shapes.
He recalls: “[Jeff] Hakman, [Jock] Sutherland, [Joey] Cabell . . . We were tripping on acid and freaked out! There were colors all over the glassing room — imagine what it was like?! — and there were all these miniguns lying around the factory. That’s all we were making: miniguns! Then Bing walked in and went: ‘What’s happening here?!?’ These boards didn’t look like surfboards to Bing. He was distraught and threw us all out. I don’t think he was too tuned-in.”
So, RB moved to Maui and started another surfboard company: “Lahaina Surf Designs” (LSD), where he set up shop in old Lahaina. There he collaborated with a new generation of “test pilots”: Chappy, his kid brother Craig (a.k.a. “Owl”), Reno Abellira, Jimmy Lewis, David Nuuhiwa, Gerry Lopez, Jock Sutherland, Jackie Baxter, Sam Hawk, and other luminaries on the innovation and refinement of a radical, thinner, lighter, more high-performance “shortboard.”
This was a seminal, indeed magical (and oft misunderstood or misrepresented/distorted) Point of the Evolution of Surfboard Design and High-Performance Surfing.
Far from the crowds and limelight, Brewer focused quietly yet intensely on discovering and pushing the outer limits of possibility. He didn’t seek recognition from the media or so-called surf “industry,” he rather sought perfection — and peace of mind — if not Nirvana itself.
In that old shop next to the Lahaina Cannery, with Jimmy Lewis glassing everything RB shaped; Jock and Hakman attending community college nearby; and Chappy laying down speed lines at Honolua each and every swell, the advancement of the modern surfboard accelerated exponentially. By 1968, a Zenith had been reached, perhaps the summit of Brewer’s creative self-actualization as an innovator.
The modern shortboard had arrived.
With respect to one board in particular — a 6’7” purple-brown round tail single fin rocket shaped for Reno — Brewer recollects:
I knew I was going to blow minds because this was the first round-tail. I’d say Reno, Chappy, Lopez, and me were all involved in that board. It had a single 4oz on the bottom and a single 6oz on top. Reno weighed 130 llbs [all three of the riders named were relatively small in stature] dripping wet, and the board came in under 9lbs. It had natural rocker — something Lopez and I were into. He and Cabell had just started going into the “S-deck,” straight rocker tails, but that board still had natural rocker. We sawed the pintail off, then started fully rounding the corners. A lot of people weren’t aware of it, but Reno’s board became the basic design for the Weber Performer. It was the evolution of what we were doing — sawing, rounding things off to make them looser.
From there, Brewer’s crescendos pulsed in five-year cycles, with new standards and benchmarks in design (foils, rails, and rocker), shaping, glassing, and blanks being achieved at regular intervals. A myriad of different things was happening/changing fast.
Something most don’t recognize, much less contemplate or understand, is RB’s place in this revolutionary period of time; and the central role he played in the universal transformationof how surfboards were constructed.
He was not simply a visionary genius and master craftsman when it came to design and shaping, he was also leading the technological advancement of the materials and methods of surfboard construction, most notably blanks, foils, fins, and glassing with people like Jack Reeves and a cantankerous chemical engineer named Grubby Clark.
Regarding the evolution of surfboard foam and blanks (the raw material from which most surfboards are made), Brewer remembers:
In 1970 I flew to California and walked into Clark Foam in Laguna Nigel, walked around the shop, and laughed at all the blanks. Grubby Clark and Dick Morralis said, “Dick, what are you laughing at?” I said, “these blanks, they’re funny looking.” They asked, “Why are they funny looking?” I said, “Because they’re round on top and they’re thick in the back. They’re supposed to be flat on top and thin in the back.” Then I walked out, went and got on an airplane and flew back to Hawaii. Two weeks later, Grubby showed up with two big square blocks of foam and said, “Dick, will you shave me some things like that?” I said, “Yeah, but not if the rest of the surfboard builders can buy it. They don’t deserve it.” Grubby said, “OK. Just make ‘em for me.” So, I shaped the 8’1”, the 9’2”, and the 7’4”, which were the first properly foiled surfboard blanks. All surfboard blanks now look and are functionally-foiled the same as those blanks.
Around this time, in the early 1970s, RB started “Brewer Surfboards” on Kauai (whereabouts Jericho Popler spontaneously sketched the now famous “Brewer Lei” logo on a napkin), which has become the most enduring and well-known design in surfing history — nothing evokes the spirit and quality of Hawaiian Big Wave Surfing more than the Brewer Lei.
