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A Definitive History of Surfing's Culture and Heroes
By  Malcolm Gault-Williams

This Chapter Updated:  21 July 2008
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Artwork courtesy of artist Ken Auster.

Aloha! And welcome to this chapter of LEGENDARY SURFERS on legendary surfer Woody Brown.

This piece on Woody was originally published over a decade before Woody passed away (in 2008) in The Surfer's Journal, Volume 5, Number 3, Fall 1996, pp. 94-107, with photos by Bud Browne.

Following the article are some resources to learn more about Woody and his times. In addition to these, make sure to review the resources at WOODY BROWN (1912-2008).

Woody was truly an incredible person. I will always cherish my good fortune to have spent time with him, talking and surfing. Enjoy his story and please spread the stoke that Woody embodied!


  • 1930s Big Wave Pioneers
  • Gliding from Long Island to La Jolla, 1929-39
  • La Jolla Surfing, 1935-39
  • Hawaiian Islands, Early 1940s
  • Hot Curls
  • The Death of Dickie Cross, 12/22/43
  • Catamarans
  • Makaha, Late 1940s/Early '50s
  • Cats & Gliders
  • Return to Maui

  • "Come ride the waves, the surf is high, and hear the song the surfers cry. Slide out on the shoulder and finish the ride, Your heart's on fire, your soul's filled with pride. Taste the salt, the stinging spray. Know the price a surfer must pay."
    -- Woody Brown

    Big wave surfing in the modern era began in the 1930s, off the southern, western and northern coasts of O'ahu. Woody Brown came to the Hawaiian Islands shortly after it all began -- barely three decades after surfing's revival in the beginning years of the 20th Century. In those days, surfing's center was Waikiki. Yet, it was O'ahu's North Shore that would go on to become surfing's planetary capitol. One of its pioneers was Woody Brown.

    1930s Big Wave Pioneers

    Beginning the set of interviews I had with Woody, on his home island of Maui, I mentioned that both Duke Kahanamoku and Tom Blake -- both of whom Woody personally knew -- had said and written of Waikiki getting some size upon occasion, and was there any truth to it?

    "Oh, heck yeah. Oh yeah!" Woody exclaimed in his energetic style. "My goodness, it broke all the way across before I got there. These crazy guys I was telling you about," he referred to the handful of 1930s big wave pioneers, "about four or five of 'em -- it was so big one year that it was closed out all the way down the coast; the big ocean liners couldn't come in and out of Honolulu Harbor; way over 30 feet."

    "So, these guys -- they were so much guts, you know -- they went up to Black Point. Well, at Black Point, there's a rock cliff that goes right down to the water. It's deep right up to the cliffs. So, the waves don't break The swells just come up and hit the cliff. So, what they did, they went out on the cliffs and when a set went by, they threw their boards off the cliffs and dove in and swam out. They got outside of everything that way and went around in front of Waikiki -- oh, probably a mile out in the blue water. The waves were big and, of course, there's no shoulder; one break all the way down to Honolulu Harbor. But, they didn't care about that, they just shook hands and said, 'Well, OK, in case we don't see each other anymore...' They shook hands and caught a wave or got the axe and swam in eventually. I tell ya, man, talk about guts!" [see Fran Heath ]

    I asked him if he was talking about Wally Froiseth, John Kelly and Fran Heath. "They were the main ones," Woody agreed. "Let's see, there was also Russ Takaki, a Japanese boy, and a Korean boy whose name I forget, but those were the main guys who would go out when it was that big. No one else would even think about going out. They found all the big places around O'ahu, before I came in 1940."

    With that octogenarian twinkle he has, Woody gave credit where credit was due. "They were going in the '30s, you see, and it seemed like the surf was the biggest in the '30s... The world cycles change, you know. The surf comes bigger in different places in the world because of cycles. We haven't been 'civilized' long enough to keep record of these cycles -- maybe thousand year cycles, see. We don't know."

    "Don't you think it's just that people get used to the size?" I asked him.

    "No, oh no, no. They were much bigger. Like I say, the boats couldn't come into Honolulu Harbor. Well, I've never seen that in the whole 50 years I've been here. And, yet, that was like that back in the '30s. And then, when I used to go Castle, it was 25 feet. It wouldn't break unless it was over 10. Now, like my friend Wally Froiseth says, 'Well, Woody, there's no more of those big surfs.' We just don't get it like that anymore, for some reason. As I say, I think it's cycles. There's all kinds of cycles that we're just now beginning to understand..."

    Gliding from Long Island to La Jolla, 1929-39

    Woodbridge Parker Brown was born in 1912, in New York City, the son of a respectable New York family. In his formative years, Woody fell in love with flying and left school at age 16. "When I was a kid, I ran away from home; quit school. I couldn't stand school. I wanted to fly so bad." Woody began hanging around Curtis Airfield, on Long Island, New York, where Charles Lindbergh was preparing for his historic trans-Atlantic flight in 1927. "Yeah, I met him out there at the field. I helped him with his airplane before he took off for Paris. He was my hero."

    At Curtis Airfield, Woody slept in hangars, cleaned oil leaks and did whatever he could to be around airplanes. He learned to fly but soon gave up mechanized flight when he discovered gliders. "Soaring appealed to me because it's like surfing or sailing. It's working with nature; not 'Brute Force and Bloody Ignorance.' You know, you give something enough horse power and no matter what it is it'll fly. Flying was brand new, then! Every time you took off it was an experiment. You didn't know what was gonna happen. Every flight was a brand new flight. So, it was real exciting."

    During his glider days on Long Island, Woody married an independent-minded English woman named Elizabeth Sellon. Soon, they were on their way to California. "We left New York in '35," Woody told me. "Went to La Jolla. I had a cousin out there and they got us a place to live. We stayed there in La Jolla for five years. The happiest time of my life! My first wife was just a wonderful person; one of those freak women who just, you know, lived for me; to take care of me. I didn't realize it at the time. I took things for granted, you know? I was just young, dumb and stupid. But, she was such a wonderful woman. Whatever I wanted to do, 'Oh, yeah! I'd love to do that, too!' But, now I know damn well she didn't want to."

    They drove to California in 1935, trailing Woody's glider behind a Chrysler Airflow. Settling in La Jolla, Woody made just enough of an income to support his dedication to gliding. He was the first to launch a glider off the cliffs above La Jolla, convincing a local businessman to lease what became Torrey Flight Park, above Black's Beach; what later became the Torrey Pines Glider Port.

