A Matter of Choice

By Christian Beamish

Certain images become touchstones in a surfer’s mind—a combination of place, era, and a particular wave rider that resonate with meaning. And sometimes these images are not even specific photographs, but merely an idea. A Jeff Divine photo of Eddie Aikau poised on the drop at 12-foot Sunset during the Duke in 1973 exemplifies Hawaiian-style surfing—Eddie’s Bully Boy stance, his complete command of the situation. That singular image, re-enacted in 10,000 solitary moments all across the Pacific, captures the essence of Dick Brewer’s surfboards.

Moving to Oahu from Long Beach, California, in 1960, Brewer became one of the premier shapers of his generation, and of generations to follow. In an era when surfers made their own boards out of necessity and from personal surfing experiences, many top riders recognized Brewer’s design prowess, which he validated in big-wave exploits across the North Shore. Buzzy Trent, Eddie Aikau, and Jeff Hakman were early devotees of Brewer surfboards, followed by Darrick Doerner, Laird Hamilton, and many of the crew at both Todos Santos and Mavericks today. Bruce Irons won the Eddie at Waimea two years ago on a contemporary Brewer gun, bringing an element of true high-performance surfing to the big-wave arena.

Though perhaps best known for his clean pintail guns for giant waves, Brewer’s contribution to the shortboard revolution cannot be overstated. His “mini-gun” designs—shorter pintails, put to famous use under the feet of riders like Reno Abellira, Jock Sutherland, and Barry Kanaiaupuni—redefined surfing in the late-’60s and well into the ’70s. His tucked-under rail configuration is often credited as the design element that allowed surfers to begin getting deep tube-rides. The mini-gun also allowed surfers to throw hooking turns in the pocket of the clean and powerful Hawaiian surf, whereas earlier boards were based on a “run for the shoulder” mentality. Bridging what he and his riders discovered, Brewer then incorporated high-performance elements like rolled vee and concaves back into his 9-foot and bigger boards, making guns that seem to gather their own momentum when paddling into huge waves.

With both celebrity and underground surfers as a customer base, Brewer continues his craft to this day, having mentored a number of prominent shapers over the years as well. His brand of surfboard shaping, having come through the most dynamic eras of design change in surfing, has a base in true craftsmanship that is missing somehow in the mass-produced boards of today. “Yeah,” he says, “the shaping is very important to me,” which is a wonderful thing for surfing’s lineage, as future generations will have Brewer surfboards to refer to—touchstones at the very heart of the culture.