A new generation Brewer Team represented the underground of primo big wave riders on the North Shore, although there was a changing of the guard, with fresh talents like Mike Ho, Buzzy Kerbox, and Mark Foo replacing Lopez and Reno, who left Brewer and went to the new “Lightning Bolt” label. Chappy also began to fade away — “I recognized that I had to let go of Gary,” RB lamented, “Chappy was just one of those shooting stars and The Best of the young surfers around.”
After that, Brewer started working more closely with Owl (Chappy’s brother) and Sam Hawk — both of whom went on to surfing glory at Sunset, Pipeline and Waimea (not to mention historic sessions at Maalaea Harbor and Honolula Bay), as well as becoming the standard-bearer protegés of Brewer’s shaping legacy, a tradition that both Sam (to a lesser extent) and Owl (more so) have maintained to this day — especially under the “Brewer-Chapman” label.
Despite an inherent distrust of outsiders, RB knew talent and potential when he saw it, particularly in a wild-eyed and bushy-haired young Australian from Narrabeen: Terry Fitzgerald.
Brewer witnessed Terry Fitz at “Arma Hut” (now called Rocky Point) display a radical new form of high-performance soul surfing.
Brewer stated that he “recognized the guy as the best surfer in the world — the best I’d ever seen in fact — ‘cause of his speed lines. I’d definitely put Fitz in a category with BK out at Sunset. There was also Sammy Hawk — he had a year right after Fitz in ’71 when he was just charging.”
RB reached out to Fitz and the two collaborated together on thin, down-railed mini-guns that redefined the limits of the possible once more, which led to Fitzy staring his own, now prestigious, label called “Hot Buttered Surfboards” (a moniker he lifted from graffiti Owl scrawled on the shaping room door: “hot buttered soul”).
Meanwhile, Brewer continued to worked closely with Sammy and Owl on developing the big-wave guns.
A key member of this group was a young surfer from Miami, the aforementioned Jack Reeves (a.k.a. JR). Along with his bro Jeff Hakman, Chappy met (or “discovered”) Jack on a “Plastic Fantastic” tour of the East Coast during the summer of 1969.
Soon afterwards, Jack, Chappy, and a couple friends drove out West cross country to Newport Beach and the Chapman family residence in Costa Mesa.
Owl said that the first time he saw Jack was when he (Owl) found this stranger sleeping in his bed. The Chapmans urged JR to go to Hawaii and glass surfboards. Since he had lived on Oahu as a child when his father was stationed there in the Navy ten years before, Jack was game, it was a coming home of sorts. JR started glassing in his own shop in Haleiwa, next door to the original “Country Surfboards” shop. By way of introduction from the Chapman Bros, Jack was introduced to Brewer. The rest is history.
So began a period of close, fruitful collaboration, innovation, and refinement that spans more than half a century.
It’s well established that a true Brewer must be glassed by JR. He’s The Master. And JR is as much a part of what a Brewer board is as the fin, glass, and color.
“Jack,” said Brewer, “Well, Jack’s the best glasser all around and he has, without a doubt, been intrinsically involved in the development of the fin and foil” of surfboards since the early ‘70s.
The Brewer/JR forte was and remains the balsa gun, something which their mutual friend and mentor Mike Diffendefer had a great deal to with, as well.
The “ultimate surfboard,” in the words of all three (RB, JR, & Diff), is, without question, a balsa. Not just exquisitely beautiful, light, and strong (they don’t break); but also, the most functional and responsive, especially in big surf.
“On a big wave,” Brewer observed, “balsa is definitely faster down the face.”
And nobody has more balsa Brewers than JR — working closely along with master woodworker Eric “Bones” Fogerson (who chambers and assembles the blanks);⁸ and Brewer’s shaping protegés, Jim “Hell Yeah” Yarborough and Lyle Carlson, keep the balsa tradition alive.
The new generation of Brewer Team riders were like astronauts, those with the proverbial “Right Stuff,” who regularly paddled out into maxing second and third reef Sunset, giant Outside Pipeline (cf. “Huge Monday,” January 17, 1972), and, of course, giant to closed-out Waimea Bay.
Owl and Sam — under the tutelage of Hawaiian Kahuna Tiger Espere — simply charged! Blowin’ Soul like no one else before or since.
In my humble estimation, this period marked the high-water mark of soul surfing and pure big-wave charging in the history of surfing. These guys had the best boards. They didn’t wear cords and were totally self-reliant, prepared to swim in through the open ocean if they lost a board.
They were in Olympic physical condition: “surf muscle.” And there were virtually no crowds (or kooks). These “Cosmic Children” surfed for nothing but the pure love and stoke of it all. This was the Golden Era.