    Yet, gliding was not all fun and games. "I died two or three times already, you know," Woody mentioned to me. "I had a mid-air crack-up in my glider and I lived through that; so did the other guy. Miracle as it was, it took his wing right off and smashed my whole nose. I thought, 'Well, we're just going down' and then, suddenly, 'Hey, man, you're still flying!' And I cleared the rubbish away and I'm still flying! So, there was a big, steep place on the mountain ahead. I just flew right up and just glided in. I took a tremendous chance cuz my tail surfaces were gone and I knew that any minute I'd lose control, eh? But, 'Get down quick as you can, anyway you can.' So, I lay right down on the fucking mountain like that. That was one time."

    "Then," continued Woody, "in the desert, a kid brought over a very bad ship and we wouldn't help him put it together. We told him, 'No, no, no! This ship is not made to fly in these violent heat waves.' 'Thermals,' we called 'em. There's an airforce base there now. So, he put it together and he towed and flew a little bit and we wouldn't have anything to do with it. My ship was strong and so was my friend's, Johnny Robinson's. And so, we were flying there and no trouble. We got the thermals and everything."

    "But, he'd bought this new instrument called a variometer. In those days, we didn't have any instruments hardly, see. But, they'd just made a new one and he bought it; cost hundreds of dollars. He was a rich guy, see. So, he said, 'Won't you come up with me just once to show me how to work this variometer?' Cuz he was a greenhorn, see... So, like a damn fool, I said, 'Alright, I'll go up with you just once to help show you how to catch a thermal.'"

    "We got up there on the tow line and hit this thermal and I said, 'OK, now! See, it's lifting up your right wing, so you turn to the right! Now, turn to the right! Come on, turn right!' And he said, 'I'm sorry, Woody. I cannot. The wing's come off.' That's all I can remember. We came down with no wings at all and we lived through it. It broke his legs in two or three places. His arms were all broke up and I had a brain concussion; broke my windpipe. There was some tubing I went up against and hit my head and I was out for eight hours."

    "The only thing that saved us," Woody said, "was that this glider was a terrible thing. It had a huge wing and it had wires going up top -- called 'cabane.' Wires up on top to hold her on the ground and then flying wires, underneath, when it lifted, see, instead of struts. So, it had all that stuff. So, when the wings came off, this tremendous area of these wings were going around like helicopter blades, see? They kept flying around on the end of these wires and that kind of broke our fall, so we didn't come down quite so hard, with no wings at all. That's the only reason why we lived through it. So, that's the second time."

    La Jolla Surfing, 1935-39

    "I started surfing right away," Woody recalled of his moving to La Jolla. "I first made these solid redwood planks, you know. You'd stand in the shallow water and shove off just like a Boogie board. But, then I began to go, 'Gee, man, if you could just have a board that would hold you up; instead of, like, solid planks... then I could catch 'em before they're breaking. This way, I'm just catching white water.' I thought, 'Gee, then you could catch 'em way out there and ride 'em all the way in.' So, that's when I made the hollow little plywood box. About 9 feet long and about 4 inches thick. It was great. I could paddle out there and catch the waves and ride." The year was 1936. Woody, using glider construction techniques, built his first surfboard out of plywood. It was hollow, 9 feet long, 4 inches thick and 22 inches wide.

    Woody recalled the first La Jolla surfers. "Towny Cromwell, Don Okey -- they all started cuz'a me, you know. They saw me out there and wanted to surf, too. I've seen 20 foot waves in California; Bird Rock, Windansea," Woody said of big California conditions. "The biggest place was down at PB -- Pacific Beach; that point there where the sand beach comes up to that rock point, where La Jolla starts, you know? There's houses there, now, but it used to be all bare. We built a shack there and you climbed down the cliffs to go out. They form out there off the rock point and then swing in. But, the point would make 'em break way out and they'd have a nice shoulder going in. You'd pull out before you got to the regular break. I've seen that 20-25 feet. Being a point, I'm sure it was 25 feet."

    "I used to like Bird Rock," Woody recalled, "because there was a peak out there. These swells would come in and pucker up and break there and then it was deep water all around. So, you could ride it in and it would quit and you're in deep water. So, you paddle back again. That was kind of nice. If you lost your board, it didn't matter, the board would just float around in deep water. That I like. That was good. I didn't want to lose my board. My hollow board out of plywood, it would get smashed if it hit the reef, like at Windansea."

    After his first hollow construction, Woody, "built a better one. It was still a plywood box, but not quite so thick and a little wider and 10 feet long. It had a nice vee bottom and a little, small skeg on, which was probably one of the very first in the world," Woody told me, crediting Tom Blake with the first fin in 1935. Woody made his first surfboard keel, "about '36 or '37, somewhere in there; about the same time. But, I didn't know anything about [Blake] and his experiments with adding fins to surfboards. See, we were all separated out. I was in San Diego and he was in L.A., way up there."

    Thinking back on how this second "plywood box" responded in the surf, Woody exclaimed, "It was just like these modern kids' boards, now! I'm amazed, you know. Don Okey wrote to me from California and said, 'You know, Woody, that old board you had, it was a wonderful board. It was so good, I feel we should make a duplicate because I think it was a forerunner of the boards, today.' He said, 'I'm gonna make another one.' He asked me for the drawings. I sent him what I could remember and he built one. When I went over there [in 1993], he had one built! Exactly the same. And I rode it! And, you know, it was just like these boards, today. You don't have to use your foot, you just lean and turn it like that! And, boards in those days, aw, you couldn't do that. It rode really good! And, yet, that was way back in '36! Amazing, just amazing."

    About the surfboards he made, Woody said, "I always made my boards to be the fastest board in the world, because I put my aerodynamics into the understanding of the design, eh? Same thing, the air or the water; more or less. So, I made my boards faster and faster. Finally, I even ground them down and polished them with jeweler's rouge and everything; polished the surface. Oh, that made a big difference. Of course, now they're all finished that way. The commercial board is all finished off nice and smooth."

    I asked Woody when he recalled the first balsa boards arriving on the scene. "Oh, I think it was about '40, about the time just before I left La Jolla. The boards were big Swastika boards; big wide square tails; slide ass, no skegs. Skegs were just starting. I remember in La Jolla, some of the boys brought 'em down from up in L.A. They were balsa/redwood; redwood off the side, balsa in the middle; heavy as hell; 60 pounds. I had this little hollow board and it only weighed 12 pounds, so I could maneuver around these guys. They could hardly turn those big hairy things before I'd change direction without even putting my foot in. In the old days, you had to put your foot in the water in order to turn."

