Friday, January 25, 2019

Chris Brown died

RIP: Chris Brown 1970-2019

Former World Amateur champ and Santa Barbara fixture passes away

5 days ago | Updated 4 days ago

Chris Brown, former pro surfer, big-wave charger and commercial urchin diver, passed away yesterday at 48 years old in Santa Barbara. Details of his death are unclear at this point, but we asked longtime surf writer Sam George, who’d known Brown since he was a kid, for a brief and personal remembrance of one of the few Californian surfers to give Kelly Slater a run for his money. Check back as more details become available. –Ed
It was during those last few tense moments on the sand, right before the Junior’s final at the 1988 World Contest in Puerto Rico, that 17-year-old Chris Brown came over and sat down next to me. Tow-headed, sunburned, contest jersey crisscrossed over skinny shoulders, his ordinarily toothy grin was noticeably absent. He was plenty nervous, and with plenty to be nervous about. As a talented young regularfoot growing up in Santa Barbara during the 1980s, Chris staggered under the weight of outsized expectation since he was a fledging WSA Boys competitor. That expectation being: Are you the next Tommy Curren? Not an entirely unreasonable assumption back then.

Above: Winning on the North Shore. | Top: The infamous “Chris Brown Wraparound.” Photos: Tom Servais
As a junior member of the ersatz Channel Island ‘team’, tiny Brown displayed a good measure of the preternatural surfing ability with which Tommy Curren was riding to surfing greatness at the time. He was cutting his teeth on the best pre-adolescent surfboard designs going — CI’s Al Merrick mowing out finely tuned mini-thrusters for a talented crew of local elementary school rippers. His father Dave was both his coach and WSA district director. Rincon was basically his backyard. So as a young man, Chris had all the advantages — and all the pressure.
Which is why at the ’88 World Contest there was no breathing room. No, “Hey, you made the final. Just go out and do your best.” There, in Puerto Rico, 17-year-old Chris Brown had only two ways back to the beach: the winner or the loser. Sitting next to him I knew he was feeling that pressure, just as I knew he knew that I knew. Which is probably why he ended up next to me and not standing with his coach/father Dave or fellow teammates.
After all, Chris had known me as an elder member of the CI team long before my current role as a Surfing Magazine editor; he’d endured plenty of advice from me in the past. Almost always the same advice, too: Surf for yourself. Which is how I answered Chris’ unasked question right before he paddled out. “You don’t have to go out there and surf the way your dad tells you to,” I told him. “Or how the magazines and sponsors tell you to. And you certainly don’t have to surf the way the next Tom Curren surfs. Just go out and surf the way Chris Brown surfs. The way he knows how to surf.”
So Chris did. And he won. And went pro. And got those nose stickers from hot surf companies like Billabong and Body Glove. And went blow-for-blow with wunderkind Kelly Slater, pushing him to new limits in the epic finals of the Body Glove Surfbout at Lowers. And competed on the ASP World Tour, finishing 23rd in 1993. And was PSAA Champion in 1994, Katin Invitational Champ in 1996.
And then… Chris apparently came to the conclusion that surfing the way Chris Brown surfed, the way he wanted to surf, wasn’t necessarily in a contest jersey. Or in front of the cameras. A disappearing act? Not exactly. During the early 2000s, Chris just moved further offshore, and in a literal sense, first as a committed big-wave charger and tow-in devotee at fearsome breaks like Maverick’s and Shark Park, then later as a commercial urchin diver in his beloved Santa Barbara Channel, where he forged a surfing reputation that had nothing to do with The Next Big Thing or Former Pro. It was all Chris Brown.
“Santa Barbara has a long history of surfer/fishermen,” says former harbor patrolman and longtime Channel boatman Jeff Chamberlain. “There’s the archetype, but the truth is that working that channel is such a tough job, so exhausting, that most those guys eventually morph from surfers into fisherman. But not Chris. He was one of the guys who actually surfed when he was working. A real fixture in the harbor and a bit of a legend around the waterfront. Always super nice, super respectful. Everybody loved him.”
“We are going to miss your big smile and enthusiasm CB,” Keith Malloy posted to Instagram. “I really looked up to Chris Brown as a youngster, he was one of the only guys that could beat Kelly Slater in the late ’80s and early ’90s. He went on to charge Maverick’s and become a commercial fishermen…what a legend. Thanks for your friendship over the years Brahda.”
Brown is survived by his wife and daughter.

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