DICK BREWER is to modern surfboard design, what Kelly Slater is to modern day surfing. A contemporary shaping genius who was himself an impressive surfer, Brewer has set the pace in surfboard design for five decades. His designs have affected every generation since the '50s; his boards have been ridden by the sport's best, including Eddie Aikau, Buzzy Trent, Jeff Hakman, Gerry Lopez and Reno Abellira, to Garrett McNamara and Bruce Irons today. The son of an aircraft machinist, his exceptional handcrafting skills and understanding of outlines, contours and edges continues to translate surfboard "blanks" into highly functional - and collectible - pieces of art.
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Dick Brewer (October 13, 1936-)
In the evolutionary scale of surfboard design, think of Dick Brewer as the missing link. In a few critical years in the late '60s, Brewer was responsible for making us want to trade in our go-karts for race cars when his followers streaked deep through the hollows of Honolua Bay, Sunset Beach and Rincon, Puerto Rico, on pocket-rocket space sticks that defined the new lines of performance surfing for years to come.
Brewer, a self-proclaimed shaping guru, served as a teacher and an inspirer of a radical band of young surfers during those radical times. His apprentices and team riders read like a who's who of the era: Reno Abellira, Sam Hawk, Owl Chapman, Gerry Lopez, Jock Sutherland, Jeff Hakman, Jimmy Lucas, Buddy Boy Keohe, Leslie Potts, Larry Strada, Gary Chapman -- and the list goes on. Brewer has clearly been one of the most influential surfboard shapers of all time.
His home and shaping bay near Hanalei on Kauai are a long way from his birthplace in Bimidji, Minnesota. His father was a second-generation engineer and machinist, and working with tools and mechanical principles came naturally to young Brewer. When the family moved to California, the boy discovered cars, radio-controlled airplanes and surfing. As a skilled machinist, it was only a matter of time before he took things into his own hands. His planes were fast and controllable, finalists in national competitions, and his surfboards were beautiful -- right from the start.
Brewer moved to Oahu in 1960, earned his credibility in the winter waves at Waimea, Sunset and Makaha, and soon opened a surf shop in Haleiwa -- Surfboards Hawaii, the first on the North Shore. He filled scuba tanks and sold Dewey Weber and Scholl boards, a Walt Phillips label -- both from Venice, California, and shaped by Harold Iggy -- and began to shape boards.
"Bob Shepherd was my real teacher," Brewer said in a 1999 interview. "He taught me the techniques." Like Joe Quigg, Shepherd was all about natural curves and concaves. Brewer acknowledges Pat Curren as an influence as well. Synthesizing the best available wisdom with feedback from his test pilots, by the winter of 1962, the Brewer Surfboards Hawaii gun was the most in-demand big-wave equipment on the North Shore. Entering into partnership with California's John Price, Surfboards Hawaii were soon being made and sold in California, but when a business conflict developed between the two men, Brewer left the company.
Almost immediately, he signed a contract with Hobie Alter in Dana Point to produce a series of signature models, the Hobie Dick Brewer guns. He shaped 88 of them, then went on to do production and signature work for Harbour, Carbonel, Surfline Hawaii, Bing and others. Brewer's foiled rail design and his advocacy of lightweight boards, even for big waves, set him apart from most other shapers of the time.
In 1966, Brewer shaped Bing Pipeliners, Island Semis and Big Island Guns. He was showcased in Bing ads in 1967 and 1968 as the master who created David Nuuhiwa's lightweight pintail-model boards.
In mid-1967, Brewer relocated to Maui and set up business as Lahaina Surfing Design (LSD), where he set to work developing shorter, lighter guns and then "mini-guns" with the help of an adventurous team of test pilots. It was in Lahaina that he met Aussie Bob McTavish (who was test-driving his shorter vee-bottom boards at Honolua Bay with World Champ Nat Young), and the two shapers fed off one another.
The Brewer mini-guns featured teardrop outlines, down rails, flat bottoms with subtle foils and vees and narrow pintails. Among the first shortboards (1967), they were a sensation and proved to be more lasting than the square-tailed Australian vee-bottoms. Reno Abellira made a huge impression on an under-7-foot Brewer mini in the finals of the 1968 World Contest in Puerto Rico.
Although associated with the surfing's experimental drug scene in the '60s and '70s as an advocate of Eastern meditation, vegetarianism and psychedelic exploration, Brewer continued to innovate throughout the period, including the hyper-kicked nose (1969), the tri-fin surfboard design (1971) and the modern big-wave gun -- introduced in the mid-'70s.
Located on the North Shore during the '70s, Brewer helped launch the shaping careers of several of his proteges, including Gerry Lopez, Reno Abellira and Terry Fitzgerald. He eventually began windsurfing and established himself as one of the premier shapers of windsurfing boards, too.
He eventually returned to set up shop on Kauai, this time on the north shore near Hanalei, where he continues to shape boards for customers all over the world. His 9'6" thruster gun (19-1/4" wide, 3-1/4" thick with a Derrick Doerner template) has become the standard board for intermediate surf, and he's made more than 350 of them in the past dozen years. Since 1994, he has worked with Laird Hamilton, Derrick Doerner and other tow-in surfers to create high-tech boards for the giant outer reefs of Hawaii. Recently, he has begun to produce surfboards and licensed sportswear under the name Plumeria.
Although chronically hampered by failed business partnerships and legal struggles over the ownership of his own name, Dick Brewer's reputation for making some of the world's finest surfboards has endured. He is a guru and master of the craft of surfboard shaping whose ideas continue to last. Whether it's our most modern bottom contours -- Webber first tackled concaves after seeing a Brewer interpretation by Greg Loehr -- or the late 2000s turn toward shorter, squattier tube-riders with tear-dropped shapes, fuller rails and noses -- think JC's Retro Rocket-- some of board-building most enduring and functional design elements flow back to Dick Brewer.
-- Drew Kampion