    In 1939, when his wife Betty was pregnant, Woody was scheduled to compete in a big glider meet in Texas. "I told my wife I'd stay with her, but she told me to go." Woody admitted to me, "I didn't want to go to the glider meet, but she was such a wonderful woman, she said, 'Don't be stupid! There's nothing you can do here.' Oh, I know -- now I know -- she would have loved to have me there. But, at the time, she said, 'No, honey. I don't need you here. You go. You've gotta go. It's important because everybody's expecting you to be there. You're the top man! They all want to compete with you!' And she talked me into it, bless her little heart. And, so I went."

    At Wichita Falls, Texas, in 1939, Woody flew his Thunderbird glider 263 miles to national and world gliding records for altitude, distance, maximum time aloft and goal flight. As a result, he even received a telegram of congratulations from then-President Herbert Hoover. "They all laughed at me at the airport," Woody said. "Yeah, when they asked, 'Well, where ya going? Where's your destination?' I said, 'Oh, Wichita, Kansas.' Three states away! You see, nobody had even gone across one state. All the airplane guys laughed. 'Ho, ho, ho! It takes us all day to go over there. You're going in that?!' But, boy, when I came back, there wasn't a sound. Nobody said anything. They shut up, boy! 263 miles. That was a world record." When he landed back in Texas, he was given a hero's welcome. Job offers for flying of all kinds came his way. "Oh, boy, I could have had anything I wanted."

    However, Woody was more concerned about his wife. His concern was well founded, for Betty died in childbirth. "And, boy, I just cracked up," he told me as he had told others. "You know, I just couldn't take it cuz we were so happily married. It's the only happiness I've had in my life was the five years with Betty in La Jolla." Seeing Woody, his energy, his optimistic spirit, his feelings of love for people around him, I had a hard time seeing this man only happy for five years out of his life. Perhaps he exaggerates, but certainly there can be no denying that he loved his first wife to an extraordinary length.

    "Our boy lived but I couldn't take care of him. I couldn't take care of myself," Woody told one interviewer. "I couldn't sleep; quit flying; quit everything," Woody told me. "I just started bumming around the world. I was dyin'. I told the Lord: 'I can't take it anymore.' So, he goes: 'Why don't you go to Tahiti? You've always wanted to.' You know, we always hear about the magic of 'the South Seas.' Next day, I was on the boat. I got my passport and everything. I left my car, the garage, my home, glider, everything. I don't know what happened to them. I just walked out and left everything. When you're off your rocker that way, you know, you don't know what you're doing."

    Hawaiian Islands, early 1940s

    "So, I came over to Hawai'i and started over again. But, it took awhile," Woody admitted. He never made it to his original destination of Tahiti. Instead, he got virtually stranded in Hawai'i in September 1940, just before the United States entered World War II. "Yeah, I was on my way, but I couldn't get out of the country. During the war, they wouldn't give you a visa to leave the country. You couldn't get a passport. So, I stayed here, in the Hawaiian Islands."

    "Surfing saved my life because I'd go out all day; Waikiki. I'd just go out on my board in the morning and sit out there all day long and surf. Lunch time, I'd dive down and get seaweed off the bottom to eat and just stay there 'till late evening; sunset. Then, I'd go in and I'd be able to sleep a little cuz I was so damn tired from being in the sun and surfing all day. And, I survived!"

    "I didn't know a soul," Woody told another interviewer. "I got a bicycle and went all around O'ahu and the different islands -- Maui, the Big Island, Kaua'i -- just bumming around, lost. The old Hawaiians were such wonderful people. I'd stop in front of a house and ask if I could stay for the night and they'd say, 'Oh sure! Sure! Come in!' Then they'd treat me like a king and didn't want me to go. I didn't have any friends until I met Wally Froiseth and them."

    Woody told me one Hawaiian man even broke down in tears, begging Woody to stay. "The missionaries changed the Hawaiian people," Woody said. "They were beginning to be like us mainlanders, when I first came over. They lost their beautiful ways. Like I told ya, when I went around the island, they cried when I left. If I go around, now, nobody's gonna cry for me or ask me to stay there for nothin' and pay for everything I'm doin'. No way, man! Hawaiian, haole, or anybody else."

    Raised as an atheist, Woody didn't fight in World War II because of his pacifist beliefs. "I was a conscientious objector during the war. I wouldn't fight, no matter what. I told 'em, 'Look, I'll go down there as a Red Cross. I'll go right in the front lines.' That didn't worry me. 'But, I ain't gonna carry no gun and I'm gonna rescue any body, no matter whether he's a German, an American or a Japanese. It doesn't matter what he is. If he's dying and needs help, I'm gonna help him.' They didn't like that. They put me '4-F' cuz I had broken my neck flying and it bothered me all the time."

    So, instead of fighting, Woody rode around most of the major Hawaiian islands, befriended by the island people. "You know," Woody told me of his earliest days surfing Hawai'i, "in the old days, there was nobody out there, you were the only one. You were just hoping somebody would come out, cuz there were no surfers, then. So, you were all alone; lucky if you had one guy with you. "So, you were always hoping -- glad to see someone come out. 'Oh, yeah! Come on, come on!'"

    "It's different, now, isn't it?" I asked.

    "Yeah," he replied with a laugh. "You're wishing they would go in!"

    Hot Curls

    In 1940, the typical Hawaiian board of the time was a redwood and balsa plank, 10-to-12 feet long, with wide tails and no skegs. I asked Woody what he was riding when he first came over to the Islands. "Oh, I used to build my own there, of course. I'd left my plywood box in La Jolla. So, at first, we had the old balsa/redwood boards. But, they were so big and heavy and clumsy. I remembered my wonderful little light one, so I started building something similar, out of balsa wood; lighter."

    "By then, Wally and them had learned to shape 'em so they wouldn't slide ass. At first, you know, all the boards in the old days would slide ass in big waves. You'd go out in big waves and try to lay it in. You'd have to go down to the bottom. If you tried to lay it in, in the curl, it'd flip right out."

    "So, one day [in 1937], Kelly and Wally came in after a big surf at Castle and the boards slid tail and all that and they couldn't ride. Kelly got mad and picked up his axe and said, 'I'm gonna start chopping the board right here!' He hit it and he whittled the tail down to about this big and said, 'Now I got it.' And, of course, it was a little vee tail at that point, after he whittled it down."

    "He went out there and he could ride right up there in the curl and it wouldn't slide tail at all. He had perfect control of it. So, then we started making a long board called Hot Curl boards, see. That was where the Hot Curl board came from, cuz you could ride right up in the curl, right up in the top, instead of being way down at the bottom. You could ride right up where there's more power, eh? To get across. That changed the whole of surfing, see. Now, you could go out in big waves and control it."