Yet life itself also got in the way, sometimes tragically. RB got in a terrible car crash with his daughter Lani and infant son Keoki (due to a mechanical malfunction in the steering column) that left his son dead and broke Brewer’s leg.
He and his wife, Anne, were devastated, heartbroken. And Brewer was seriously injured. Recovering from the fracture of his femur in the hospital, he got strung out on pain medication, which led subsequently to his introduction to heroin.
He wasn’t the only one. Drugs were taking a toll on an entire generation of surfers. Both Chappy and Hakman also got addicted to the poppy; and each and all of their lives were forever altered — Chappy’s so much so that left Hawaii altogether. It was a matter of survival: life or death.
As for RB, he lost his Mojo for a while and fell into a deep malaise of creative dormancy.
“I became the Hunchback of Notre Dame,” he recalled sadly. That “I was too laid back” sounds like an understatement. These were the “sedated years” (late 1970s-early ‘80s) in Brewer’s own estimation.
It took a return to the “Garden Isle” of Kauai, yoga, windsurfing, and meditation to find himself again, which, God Bless Us ALL, RB did. Brewer would live most of the rest of his life on the North Shore of Kauai, in Hanalei, where he considers it to be “the most beautiful place to live in the world . . . . I really feel creative and free when I am here, more peaceful than I do on Oahu.”
It was around this time of rejuvenation that surfboard design took another quantum leap forward with the advent of the “Thruster” (three-finned surfboard), which was credited to an innovation by Australian champion pro surfer Simon Anderson; although, in fact, Brewer and his “test pilots” (notably Owl and Reno) had been experimenting with the 3-fin design since the late ‘60s.
No matter. Brewer was not one to look back, gripe, or complain; rather he looked ahead at what was on this new horizon and got busy developing the next phase of the modern surfboard.
Working closely with surfers like David Barr and shapers Pat Rawson and Gary Linden, Brewer concentrated on improving a thruster specifically designed for the most demanding wave in the world: Paumalu—Sunset Beach.
Word spread fast. Soon, hot shots like lifeguard and Sunset-Waimea specialist Darrick Doerner were riding three-finned spears that were, generally speaking, shorter, narrower, thinner, and had more rocker (than old-school single fins) on the best, biggest set waves.
At the same time, Brewer himself was windsurfing more than surfing — along with Owl and many others — and he started shaping and refining the cutting edge of/for windsurfers, which, in turn, led to insights (gained from the high speed, aerials, and power turns of windsurfing) that translated into more precise innovation and refinement of the standard single-fin big wave gun. Brewer was firing on all cylinders again.
The two most important surfers — the “Top Guns” — in such regard were Owl and Roger Erickson. “Big Rog,” sometimes referred to with admiration as “Tarzan” (due to his wild strength and appearance), was a Vietnam Vet, a former Marine that served with valor at Khe Sanh during the brutal Tet Offensive of 1968.
Originally from Marina Del Ray in the South Bay, the son of a Naval officer who later became a surfer and lifeguard (taught Buzzy Trent how to swim!), Roger was and remains an exception to an otherwise exceptional crew of big-wave riders of the era, which notably included stalwarts like Bill Sickler and Charlie Walker (the latter whom lived in a treehouse and worked alongside JR in the glass shop as a sander — the “best sander ever,” according to World Champion Mark Richards).
Rog was the guy who turned and paddled for the “Big Black One” nobody else wanted anything to do with. Fearless. Courageous. The toughest, most respected surfer in big water.
Owl and Roger caught and rode the sets and, in turn, gave Brewer the direct feedback that led to the resurgence of the Full Hanapepe Gun: 10’6” – 12’ single fin pintails. The “Hanapepe Gun” refers to a sleepy little hamlet on the south-west corner of Kauaiwhere RB (along with Brewer Underground) remodeled big wave surfboard design in ways — reminiscent of the ultralight, high-performance 10’4” “Bumble Bee Model” shaped for Jackie Eberly in 1966 — that became the Gold Standard when it came to truly giant surf, whether at maxing deep-water breaks like Waimea Bay, Second-Third Reef Sunset, the Outer Reefs (“Phantoms” and beyond), and the long, hollow walls of Hanalei Bay.
These boards are radical and are designed for the most extreme, deadly, and otherwise awesome conditions, from 12’-25’. Such “Top Gun” boards are designed to paddle, catch, and ride the most glorious waves in the ocean.
