'WOODY' BROWN / 1912-2008
Brown is pictured on his board in an undated photo.
Waterman blazed trail to waves of North Shore
Surf legend built first modern catamaran
» More obituaries
STORY SUMMARY » | READ THE FULL STORY
Big-wave surfing pioneer Woodbridge "Woody" P. Brown, who is also credited with building the first modern catamaran to take tourists on rides off Waikiki Beach, died last week.
He was 96 and surfed regularly until he was 90, his family said.
"He was one of the first five or six people in the planet to surf Hawaii's big waves," said David Brown, who produced a documentary on Woody Brown's life.
In the documentary, 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."
FULL STORY »
Woodbridge "Woody" P. Brown, a big-wave surfing pioneer, catamaran designer and early surfboard maker, died last week in Kahului.
He was 96.
Brown, who was also called "Spider" because of his unique stance on the surfboard, died Wednesday from complications caused by a hip fracture, his family said.
Brown was one of three surfers photographed charging down a giant Makaha wave in 1953. The iconic photo, which appeared in newspapers around the world, is credited with triggering a migration of surfers to Hawaii.
George Downing, who along with Buzzy Trent, was also on the 20-foot wave, recalled the ride yesterday. "(Brown) was the only one that made the wave. That was point break at Makaha," said Downing. "Where Woody was he was on the perfect place on the wave."
"He was one of the first five or six people in the planet to surf Hawaii's big waves," said filmmaker David Brown, who is of no relation. "He was really an inspiring legend in the world of surfing."
Born in New York on April 5, 1912, as the older of two children, he left school at 16 to chase his dream of flying. With his wife and stepdaughter, he moved to California in 1935, where he flew gliders and began to surf, making his own boards out of plywood. In 1939, he set a world record for distance and altitude in a glider.
Traumatized by his wife's death during childbirth, Brown put his stepdaughter and son up for adoption and moved to Hawaii.
In 1947, Brown is credited with designing and building the first modern catamaran inspired by twin-hull canoes he saw in the South Pacific during World War II and armed with aeronautical engineering and lightweight construction knowledge.
He used the catamaran, named the Manu Kai, to make a living of taking tourists out from Waikiki.
"He was way ahead of his time," Downing said. "His craftsmanship, he was very meticulous."
He added that Brown was an all-around waterman -- a strong paddler, diver, and sailor. In 1943, Brown and his friend Dickie Cross were surfing 20-foot waves at Sunset when the surf rose to 40 feet, trapping the friends at sea. They paddled to Waimea Bay thinking they could come in there, but Cross didn't make it through the breakers at Waimea.
Surfers avoided Waimea Bay for nearly 15 years afterward.
In the last 30 years of his life, Woody Brown's philosophy centered around working in harmony with nature, said David Brown, who made a documentary, "Of Wind and Waves: The Life of Woody Brown."
PHOTO BY THOMAS TSUZUKI
This Makaha wave photo taken by Thomas "Scoop" Tsuzuki shows Woodbridge "Woody" P. Brown, left, along with big-wave riders George Downing and Buzzy Trent, on a 20-foot wave. The photo ran on the front page of the Honolulu Star-Bulletin on Nov. 27, 1953, and in papers nationwide.
"He really felt a very strong connection to nature with waves of every description," David Brown said. "His first waves of wind in the air, then waves of water in the ocean, then the biggest wave of all, the spiritual wave."
Brown survived two wives and has five children, including his youngest, 20-year-old Woody Brown, Jr.
Including his son Woody, Brown is survived by his wife of 21 years Macrene Brown; sons William Parker Brown and Jeffrey Sellon; daughters Mary Sue Gannon and Jennifer Snyder; 10 grandchildren; and 19 great-grandchildren.
"He spoke to all kinds of different people on different levels," said his daughter Mary Sue Gannon, 63, of Kula, Maui. "He was from the heart. He really cared that people were happy."
Services will be Friday at Ballard Family Mortuary. Casual attire. Visitation is from 6 to 9 p.m. with service at 7:30 p.m. followed by cremation.