    Even though Tom Blake had invented the fin -- a.k.a skeg or keel -- for surfboards in 1935, they had not been immediately adopted. In fact, fins on surfboards were not generally adopted until well over a decade after Blake and Woody first came up with theirs. Hot Curls filled the transition period by making it possible for surfers to hold their edge in the curl, without skegs.

    "There were no skegs then," Woody continued. "What's his name [Blake] had [invented it], but nobody used it. He put it on his hollow boards [which Blake first invented, also], cuz the hollow boards would slide tail, too. But, Wally and those guys had no respect for the hollow board because it couldn't ride big waves. I mean, it was dynamite in a big wave. You know, the wave would just take it away like it was nothing; no control at all; too big and clumsy and flat. It would slide all around. Of course, with a skeg, you could control it."

    "Wally and them had small, little boards, about 9-10 feet, whereas the hollow boards were 12, 14, 15 feet. Duke's board was 20 feet long! It weighed 200 pounds! I couldn't even pick it up and carry it! Of course, it was wonderful for Castle. I mean, once that bugger dropped in, you know, and started going, you just hold on and try to stay with it. It would just take off!"

    "The hollow boards -- they never used 'em in surf over 8 feet. After that, they were uncontrollable. So, Wally and them had great disdain for them. They wouldn't have anything to do with 'em. So, they wouldn't have anything to do with the keel either. 'What do you want a keel for? We don't need a keel.' Which was true! The Hot Curls didn't need a keel."

    "The Hot Curl was there when I got there. Then, I learned to whittle mine down like theirs, because mine would slide ass. You couldn't ride big waves without the vee tail and I liked to ride the big waves, right? So, I had to whittle mine down. Wally helped me, he showed me. Then, I perfected it more and more. Because, I was interested in the speed. Wally wasn't too interested in increased speed. He just liked to hang up there in the curl and get up there and just get chewed!"

    "Well, that's fine, but when you got a long ways to go, you want to get across. I didn't want to just go a little bit and then get the axe, eh? So, from my aerodynamics I knew that too steep a curl will suck air, will drag, eh? The more you flatten out the curve, the faster you can go. So, with my boards, I'd flatten out the belly and get it flatter 'n flatter. Well, that made it stiff and hard to turn, but it made it fast."

    "My super board was 12 feet long and weighed 80 pounds, but, boy, when that bugger would drop into the wave, man, you'd just have to hold on to stay with it. You'd take off so fast, which is great when you've got a half mile of curl to get across!" The board was made from chambered redwood with a 3-inch vee tail and thin rails made of spruce. The nose and tail were oak.

    Woody reiterated that the breaks off Waikiki could get big and recalled the "Father of Modern Surfing," Duke Kahanamoku. "He was just about the only one of the old timers who would go out in those big waves. Yeah, other guys... when it got 10-12 foot, that was it. They wouldn't go out any further. Duke would. He went out to Castle, even. He was probably the first one, except for the kings in the old days."

    "You know something real interesting --" Woody's voice dropped lower than was usual, which was not that often because the way he talked, you always felt upbeat. "I'll tell ya: in the old days, only the kings were allowed to surf at Castle surf... You know, when I used to ride my board out there, I'm telling ya the truth: I felt somebody on the board with me. Boy, I didn't see anything, but, boy, it was there! With me, riding that wave. It was spooky, I tell ya. Just like the king was there on my board, riding again..."

    Woody and I on Kurt & Angela's porch in Paia, after surfing on the south side of Maui, November 22, 1994. Porch photos taken by Miya

    The Death of Dickie Cross, 12/22/43

    In the early '40s, Woody married his second wife Rachel, an Hawaiian whom some of the surfers got to calling "Ma" Brown. They lived together and raised two kids above the Waikiki Tavern, the epicenter of island surf culture and craziness. Not only were the Hot Curl crew building boards and experimenting with design, but they were also exploring. Woody joined Wally Froiseth, John Kelly, Fran Heath, Rus Takaki, and younger surfers like George Downing and Rabbit Kekai to begin exploring winter surf on the north shore of O'ahu.

    "Nobody went to the North Shore," Woody told me. "We were the first ones to go there. Wally and John Kelly told me, they said, 'Oh, there at [what's now Sunset Beach], there's big waves over there.'"

    On December 22, 1943, Woody and a young friend named Dickie Cross paddled out at Sunset on a rising swell. Up to this time, Sunset had rarely been ridden and it was only Woody's third or fourth time surfing the North Shore. "My friend and I," Woody related to me, "we thought, 'Oh well, it's winter time.' There's no surf in Waikiki at all, see. So, we got bored. You know how surfers get. 'Oh, let's go over there and try over there.' That's how we got over there and got caught, because the waves were 20 feet.

    "Well, that wasn't too bad, because there was a channel going out, see. The only thing is, when I looked from the shore, I could see the water dancing in the channel, eh? I thought, 'Uh, oh. Boy, there must be a strong current there, cuz the waves are piling in the bay from both sides,' causing this narrow channel going out. Then, it opened up. So, we thought, 'Gee, well let's just go sit in the channel a little ways from the beach and see how strong the current is. If it's not too strong, we can paddle back in, then: no worry, eh?'

    "So, we did that. We went out. We sat in the channel and it wasn't too bad. We could paddle in any time. 'So, OK.' There were 20 foot waves breaking on each side. We went out to catch these waves and slide toward the channel. The only trouble was, the surf was on the way up. We didn't know that. It was the biggest surf they'd had in years and years, see, and it was on the way up. Twenty feet was the smallest it was gonna get, but we didn't know! I mean, it looked good!"

    "So, we got caught out there! It kept getting bigger and bigger and, finally, we were sitting in this deep hole where the surf was breaking on two sides and coming into the channel. The channel opened up into this big deep area where we were and the surf would break on two sides and we were trying to catch 'em.

    "Then, all of a sudden, way outside in the blue water, a half mile out from where we were -- and we were out a half mile from shore -- way out in the blue water this tremendous wave came all the way down the coast, from one end to the other. It feathered and broke out there! We thought, 'Oh boy, so long, pal. This is the end.' But, we were sitting in this deep hole and so we watched these things come in. The white water was rolling, oh, what -- 20 feet of white water, eh? Rolling in and just before it got to us, it hit this deep hole and the white water just backed-up. The huge swell came through, but didn't break. Oh, boy! Scared the hell out of us! Well, there was a set of about 5 or 6 waves like that. So, after the set went by, we said, 'Hey, let's get the hell inside. What are we doing out here? This is no place to be! Let's get in!'"

