Remembering The Man Who Shaped Gerry Lopez's First 'Shortboard', Laird Hamilton's 'Millennium Wave' Board And Bruce Irons' Eddie-Winning Gun - Stab Mag

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So long as these moments persist, Dick Brewer will never die. Photos: Quiksilver / Surfer Mag

Remembering The Man Who Shaped Gerry Lopez’s First ‘Shortboard’, Laird Hamilton’s ‘Millennium Wave’ Board And Bruce Irons’ Eddie-Winning Gun

RIP Dick Brewer (1936 – 2022)

features // Jun 4, 2022
Words by Jake Howard
Reading Time: 4 minutes

Hands down one of the most influential and pivotal shapers to ever pick up a planer, master craftsman Dick Brewer has gracefully kicked out to the great lineup in the sky. From his early work with iconic board manufacturers such as Bing, Harbour and Hobie, to the creation of Surfboards Hawaii, to the Shortboard Revolution and breaking into the “unridden realm,” Brewer’s genius was at the center of it all for well over half a century.

Brewer was born near Duluth, Minnesota, in 1936, (five years later one Robert Zimmerman, aka Bob Dylan, was born in the same town). By the end of the decade, Brewer’s family had relocated to Long Beach, California, and by the early ’50s, Brewer had discovered surfing. In 1959, Brewer shaped his first board before moving to Oahu, where he was mentored by Mike Diffenderfer and Bob Shepherd. In 1961, Brewer opened Surfboards Hawaii in Haleiwa, the first surf shop on the North Shore.

Dick, Rocky Point, 1971. Photo courtesy of EOS.

A genius when it came to designing and building big-wave guns, his Bing Pipeliner quickly became the defacto design for Hawaii’s heavier waves. Early advocates included Buzzy Trent, Eddie Aikau, Reno Abellira, Jeff Hakman and Jock Sutherland. But it would be the Shortboard Revolution of the late ‘60s where Brewer’s visions really became a reality.

As the story goes, during the winter of ’67, after Brewer saw Abellira and Gerry Lopez riding one of Sutherland’s prized Pipeliners at Rocky Point, he offered to make the two Hawaiian surfers boards of their own. Surfing would never be the same.

“He told me, ‘Well, I’ll make you one of your own. Just bring a blank and come to Maui,” recalled Lopez. “He was moving over to Maui and he and Buddy Boy were starting a little surfboard thing called Lahaina Surf Design—L.S.D.” 

Dick’s forearms star in a Bing Surfboards ad, 1967. Photo courtesy of EOS.

“Reno and I both bought Clark reject blanks from Fred Swartz at Surfline Hawaii and we flew over to Maui, landed in Kahului and hitchhiked to Lahaina,” Lopez continues. “Reno got his board shaped. It was a refined Pipeliner gun—a 9’6”. That’s basically what I wanted. Every day Brewer would put off shaping mine until more than a week went by. Finally, he goes, ‘Okay, we’ll do it.’”

But then fate intervened once again as a small pack of Aussies, including shaper Bob McTavish, Nat Young, Russell Hughs, John and Paul Witzig, as well as George Greenough, turned up on Maui armed with innovative deep vee, wide-bottomed craft. 

“Brewer and McTavish smoke a joint and start talking about surfboard design. They’re looking at all the boards and talking. After about an hour, those other guys wanted to go surfing, so finally they pried McTavish away and off they went,” Lopez goes on the explain. 

“My blank was already sitting on the shaping room rack. So we talked over there, and I’m trying to tell RB that I want a board just like Reno’s. I want a 9’6”. I think the blank was a 10’6” and he cuts a foot off the nose. And I go, ‘Hey, RB, I want it 9’6”!’”

“But he’s just in the zone. Then he cuts another foot off the tail. And I’m like, ‘RB! What are you doing!’” 

“And he looks over at me and goes, ‘I got an idea, man, just flow with it.’”

“So, he made this board that had a hot dog nose, a gun tail, and man, it was not like any board any of us had ever seen before. I’m standing there going, ‘Shit!’”

Dick contemplating how to change the trajectory of surfing via craft, 1964. Photo courtesy of EOS.

What Brewer would ultimately shape would be an 8’6” by 22” dagger with a little vee through the bottom—it was arguably the first performance “shortboard” created. And while there’s still plenty of contention between whether it was Brewer or McTavish that “invented” the shortboard, it’s safe to say that that interaction on Maui propelled both men forward.

“You know, it’s the funniest damn thing, McTavish made this movie with some Kiwi guys and in it he claimed that he did it all. And Brewer claims that he did it all. They asked me what I thought, so I retold that story about how McTavish and his whole gang drove up to the cannery in Lahanina where we were building boards. I told the whole story about smoking the joint on the grass, going out to Honolua, Nat spinning out and breaking the nose, all of that,” surmises Lopez. 

“I told the whole story. Brewer is looking at me. McTavish is looking at me. And I go, ‘You guys remember that?’”

“They both go, ‘No.’ They didn’t remember anything.”

By the ‘70s, Brewer’s boards were sought after by the likes of David Nuuhiwa, Owl Chapman, Barry Kanaiaupuni, Sam Hawk and Michael Ho. He made boards for four-time world champ Mark Richards, eventually teaching him, as well as countless others, the art of shaping. But he was hardly done there. 

Chapman, along with his brother, would become two of Brewer’s most dedicated test pilots. Owl carved out a name for himself as one of Sunset Beach’s most progressive surfers, and eventually was tutored by Brewer in the shaping bay. The two subsequently launched Brewer Chapman Surfboards in the ‘80s. Their guns and big-wave designs would continue to set the standard for performance equipment throughout the decade and beyond.

Brewer continued to build incredible boards for big-wave surfing, and when Laird Hamilton, Derrick Doerner and friends launched the tow-in movement, his designs played a large part in riding waves that were previously believed to be unridable. Then, in 2000, Hamilton was whipped into the “Millennium Wave” at Teahupoo on a Brewer-shaped balsa tow board. 

A few short years later, in 2004 Bruce Irons would win the Eddie Aikau Big Wave Invitational on a Brewer shape. 

After shaping countless boards for countless epic, history-making waves, rest easy, Dick. Thank you for all the beautiful surfboards, dedication to the craft and inspiring so many to chase their dreams all these years.

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