“Our first and last and greatest shaping guru.”
Yesterday, news from Princeville, Kauai, that Dick Brewer, the eighty-five-year-old designer and crafter of the “incredible North Shore guns” was facing his last days on earth.
Before he climbed the golden staircase, opened the golden door and hugged God in his loving arms, I figured it was time to hit Matt Warshaw, the one of Surf Encyclopediafor a vision of Dick’s wild and wild life.
Following a series of messages from his wife Sherry warning of his impending death, Dick Brewer has just posted a farewell to the world on Facebook. When it goes up to the sky, it will be a real big hole in the fitness game. For those who arrived late, what did Dick Brewer bring to the table?
Incredible guns, just Sabrejet level gear for North Shore surfers in the 60s and 70s. On top of that, and maybe even a bigger problem in terms of place in surfing, was the character of Brewer. He was the guru, the mountain man, the shaper that everyone brought to their knees before. Figuratively, most of the time, but I might be thinking literally too!
What is the quality of his advice?
Tom Parrish of Lightning Bolt fame and the post-Brewer king of guns, said this about Dick. “He is alone in almost every way. If you go back to the early 60s and see how advanced his designs were, add every change for the better, from fixing the bridge seesaw to creating that three-stage bottom seesaw, miniguns, full guns , and much more – there is simply no one who has done what Brewer did. Now here’s something else about Brewer. He was a huge natural talent when it came to design. But he was not at all interested in finishing his boards well. Compare this with Diff [Mike Diffenderfer], who probably shaped the most beautiful boards ever made, but didn’t have that kind of innate sense. We’re splitting our hair a bit, because Diff’s boards were really good too. No one has touched it when it comes to fine sanding. But if you’re talking about pure design, then it’s Brewer, hands down.
Give me some context, he’s from the Midwest, yeah? Minnesota or elsewhere? Split his crummy life in his twenties to become a legend in the Islands?
Born in Minnesota but moved to Long Beach, California with his family when he was three years old. Dick was supposed to be an engineer, like his father and grandfather, and he worked on dragsters before surfboards. Then, in 1960, he went to Hawaii for the first time, loved it, settled there for good, and almost immediately worked on how to build better guns. Later his reputation was for being a bit spatial, but originally and for a few years Brewer approached board design from an engineering perspective, much like what Bob Simmons did in the 1940s and early 1950s.
There is speculation about Brewer’s contribution to the shortboard revolution, when boards lost six inches in length with each session until the logs were reduced to seven-foot blades. What is your point of view ? Did he simply refine what was being done by McTavish and co or was he a revolutionary?
Brewer was already shrinking the longboard into something closer to what we recognized as a gun. But where he was fundamentally improving on something that already existed, McTavish and Nat showed up with these hideous but game-changing boards, and those things, I think, forced Brewer to rethink the next move. It would have gotten where it was going anyway, but the v-bottom sped the process up.
He had a wild, and not always happy, junkie life, baby died in a car accident, which he survived. Can you describe this period of the mid-70s?
It’s trouble. Drew Kampion’s point of view is probably the only one we’ll get, and I think Drew tried his best, but I think the whole deal was more crippling and permanent than what we’re getting there. Brewer was still the Waimea boards guy, for a long time – Bugs had a big yellow Brewer in his quiver, well into the 1980s – but for the most part, Waimea aside, Dick wasn’t much of a force anymore after about 1973 Bolt took over the space that Brewer had owned for a decade prior.
Few lawsuits there too, huh? What’s the juice on these?
Drew’s article touches on all of this, and again, Drew I think wants to portray Dick as the victim, and maybe there’s some truth to that. But my point of view is that Brewer was a terrible businessman. Excellent shaper, but not the guy you want to read and advise on contracts.
From memory, it was brought out of obscurity in the 90s when surfing was hit with a wild nostalgia streak and got a second wind for its harvest years. What happened there?
No, I think he made some amazing tow boards for Laird Hamilton. Which makes sense, when it comes to Brewer’s return to engineering high-speed equipment.
And now Dick isn’t here. What is the sum of his life?
As well as benchmark boards, and as well as being our first and last and biggest shaping guru, Brewer’s contribution has been to look outside of surfing. His background as an engineer, everything he knew about cars, machining, speed, drive and torque, he brought it all into the fitness room. Fortunately for our sport, it was not born and raised on the beach. He loved surfing above all else, but he was smart enough to look beyond surfing. To our great advantage.
(Like this? Maybe it’s time to subscribe to Warshaw’s Surf Encyclopedia, Yeah? Three dollars a month, you can believe it.)