    "So, we tried to paddle in, eh?" Woody made paddling gestures. "As we came in to this channel, it got narrow in there. We're paddling and paddling and finally we stopped for a minute to rest and my friend says, 'Woody, you know where we are, don't'cha?' I thought about it and, oh, wow, we hadn't moved one damn foot. All that paddling and we were right where we were before we started paddling. We couldn't get in."

    "You have to be very careful of these channels. When the waves get big, the rip current just pours out of there, out of the bay. You can't get in. Anyway, we didn't know what to do," Woody admitted. "So, finally, we decided, 'Well, there was only one thing to do. We gotta wait until that huge set goes by' -- which is only about every 10 minutes -- 'then, we'll paddle like hell to get outside of 'em and then paddle down the coast and come in at Waimea.' When we went by Waimea before we went out, it was only 20 feet. The whole bay was open, right? It was just breaking on the point, more or less. So, we feel, well, we'll come-in over there; big beach break, there."

    "The only trouble was, it didn't work that way. By the time we got there, it kept getting bigger and bigger. It went up on the Haleiwa restaurant and it wiped out the road at Sunset. It was the biggest surf they'd had in years and we were stuck out there." I mentioned to Woody that George Downing swears the waves were 40-foot that day, breaking over a shelf in 80 feet of water, and asked him if he thought the estimate was in there.

    "Yeah, I think, easy. On the way down, while we were paddling down to Waimea -- we got out OK, past the big sets at Sunset, you know. And so we started to paddle down the coast. This guy who was with me, a young kid -- he was only around 17 -- he was just a gutsy young guy. One of these guys: all guts and nothing up here; just, 'ummm.'"

    "So, we're paddling down and he keeps workin' in! I said, 'Hey!' Boy, you know, I'm lookin' as we're paddling down and I'm saying, 'Look, the surf is breaking right along a line where we are, ahead of us and behind. We're right in the line of this break. We better move out more, yet.'"

    "'Nah, nah, nah! That's alright.'"

    "He wouldn't move out. I could see we were in a boneyard! So, I pulled and said, 'Well, I'm gonna move out. Come on!' I went out about a hundred yards further than him and we paddled down like that, side by side."

    "Then what I was afraid might happen did happen. In other words, a set came where we were -- a big, tremendous set. Boy, outside of us there was just a step ladder a far as you could see, going uphill. Oh, man! I scratched for all I was worth... You could paddle 10 paddles and you're still going up the face of the wave. Oh, wow!"

    "I got over 'em -- I got over all the sets -- and I sat down and looked to see where Dickie was, cuz he was inside of me! Boy, I couldn't see him because the waves were all in the way. And then, the last wave I saw him come over the top and it was so steep, his board and him just flew in the air and came down on the other side. Then he paddled out to me and I said, 'Dickie, you think you could have lived through that?'"

    "He said, 'Hell no!'"

    "So, then I said, 'How big do you think these waves are out here?' We agreed we thought they were 60 feet.

    "Well, then we kept going down the coast, see," Woody said, entirely engrossed in retelling the tale, "and he was with me. As we got close to Waimea, he starts coming in, again, see. I said, 'Hey! Hey! No!' Cuz we had agreed we'd go out in the middle of the bay, where it was safe, and sit there and watch the sets go by and see what it looked like. Then we could judge where to get in and what. But, no! He starts cutting in, and I hollered at him, 'Hey, hey, don't go in there. Let's go out in the middle!'"

    "'Nah!' "

    "He just wouldn't pay any attention. It seemed like it was his time; just like something was calling him, you know? Because, look at how he was acting, eh? Even though he had almost got caught and admitted he couldn't have lived through it, and still he was cutting in, again. It was just like it was his time to go. I don't know."

    "Anyway, he cut in... as we went up. When we got to the point, there were 20 foot waves breaking there all the time and then these big sets would come every 10 minutes. So, he was going in and I would see him go up over these swells and come back out off the top. The next one would come and he'd disappear and then I'd see him come up over the top and it looked like he was trying to catch 'em. Yeah, that was the only thing I could think of."

    "Finally, one wave he came up over the top, he'd lost his board. 'Oh, boy,' I thought, 'Oh, gee, two of us on my little cut-down board!' -- I'd cut it down -- and I was exhausted. 'Two guys on one board? What chance do we got, now?' But, I told him, 'Come out, come out!' It sounded like he said, 'I can't, Woody, I'm too tired.' That's what it sounded like. But then, he started swimming out towards me, so I started paddling in to catch him to pick him up on my board."

    "Well, you know, at a time like that, in that kind of big waves... you're watching outside all the time, right? Your eye's out there, cuz you never feel safe. So, I'm paddling in and one eye's out there and one eye's on him to pick him up. All of a sudden, his eyes see the darn mountains coming way outside in the blue water, just piling one on top of another, way out there. I turned around and started paddling outside for all I'm worth because I figured if I lose that board, too, then what chance do we got? Two guys swimming, eh?"

    "My only chance is to save the only board we got. So, I turn around and I'm paddling out and I'm paddling towards the first one coming in and it keeps coming in, getting bigger and steeper and higher and getting a little white on the top. Well, I saw that I just wasn't gonna make it -- you know -- it was just cresting already. And so, just as it came to me, I threw my board and just dove down and headed for the bottom. That's your only chance in a big wave is to get down in the deep water."

    "I could go 30 feet in those days and I got way, way down in that blue, blue water and, boy, I could feel myself being lifted up and drawn back again. I could see the white water boiling down under me and behind me. I'm 30 feet down and the white water's still boiling 30 feet down! You couldn't live through that. I was just lucky I was just out beyond it just enough."

    "I got up to the surface. The next one was coming and I swam like hell toward it. Luckily, they broke in the same place and I dove down and got under it; a whole set, about five of 'em. Then, when they went by, I started looking for Dickie, cuz he's been inside of me. Oh, boy. I hollered and called and looked, swam around, and there was no more Dickie anywhere. It's getting dark, now, too! The sun's just about setting."

    "So, I'm swimming and I think, 'Well, I'm gonna die, anyway, so I might just as well try to swim in, because, what the hell, I'm dead, anyway, if I'm gonna float around out here.'" Woody removed his trunks to reduce drag and then briefly worried about sharks. "Oh, how ridiculous," he told me. It was questionable whether he was going to live at all, so why worry about sharks?