While working on a 12’ blank with Brewer and Joe Quigg back in the early 1960s, Buzzy Trent stated: “You don’t hunt elephants [i.e., big waves] with a B.B. gun or a pistol.”
One needs a proper “Elephant Gun.”
And a look around the lineup at Waimea Bay or Sunset Beach on any given swell reveals that most of the guys getting set waves are riding a board shaped by either Brewer or Owl — and, more recently, Lyle Carlson. But anyone (including Brewer or Owl) will tell you that, when it comes to full guns, Owl makes the “best Brewers.”
Owl has said to me more than once, as he mowed foam on one of the 11’-12’ blanks from which these guns are milled: “Kid, this board is going to save your life.” Fuck N’ Right! Amen to THAT!
Like no one else, Owl has diligently carried on this tradition with steadfast pride for decades. Despite the occasional chagrin of a vocal minority (cf. Ken Bradshaw), Chapman’s stubborn commitment to what works in waves of serious consequence has been vindicated by a renaissance in big-wave paddle surfing that’s occurring right now — from Peahi (“Jaws”) to Mavericks, and Nazarre — where big, thick, low-entry-rockered guns rule the lineup.
Contemporary guns shaped by Johnny Pyzel for John-John and Nathan Florence, or Chris Christenson for Ian Walsh reflect the outlines, rails, volume, foils, and fins of Brewer templates milled and perfected by RB and Owl over the course of the past 45 years.
Around 1993-4, Doerner and his aquanaught comrades Laird Hamilton (Bill Hamilton’s burly stepson) and Buzzy Kerbox (another pro surfer from the 1970s Brewer stable), decided to start “towing” into big waves on the outer reefs using, at first, a boat, and later, a jetski to assist in catching waves that had previously been either too big or too remote (or too dangerous por too windy, or just plain too hard) to catch under paddle power alone.
They soon realized that they didn’t need big “full guns” to ride these waves (as the power-motor assist made catching waves easy — perhaps too easy); and what they needed was something altogether new and different to explore the outer limits of what had until that moment been called “The Unridden Realm” (quoting Mark Foo).
Brewer once again got busy designing and shaping what would change the frontier of big wave riding by making “tow boards” that looked more like water-skis than surfboards. Short (7’ and shorter — some are a mere 5’ in length) with multiple fins (3 or 4 generally), extreme concave bottom contours, and surprisingly heavy (25+ lbs), including foot straps, so as to handle the speed and chop of giant waves.
They were able to draw on the insights and lessons learned, in no small part, from their collective windsurfing experience (Laird and Buzzy were also world class windsurfers — so, too, Darrick and Owl) and incorporate fin, foils, and straps into the new tow boards.
Once Laird, Darrick, and the “strapped crew” went to Maui with their Brewer tow boards, a new era had begun and yet another line in the sand had been drawn, with Brewer and his riders on one side and everyone else on the other, trying to wrap their minds around and then catch up with what was happening.
The stories go on and on . . . Stories of how, over the course of six decades, Brewer helped and mentored generation after generation of young men in a perennial quest to make the ultimate surfboard and ride the best waves. There are simply too many stories to tell, at least here and now.
What more can one say about the man Owl rightly calls — with profound reverence — “The Einstein of Surfing”? If a genius is an exception to the exception, someone who is able to see, understand, and communicate things in ways no one else can, but having seen the light, translates that vision into something the rest of us can also grasp, well, then, Dick Brewer is most certainly a genius. His creative imagination, skill, ambition, and perseverance enlightened us all, for RB transformed what a surfboard (and therefore surfing) could be into something that all surfers everywhere — from that nondescript beach-break anywhere to the most glorious peak on the Outer Reefs of the Hawaiian Islands — could ride to glory in the realization of one’s wildest dreams.
We can only be grateful that Brewer shared his vision — his genius — with humankind (or at least all surfers) in ways that enhanced and improved everything about surfing.
There’s no one else in the history of surfing, perhaps with the exception of “The Duke” (The Father of Modern Surfing and World Ambassador of Aloha) of which that can be said. Mahalo Nui Loa, Mr. Brewer! Aloha O’e!
One day the Duke came to visit my shaping room. He told me that in the old days, people who designed surfboards were considered Kahuna — which means Holy Man in the Hawaiian cultural tradition. He said: “Bless you, my son.”
When he said that, I felt goose bumps all over me. I’ve always tried to remember that and not let my ego get in the way of dealing with my fellow man. I have always tried to help young men coming into the sport. I’ve done that ever since the beginning. Sometimes, I feel like a rung on surfing’s ladder, but it’s helped me progress all the way through surfing. — Dick Brewer
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