APRIL 21, 2008 – Legendary surfer Woodbridge Parker “Woody” Brown passed away Wednesday, April 16, 2008, at Hale Makua (Home of Respected Elders), the long-term care facility in Kahului, where he had often visited and cheered up his fellow seniors. Mr. Brown was 96.
Mr. Brown was born Jan. 5, 1912 in New York. At the of age 23, he struck out with a new bride for the West coast, according to Matt Warshaw’s Encyclopedia of Surfing. In 1936 Mr. Brown was the first person to surf Windansea in La Jolla Ca.
Although known for his optimistic outlook on life, Mr. Brown wasn’t immune to life’s downturns. In 1939 personal tragedy struck Mr. Brown when his wife died during childbirth. He left his infant son and all of his possessions in La Jolla and moved to Hawaii. Mr. Brown eventually reconciled with his abandoned son, some 60 years after the fact.
In 1943, while surfing with Dickie Cross at Sunset Beach, the surf rose quickly from 10′ to 25′. With the sun setting, and unable to get in at Sunset Beach, the two surfers decided to paddle to Waimea Bay. Only Mr. Brown made it to the beach that evening. Dickie Cross’s body was never found.
Mr. Brown was featured in two PBS documentaries, the most noteworthy being Surfing For Life (1999) which chronicled the healthy lifestyle surfing provided senior surfers. His purist surfing roots, vegetarian lifestyle, and optimism are fondly remembered.
“The life of Woody Brown was a testament to the spiritual power of surfing,” said surf historian and former SURFER magazine Editor Sam George. “Over the decades the waves shaped him, they soothed him, and they saved him. Woody created an ideal that, although he lived among us for almost a century, we are only now beginning to appreciate; the real soul surfer.”
“One of surfing’s greatest has passed,” explained surf historian and SURFER’s PATH editor Drew Kampion. “He was an adventurous spirit: a glider pilot who went on to pioneer surfboards, catamarans, and Divine inspiration in his beloved Hawaiian Islands. Long may he ride.”
Interviewed by Malcolm Gault-Williams’ for “Legendary Surfers: A Definitive History of Surfing’s Culture and Heroes,” Mr. Brown summarized his life as follows:
“I have to admit, I lived in the best time. I couldn’t have had a better life. … I was just lucky. I saw the old Hawaiian people and how they used to live. I got the tail end of the true Hawai’i. I’m so thankful and appreciative for that.”