    "There were no surfers on the North Shore in those days. Nobody knew we were out there and there were no boats. I thought, 'Hell, I'm dead, anyhow. I'll do what we said. I'll swim out to the middle of the bay and I'll wait and watch the big sets go by and after a big set goes by, then I just try swimming and hope to God I can get in far enough that when another big set comes in I'll be where it isn't so big and strong.'"

    "And that's what I did. I was just lucky when the first one came. I'm watching it come, bigger and higher and higher and it broke way outside, maybe 4-5 hundred yards outside of me. I said, 'Well, maybe I got a chance.' So, I dove as deep as I could go, again, and I just took the beating; a terrible beating... And when I couldn't stand anymore -- black spots are coming in front of my eyes -- I just started heading for wherever it looked lightish color. You know, you didn't know what was up or down. Wherever it looked kind of a light color, it might look like down, but 'that's where I'm headed for.' And I got my head up!"

    "So, I figured, 'Man, if I lived through this one, I got a chance!' Cuz each one, I'm getting washed in, eh? So, each time I dove a little less deep and I saw it was washing me in."

    I told him I assumed he was facing out, diving into the wave each time.

    "Yeah, you're watching 'em come. Oh, yeah, sure," he replied. "So that at the last minute, you dive down before it gets to ya."

    "So, they washed me up on the beach. I was so weak, I couldn't stand up. I crawled out on my hands and knees and these army guys came running down. The first thing I said to them was, 'Where's the other guy?' They said, 'Oh, we never saw him after he got wrapped up in that first big wave.' That was their words. 'Wrapped up in that first big wave.' I figured from that, this guy [Dickie] had so much guts, he tried to bodysurf the wave. Because, otherwise he would have dove down. Why didn't he dive down under it? If he got 'wrapped up' meant that he was up in the curl, right? How else would you express it? So, I figured he tried to bodysurf in."


    More than anyone in the first half of the 20th Century, Woody Brown was the man who brought the functional design of the ancient Polynesian double-hulled canoe into the modern era and worldwide popularity. "He's an innovator," surfing veteran Don Okey declared of Woody, citing the catamaran Woody built in 1946. "That started the whole craze of catamarans."

    Woody said he based his twin-hulled craft on the design first created by Polynesian navigators. Woody met some Tongans while surveying on Christmas Island, following the end of World War II. "There was this canoe there, ya know, the outrigger canoe the Melanesian boys made. It was so fast! Oh, we passed a navy motor launch, just on the fly; go by 'em so fast! I said, 'Hey!' I sailed sailboats and there was nothing like this anywhere. 'I'm gonna build one like this when I get home.'"

    "So, I did. I met this Hawaiian boy, Alfred Kumalae, and he was interested, too. So, we said, 'Let's build one.' So, we went to the Bishop Museum. We studied all the old canoes of Oceana." Woody's first two catamarans were both named Manu Kai (Sea Bird). The second cat was a 38-footer that could do more than 20 knots. In its day, it was widely regarded as the fastest sailboat in the world.

    I mentioned to Woody that his surfing must have been less after he got into catamarans.

    "Yeah, a lot less," he replied. "Because you're tired, you know? You don't have time, see. Cuz I was just barely making a living. I used to have to work. Sunday was such a good day that I didn't want to take off. Time I could take off was when the surf would come up and we couldn't go on the beach with a cat; then I'd go out surfing. But, that wasn't too often. So, my surfing was kind of cut down." The catamaran career kept Woody in business for 40 years. It was an ideal living for a waterman who lived for speed.

    Makaha, late '40s/early '50s

    After Dickie Cross' death in 1943, Woody "didn't care to go" to the North Shore "anymore. Later, with Wally and them, we went to Makaha. We found that place there and that was better. It had big waves -- 25 feet -- but, they were out on a point. Makaha had a nice wall across the bay and a nice shoulder you could make all the way across. It even had a channel to go in and out. So, you can't beat that. [But] the shorebreak was awful. Oh, God! The shorebreak was so bad, 8-10 feet on the bare sand! You just threw your board away and swam in. You weren't about to go in with your board, you know?"

    I asked him when the gravitation to Makaha took place.

    "Oh, after that episode with Dickie Cross over there on the other side of the island," Woody replied. "Wally and them said, 'Well, there's a good place at Makaha. Come on, we'll go over there.' So, we went over there. That's when I started surfing there." Wally Froiseth, Fran Heath, John Kelly -- and whatever other brave souls they could bring out with them -- had been surfing Makaha since the late 1930s. "That was good surf," Woody declared with a mix of awe and fondness, "that was really good. "But, after that thing with Dickie Cross, I was so scared of waves, I couldn't even go out at Waikiki in little 2 foot waves. I was terrified. It took me a month to gradually be able to go out again."

    For Woody, Makaha, "was a better surf than the North Shore. We had nice, long lines! Again, it broke out on that point. There's a peak, see, and then you could slide all the way across the bay."

    "I've seen 25 feet there, and you could make every damn one! In fact, we were making every one. We kept moving more over to the point, more in the boneyard. We kept moving over and still we were making 'em! Move further; still make 'em! And, move waaay 'till we were way out in front of that point and: still make 'em across!"

    "And I've seen other days when you couldn't make one, no matter where you sat. It all depends on the angle the waves come in; how they hit the shallow water. That determines the shape of it, mostly. Size is up or down. Naturally, if it's in further, the shape of the reef's different than it is out, but mostly it's the angle they come in at."

    I asked Woody how long after Dickie Cross' death was it that people began to surf the North Shore again.

    "Oh, a long, long time. Nobody surfed there for another 5, maybe 8, 10 years. We went Makaha, see. Everybody went Makaha, first. Then, the guys started going the North Shore. Then, there was Makaha and the North Shore. But, Makaha was first."

    From the mid-'40s into the early 1950s, Brown, Froiseth, Kelly, Heath, Henry Lum, George Downing and a handful of others surfed big waves at Waikiki and Makaha on progressively advanced equipment.

    "Henry Lum," recalled Woody, was such a "skinny Chinaman and so frail; couldn't have weighed more'n a hundred pounds. He'd go out in those big waves. Boy, he was so weak and skinny, you know. Wally and I said, 'Well, I guess we're not gonna see Henry again.' Twenty foot waves! He convinced us he wanted to go out. He could surf alright, but, you know, he was so frail! But, he always seemed to live through it. We rescued him acoupla times. In the white water you get exhausted, eh? But, he did alright. He kept going. I give him credit, boy; a lot of guts, that guy."

    Importantly, skegs had finally caught on, enabling surfboards to be shorter and lighter. I mentioned to Woody that it seemed like it took a long time for the skeg to catch on.

