Spring ‘71, Rocky Point, came out of the water, Dick Brewer walked up and introduced himself. Checked my board, didn’t know him – or of him – seemed like a nice chap. Amiable, personable, appreciated the raw adzed-shaped concepts I was riding. A few more days surfing, random conversations. Said he was over to shape, on his way to the production bay. If I wanted, I could fly over and stay at his place on Kauai.
It was the year of Tea for the Tillerman. How many times I chorused, Miles from Nowhere driving down the hill from Hanapepe to surf Poipu or Acid Drops. “Where do the children play…..” Surfed some Pakala with Dick, walking up the beach from Waimea River. Talked a lot of design, learned some yoga moves, went bass fishing in the cane field dams with Jackie Baxter. A lot to take in, a long way from Narrabeen.
Dick Brewer was an inspiration. I was proud to have been accepted and associated with inspirational and outrageous surfing talents like Sam [Hawk] and Owl [Chapman], when so many others did not openly respect what they were doing … as madmen! Brewer reverence was almost cultish, against which I pushed back, but was a part of by association. Amongst friends, design was explored, craftsmanship honed. I’d rented with Jack Reeves that first Hawaiian winter, Jack kept a room for me at his Rocky Point A-frame for years after, and as Brewer’s long-time laminator (and one of the world’s very best), the learning curve was always north …. at all levels.
Those early ‘70s winters saw a major surfing revolution. Two very different cohorts were out at Sunset. George, Paul Strauch, Mike Doyle, great surfers fighting the chop and drop on wide-nosed big boards that had served them so well through the ‘60s. Then there were the guys on 7’4”-to-8’4” mini-guns, eyelids peeled back. Brewer-inspired boards were at the forefront of that leap. Chopping a foot off the nose was one thing… the easiest thing to do really. Re-aligning rocker, rails, vee, foil required a little more subtlety.
It has been said that the real story at Honolua was Gary Chapman (Owl’s older brother, a great surfer in his own right). Remember the image of Nat bottom-turning one of McTavish’s vee bottoms – iconic Australian surfing history. The story I heard, had Gary blazing and blowing smoke on one of Brewer’s mini guns. A bit of cultural license on both sides probably. The Brewer mini-gun became the future…
The thin tail? Yeah, that was my gig. I’d spent the previous summer [‘69- ‘70] in Queensland, learning the tools under ‘Furry’ Austen at Joe Larkin’s factory. Riding small Kirra, Duranbah and Snapper, the vogue thick tails floated so high, you couldn’t sink them into the thin walls, so I thinned mine out and rolled the vee panels for turning without spin. It was that spiral vee that excited Dick so much during my time on Kauai. RB showed tremendous hospitality, he was open, responsive, up for trading ideas. Theory discussed and shared, researched and developed, tested in foam. Who did what first, is/was really rather irrelevant. Aloha spirit all round.
By the time Owl and Sam visited Australia in ’74, HB was doing okay. We decided to co-lab a model… the ‘Brewer, Hawk, Chapman, Fitzgerald’ model. Kind of homage, a bond, acknowledgement of RB’s square-winged, trailer-finned, mini performance guns that Sam and Owl rode in small North Shore waves. Never rode any Brewers, or any other shaper’s boards (except for one of Reno’s rhino chasers at Waimea). Got close to launching a Brewer original at Hanalei that winter. I’d flown over without a board. Dick and I pulled up in the carpark beside the river, pumped for a late go-out. Dick jumped out to meet a poi dog’s teeth wrapping around his haole ankle. Talk about laugh… not! A kind of universal prevention?
One thing that stands Dick Brewer apart was his ability to find the “wow” factor in all levels of surfboards. No matter how subtle or how revolutionary, Dick would zero in and deftly incorporate what he ‘saw’ into his designs/shapes. Look at the galaxy of people Dick worked with and who worked with him. The list goes back 50, 60 years, each representing a step forward. Dick Brewer’s amazing ability to sift, define and refine generations of surfboard advancement is a gift few have ever attained.
Aside from subtlety and tool use, RB was good to go with not only the technical, but life-lessons too (from that winter of ’71). “The stringer line between your front and back foot should be flat and straight” proportional to the length of the board. Finishing his shapes, RB would take out his thumb plane and flatten and straighten the stringer and planning area between the feet. I eventually deepened that with concave and accented with more curve. Another maxim, after seeing me take a few falls at Sunset. “Don’t try to surf like Barry or Tiger! Surf it the way you would surf a peak.” It sounds like a Sinatra cliché, but for a 21-year-old standing on the precipice of his first Duke contest at Sunset, well, Brewer flicked the switch.
Over the years, the ‘80s and ‘90s, Poto, my boys Kye and Joel, all stayed with Jack at one time or another and often rode Dick’s boards. I didn’t much see a need to go back to Hawaii after the ‘70s, contact lost, new directions taken.
Why did I drift away? Especially when RB had paid me numerous compliments over many years. Self-preservation maybe, pride, possibly selfishness, in that I did not want what I was doing – with concaves and wings – diluted? The ‘my way’ thing? Maybe. But thank you, Dick Brewer, for the nudges I needed, especially that day on Sunset Beach.
Accepting roots is a rite, acknowledging them a far greater right.
Salute Dick Brewer.