The Coast News Group
Woody Brown, 1912-2008. Courtesy photo

A letter from surfing pioneer Woody Brown

My name is Woodbridge Parker Brown. I was born January 5, 1912 in New York City. 

1937: We would tow my glider (sailplane) off the beach [above Blacks] with a car, up into the updraft, where we could stay up all day. During this time I would bodysurf on the beach. 

One day I found a piece of wood at the beach and put it under me, to ride the waves. I found this helped, so I bought a plank of wood and shaped it like a fish, with a pointed tail. 

This was a great improvement, and helped me to stay a little ahead of the white water and slide a little left or right. 

But I had to start only as far out as I could push off the bottom. 

As I looked out at the big waves curling outside, I thought, if I build a hollow board that will hold me up, I can catch them outside, before they break. 

And the waves said to me, “Yes, I will let you slide across my face, and we can both enjoy it.” So, that’s what I did. The board was eight feet long, 23 inches wide, four inches thick, and weighed 12 pounds. It worked fine.

One day after a big storm, the car took off, but the wheels were spinning in the mud with little traction. As I started toward the cliff’s edge, I realized I didn’t have enough fly speed. 

So, I ground looped. That is, I dug one of the wing tips into the ground. That spun me around, and the back half of the glider was sticking out over the edge of the cliff. That’s when we decided this was not a safe operation. 

We finally figured out that if we tied one end of the rope to a stake in the ground, one to a pulley on the car, then to the glider way back from the edge of the cliff, the glider would be going twice the speed of the car, giving enough time and altitude to recover from any trouble. This worked fine. 

I think surfing is a great sport we can enjoy together. It is an all–around exercise that keeps us in healthy condition, and we can enjoy nature. 

Before I left LaJolla in 1940, I got to know Townsend “Towny” Cromwell, Bob Barber, Don Okey and Bill Eisenhouer. 

We started looking around the San Diego area and found great surf at Bird Rock and Pacific Beach. where we rode 20-foot waves. taking off right on the edge of the kelp. 

I rode Windansea one day, and then some of the others started surfing there. For some reason everybody really liked that place, but I liked Bird Rock better. 

I died two or three times and my big thrill in life was getting as close as I could to death. 

According to legendary Windansea surfer, the late Don Okey, “Woody had never before seen a surfboard, and the one he built was the best board we ever saw.”

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