    "Yeah," he admitted. "In fact, I didn't want a skeg. I rebelled against it. We had shaped boards so they wouldn't slide ass, you know. And I said, 'What the hell do you want a skeg for?'"

    "'Oh,' they said, 'It makes it better.' So, I rode a board with a skeg on it and it didn't seem to make a difference. So, then George Downing and I made a super board for big waves at Makaha. We had learned to flatten out the rumps a bit. See, you have to have a vee. If you don't have a skeg, you gotta have a vee or a round tail and then it won't slide ass. That holds it. But, the shallower you make the vee, the faster it is! The trouble is, you flatten the vee, then it gets loose and then it wants to slide ass."

    "So, we made one with a pretty flat back end, with little curves on the sides. And so Georgie said, 'I'll make a slot, so we can put a skeg in or take it out. We can try it and see the difference.' So, we went Makaha. They were about 15 foot peaks that day. He went out there without the skeg, first, and he rode it. It rode beautiful; fine, oh, just no trouble at all. Georgie came in and said, 'Well, let's put the skeg in and just try it, anyway. See the difference. See what it's about.' So, he puts the skeg in and went back out."

    "It looked like he was riding the same, but he came back in and said, 'Hey, Woody, it's much better with a skeg' ... I asked, 'How is it better?' He said, 'Well, it's not any faster, but it's more solid and you can turn it real easy with a skeg,' which we couldn't do before. Our boards were real stiff turning."

    "That was the only trouble with the old boards. They were fast -- my boards were faster 'n hell -- but, oh, you couldn't turn it. I couldn't use my boards in small waves with other guys out, cuz I'd just mow everybody down. Once I set it in at just the kind of an angle I wanted, I couldn't turn. All I could do was drop down or climb up a little bit.... But, it had the speed on the big waves! Man, I could get across where nobody could get across! Which sounds right. Nobody wants to get caught in 20 feet of white water."

    By the end of the 1940s, the half-dozen Hot Curl guys riding big surf were joined by mainland haoles like Joe Quigg, Tommy Zahn, Matt Kivlin, Melonhead, Dave Rochlen and Buzzy Trent.

    "Tommy Zahn used to surf with us," Woody told me. "I remember him at Waikiki and he had a balsa board. It was a very light balsa board. See, my board was 80 pounds for those big waves. He had a little board. It couldn't have weighed more than about 30 pounds; all balsa, nothing else. But, it was no good at all at Waikiki, see, with that tradewind blowing."

    "We were out one day in pretty big waves; about 20 feet at Waikiki, there. It's called Papa Nui. It's a big blue water break between Queens and Canoes, way out. So, we were out there catching and he couldn't catch 'em. Every time he'd try to catch 'em, the wind would blow him right off the top of the wave. But, with my board, I'd just pop in and go."

    As for Buzzy Trent, "He went out Makaha with me," Woody recalled. "You know, with Wally and I the first time. He'd never been out at Makaha before. 'Wow!' he said and his eyes were big. He asked, 'We're going out there?'"

    "'Sure, sure!' So, he was game. We paddled out and, boy, we're sitting there waiting for the wave and these monstrous swells just go by. But, they weren't big enough to catch, you know. And Buzzy's eyes bulged. 'You mean, we're gonna catch these?' I'll never forget that! 'You mean, we're gonna catch these?' But, he did. He got into it."

    Woody also had praise for surfing's first commercial film maker, who released his first movie in 1953. "Oh, boy, I used to admire Bud Browne. He'd sit right in the boneyard, where these 20 foot waves are gonna crack right down on him, so he could get close and see us going across in front of him, eh! But, that was swell! We'd make it, but he'd get the axe. He'd be swimming right there with a camera and he'd be right there where the wave pounded him; rolled him around every time. Oh! I used to admire him, boy! And, he's a frail kind of a guy, you know. You see him and he's not a big bruiser."

    In 1953, Honolulu photographer Skip Tsuzuki took the famous Associated Press photo of Buzzy Trent, Woody and George Downing riding a 15-foot wave at Makaha that went world wide. "That's the first big wave that was ever photographed that had world wide distribution. After that, of course, people started getting gung ho over big waves. That's probably when they started going the North Shore. That stirred everybody up. They started going everywhere there was big waves."

    Woody clarified that, "When we were riding Makaha, other surfers were starting to go there; about the time Buzzy Trent came over to Makaha [1950]. After that, he started going over to the North Shore with those guys, too."

    "California surfers started coming over, after that picture. That went to the mainland and, boy, that drove everybody crazy. They couldn't believe that. So, they all wanted to come out here and see for themselves. But, I didn't know any of those guys. I didn't go with 'em then. I just went with Wally and them. I just never got to know 'em."

    "We were kind of separated into two bunches, then. Wally, Kelly and me and those guys -- we would go to Makaha. California guys went more for the North Shore. I don't know why; probably because the waves were more peaks and you could play around on the peak, where Makaha had this wall and, man, you had to have a good, fast board and had to really trim it to get going; to get across. That, maybe, didn't appeal to them."

    Cats 'n Gliders

    Big wave pioneers like Woody Brown were superseded by newer warriors from the mainland. Even though he gave up his dominant position at places like Makaha to the new golden breed, Woody never stopped surfing and sailing. He continued going the way he had been, supported by his catamaran sailing business. Duke Kahanamoku even, "bought one of my little catamarans," Woody replied when I asked him how well he had known the Duke. "He used to go racing with it. He was a member of the yacht club. So, I got to know him pretty well, but I never got to surf with him too much because by the time I came along, he was getting kind of old, already. He didn't care to go out Castle, anymore. He'd stay in there at first break."

    In 1955, Woody captained the first catamaran voyage between Hawai'i and California. The voyage was meant to basically prove the seaworthiness of the cat design and qualify the catamaran for the Trans-Pac sailing race. The journey did not come easy.

    "Whoo! We ran into a big storm," Woody told me, quite animated at the recollection, "that had 70 mile-an-hour winds and 30 foot waves. I had to tie all my crew down with a rope, cuz if they ever washed overboard, there was no way you could turn around to pick 'em up. You're just going with the wind and keep the boat straight, because the waves were so big, if you ever got hit sideways, it would roll you right over. Pretty hairy!"

