As reported on www.honoluluadvertiser.com
KAHULUI, Maui — Renowned surfer Woodbridge Parker “Woody” Brown died Wednesday at Hale Makua, Kahului. He was 96.
“Woody Brown was one of the first and greatest icons in the history of surfing,” state Sen. Fred Hemmings said Friday.
“He was the essential surfer, an iconoclast: extremely independent, futuristic and, most especially, healthy — which explains why he lived for 96 very productive, wonderful years,” said Hemmings, the 1968 world surfing champion who inaugurated the world professional surfing circuit in 1975. “… I only hope more of us who call ourselves surfers can live the way Woody lived.
“Sad as anyone passing is, what a joyous life.”
Brown was born Jan. 5, 1912, in New York. At age 23, he struck out with a new bride for the West Coast and was among the first surfers off San Diego, building his own hollow plywood surfboard in 1937.
When his wife died in childbirth in 1939, he again headed west, to Tahiti, but got stranded in Hawai’i because the government wasn’t issuing visas right before World War II.
He went on to surf with all the greats in waters off Waikiki, the North Shore of O’ahu, Makaha and each of the Neighbor Islands. Buddies called the lanky waterman “Spider.”
Brown built the prototype of the modern catamaran in 1947 and pioneered taking Waikiki tourists for catamaran rides, which provided his living for four decades. He outlived two wives, and fathered two daughters and three sons, the youngest of whom is 19.
Brown, who surfed regularly until he was 90, rubbed shoulders with Charles Lindbergh, Duke Kahanamoku and old Hawaiians who lived the life of a former era, he said.
“He was just a lot of fun to be out surfing with,” recalled Terry Quisenberry, a surfer, paddler and fence builder in Ha’iku. “I could always tell it was Woody, sitting up on his green board, paddling along. He really enjoyed surfing with everyone because his enthusiasm was just so contagious. He’s also very nice to everyone.
“We needed to tell him when the waves came because he had cataracts, and so we’d tell him, ‘OK, Woody, here comes one.’ So he’d take off and he’d be hootin’ and hollerin’ … he really did.”
Ka’uhane Lu’uwai of Makawao and Makena has coached Brown’s youngest son, Woody Brown Jr., since age 12 in outrigger paddling at Hawaiian Canoe Club.
“Oh, Mr. Brown, he was a superstar in surfing, one of the godfathers of surfing. … He was just a great athlete, a guy before his time in a lot of things,” Lu’uwai said.
Roger Crouse, a paddler and standup surfer from Pukalani and owner of Maui Rents, called Brown “a surfing legend in Hawai’i. He worked at Hale Makua and said he ‘helped the seniors.’ It’s sad to see him go; it’s a big loss.”
Two men who documented Brown’s life were Drew Kampion, surf historian of Washington state and former “Surfing” magazine editor; and Emmy-winning Bay Area filmmaker David Brown (no relation), who produced “Of Wind and Waves: The Life of Woody Brown” in 2006.
Kampion remembered how he “surfed with him in 2000 out in Lahaina at a place nicknamed after him, Woody’s. He was 88 at the time, and he surfed better than I did.”
“Long may he ride,” Kampion said.