    With Woody, amongst other people, were Wally Froiseth and Rich Muirhead. "When the storms came --" Woody backtracked in his recollection, "when the barometer started going down real fast -- I told the guys, 'Oh, boy, there's a big storm pretty close, somewhere.' The barometer kept going down and the swells kept on getting bigger and the wind's picking up. So, I said, 'Hey, hey, to hell with this course. Let's just turn and go away because if the wind is blowing this way--' I knew from the way the high pressures spiral -- they spiral away -- 'the storm center must be right over here and is traveling about like this. We better make it over another way; instead of going the charted course.'"

    "Of course, the financier of the trip said, 'Oh, we're not going to California!' I said, 'No, the hell with California right now. We want to get away from the storm because we don't know how strong it's getting.' The waves were getting huge, the wind was getting strong..."

    "This dumb guy who owned the boat -- see, I didn't have enough money to do this, so this young guy came and said, 'Look, I'll pay for it. I'll buy the boat and I'll pay for all the trip.' Alright! But, he was such a disagreeable, such a terrible person! When I changed course and cut the sails down, he... went, 'Oh, no, don't put the sail down! We'll never get to California!' I said, 'Look, if you don't take it down, now, you're not going to be able to get it down, cuz it's pushed against the rigging and mast and everything; cuz we're running with the wind. You can't go anywhere else but with the wind, now, see, it's gotten so bad.'"

    "At first, when I went down, they didn't understand. But, then, after it picked up and got worse and worse, you couldn't go anywhere but with it. Waves are 30 feet and breaking, like surfing waves! A 30 foot wave would roll that catamaran over like a toy. I had to keep it right, you know, straight-off, and ride with it. So, when they began to understand, the crew didn't grumble."

    While continuing with his catamaran business, Woody returned to gliding in the late 1960s and into the '70s. In 1971, at age 59, Woody rebuilt a war surplus glider and set a soaring record of 12,675 feet above Mokule'ia. His last personal altitude record was 23,000 feet, without oxygen.

    "I flew all the way around the whole island of O'ahu. I was up above every cloud in the sky, looking down on top of them all! With no motor! Isn't that amazing? Quite a thrill." After setting records for distance, altitude and goal flight during his glider pilot years, Woody eventually sold his glider in the early '80s. "I couldn't take care of it. It was just too much," Woody told me, adding, "I'd had enough, anyway; let the young boys have it."

    Return to Maui

    At the beginning of his elder years, Woody turned to the Bible and to making his own personal interpretations of the holy book. In 1980, he wrote The Gospel of Love, A Revelation of the Second Coming. In 1994, when I surfed with him on Maui, he was working on a sequel.

    By 1986, Woody had retired to Maui. However, Rachel -- "Ma" -- died of diabetes soon afterward. Grieving, Woody went to the Philippines. I asked him why he went there. "To get me a new wife!" he proudly responded. "Some Philippine people I knew said, 'Oh, we know this nice family over there. They have a couple of daughters. The daughters don't want to marry Filipinos, they want to marry Americans. Come over here and what.' So, they said, 'We'll give the name if you want to go over there.' So, I thought, 'What the hell, sure, I'll go over there.'"

    "And these two girls there, you know how it is, they said, 'Age don't matter.' They were too young! Way too young. But, they said, 'Aw, age doesn't make any difference.' So, I said, 'Well, if it don't matter to you, it don't matter to me!'"

    Woody now lives on Maui for the third time in this life, with his third wife Macrene, age 40, and their son, Woodbridge Parker Brown Jr., age 18 [ages as of 2004]. The three of them have lived in Kahului, Maui, since 1987. Woody has been a vegetarian for most all his life.

    "When I came to Hawai'i," Woody said, "I speared fish and ate fish the way the Hawaiians do. But, then after awhile when I was up in Kula, farming there, I began to see religion more and how we got to learn to stop killing each other and killing every thing. Man just loves to kill everything. And I began to realize, 'Hey, that thing is suffering just the same as you. I don't want someone killing me. What if a spaceman came down and wanted to roast us? How would you feel?' And so the animal feels the same way. It doesn't want to be roasted in an oven. So, finally, I told my second wife, 'I'm gonna give up meat completely, even fish.' And that was hard because, you know, that was the only meat I ate up to that time."

    Until relatively recently, Woody didn't get the kind of credit he has deserved as one of the foremost of the big wave pioneers. It hasn't bothered him all these years, though.

    "I've never really cared what people thought about me, one way or the other," Woody told an interviewer. "I was just interested in doing things. Whether it was flying or sailing or making surfboards, I just always wanted to improve things."

    Woody compared his improvements in surfboards in the early days with what's out there, today. "What our boards lacked was turning ability. What the new boards have been able to do is achieve turning ability. That was a natural evolution, because, as more people came out to surf, there wasn't room to go across the curl like that. Here's a bunch of guys and there's one guy who's gonna slide across like that and he's gonna cut everybody else out. And, if you're way over there on the end, there's no wave, hardly. So, you had to catch it over here. And then, everybody else doesn't have a chance."

    "When there's a thousand guys out, why, you know, they're all dropping in. There's no chance. So, obviously, the kind of board you want is the kind of board where you can say, 'This is my little place and I can ride right here and you can ride right over there.' It was a natural evolution because of overcrowded conditions. "I couldn't ride my big boards at Queens at all, cuz I'd just mow everybody down."

    "The big guns, today, they're more like my boards were, before. When the wave's 20 feet high, twice as high as this building, man, you just want to get across! You don't want to get caught in that white water. No way!"

    Boards may have improved with steady evolutionary changes, but positive perceptions of surfing were often slow in coming. "Surfing didn't really start to come into a nice attitude to where people respected it, only until the last fifteen years or so! When they started having professional meets and they started giving prizes away, then, surfing became of value. 'Gee, you got a thousand dollars, that's great. You're a great guy, you surfer.' So, that's changed."

    "It's only within recent years that surfing's gotten respect. Years ago, we were looked down upon by everybody. Yet, here were these brave guys going out in 30 foot waves and nobody gave 'em any credit for that or any respect. 'You're just a damn bunch of good for nothing bums.'"

    Wrapping up the interview on the Pa'ia porch of my good friends Kurt and Angela, Woody looked at me with those clear blue eyes of his. "I have to admit, I lived in the best time," my hero said with a smile and then a far away look. "I couldn't have had a better life. I mean, I was very lucky, all the way around. I had flying when it was at its most romantic time, when every flight was an experiment. Then, with the surfing, the same thing; learning to make the Hot Curl boards and riding the big waves and coming into a little respect, you know, with people. 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."

    Woody talkin' story on a Paia porch, November 22, 1994. Porch photos taken by Miya.

    Sources used:

  • Woody!
  • Surfer magazine
  • The Surfer's Journal

  • Related Resources

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