Stab Magazine | Kelly Slater's Sprawling, Heartfelt Dedication To Childhood Friend And Early Rival, Chris Brown

Kelly Slater’s Sprawling, Heartfelt Dedication To Childhood Friend And Early Rival, Chris Brown

“I can close my eyes and just see and hear his funny ways and that classic style gliding across Rincon walls…”

news // Jan 23, 2019
Words by stab
Reading Time: 5 minutes

The surf world was rightfully shocked at the news Sunday morning, that Chris Brown—Santa Barbara fixture, Bud Tour standout, and perennially positive presence anywhere he paddled out—had died. 

Tributes flooded the social feed, as the last three generations offered their memories of Brown. And none as heartwrenching and fond as Brown’s childhood friend and longtime rival, Kelly Slater, who we’ll let take it from here, if you don’t mind: 

It’s taken me a couple days to even want to think about it. Chris Brown and I were nearly inseparable as teenagers. This guy was just such an excited, happy light in my childhood.

Kelly and Sean Slater, Nathan Fletcher, Shane Beschen, Drew Todd, and others with Chris Brown. Photo courtesy Kelly Slater

He introduced me to Al Merrick and Channel Isands. My brother and I stayed with Chris and his family on the Mesa in SB a couple summers and traveled to Mexico, Australia, England, Puerto Rico, Hawaii, and beyond with Chris and his dad, Dave.

We used to sit in his house and just goof off all day, listening to his brother play every heavy metal song we knew on his guitar. The day I got my first Al shape, when I was 16, Chris and I drove back and forth twice in the same day to Lompoc to surf cause SB had no waves.

We’d listen to GnR in his brown truck. He used to mess with Josh Bradury, when Josh would follow us in his car, by waiting at a turn signal, pretending his car had something wrong with it, even getting out to check the engine, until the light was very yellow and then [Chris would] jump in and take off, leaving Josh stuck for another light! Haha.

“Chris was so incredibly smooth and stylish.” – Kelly Slater

Chris and I shaped a board together in his parent’s backyard, each shaping a rail. Being from the east coast and riding Matt Kechele’s shapes, I had thick, rounded rails while Chris had been schooled on the finer, precision rails that worked well at Rincon. When we finally felt the board, we laughed and decided we had to have Chris reshape mine down to feel like his rail.

He actually won a PSAA event on that board, cause Al was gone for a month somewhere and he had broken his favorite board. I felt a huge sense of pride that he had competed on that thing.

Chris, Sean, and I made ourselves wooden boards to ride the ice plant down the Mesa in front of his house. I guess the waves were so flat all summer we had no better ideas. We would skate down the steep hills to the Channel Islands shop to pass time when there was nothing else to do.

It was so exciting being from the east coast, knowing Chris, and then getting to know the Channel Islands family. It was truly life changing for me. Chris surfed like Tom Curren. You would see the lineage in every wave he rode and being around that style as a kid was so inspiring. It opened a world to me that truly made my life a dream.

Chris was so incredibly smooth and stylish. We surfed together, competed against each other in CA and Florida, and surfed on teams together across the world. We had top honors together in Irvine at the wave pool event and then again at Lowers in 1990, as I started my senior year in high school. We even made a man on man final together at Hebara Beach in Japan in ‘93. And even as a fellow competitor, Chris was always supportive and positive and complimentary. 

It’s really hard to write this and dredge up the memories. There are too many to mention…staying together in freezing cold England in 1986 at Fistral Beach for the world champs and Chris’s dad would have to come into our room a few times a night and put money in the heater machine to keep us warm. We both had zippers on the ankles of our full suits cause our feet were too big for our skinny, little legs.

Even as an adult, Chris was still that psyched, happy, raw kid. He would get as happy as a little puppy when he saw you. The stoke was so raw and real with Chris. I can close my eyes and just see and hear his funny ways and that classic style gliding across Rincon walls. I’ll miss this guy…

Kelly’s post brought notes from surfers from every corner of Slater’s life. Most offered similar stories and deserved fawning for their fallen friend. 

“Love this,” wrote Shane Dorian. “Anyone who knew Chris will never forget his genuine, infectious stoke and smile. Gonna miss him.”

“Very well said,” wrote Rob Machado. “Such an inspiration to our entire generation… his style… his smile… And all around good vibes Thanks for sharing the stories. Amazing memories. Love you CB.”

“Such a legend,” wrote current Santa Barbara torchbearer Conner Coffin. “Thanks for sharing the rad stories. Brownie always made me feel so happy and inspired every time I saw him and always took time to say how proud he was of Parker and I. One of the best dudes ever. Miss you brown dog!”

“He was always the most excited and positive fixture in the lineup, harbor, or just cruising around town,” wrote Morgan Maassen. “He was so good to me and my friend group growing up. every memory of amazing waves I have, he was there too, haha… always a sign you made the right call on where to surf if you saw him out on a solid NW. great tribute, Kelly.”

“I was 19 the first time I met Browny,” wrote serial commenter and Not Fanboy, Jach Byrnes. “Matt Reynolds  @rjsurfboards paddled him out at our little known neighborhood spot and he just lit the tricky lineup on fire. I didn’t know what to expect from him as a person but was immediately blown away by his warmth and affability as I was his talent. He was so gregarious and friendly and his smile was instantly tattooed on my brain.

“Later living in Oceanside, Santa Cruz, and Ventura we crossed paths now and again and he always remembered me from that first session in Town back on Oahu, beaming that smile and radiating so much stoke. Any time he paddled out it instantly added so much more positive energy to the session. Even if I was having a shocker I could put it out of my mind just rapping with him and watching him light the place up with his talent and smile. 

Chris was a true gem in the surf world, a genuinely unique character, and uncommonly humble human given his stature – salt of the Earth to his shimmering, crystalline core. To say he’ll be missed is as euphemistic a sentiment as saying the sun is bright. 

“A lot of warmth left the surfing world with him. Aloha, Chris. Thank you for touching my life.”

“Beautiful memories and stories, Kelly,” wrote Tom Carroll. “Many thanks to you for colouring us with Brownies gifts. I only ever felt his energy around water, it certainly spoke a timeless language.”

Following the post, Slater was just as generous with long responses, as questions and friend’s remembrances brought the flood, which we’ll just go ahead and include below: 

“This one time we were in Cabo with Chris’s dad driving us around and Chris and I wanted to sing and the only song we could think of was the chorus to Kenny Loggin’s ‘Danger Zone’ and we sang it over and over. Such grommets.

“He got me drunk my first time when I was 15 in Australia with a couple of Aussies in Coolangatta and then looked at me like I was an idiot for being drunk!

“We got a west swell in the summer of 85 at Rincon with only 13 people out on the whole point. So many memories flooding through. Staying with us in Florida in the late 80’s, talking board design differences between east and west, playing rock, paper, scissors with Adam Repogle at the Sunset Classic, and the loser got their arm slapped every time, taking a boat into Hollister Ranch for the first time in 86 in the dark and surfing Cojo…

“So many fond memories.”

A selfie sent to Slater, with Anthony Ruffo, Brown, and Jason Magallenes.


Comments are a Stab Premium feature. Gotta join to talk shop.

Already a member? Sign In

Want to join? Sign Up


Most Recent

The Vans Triple Crown Of Surfing Returns In 2023

Can anyone beat John Florence and Carissa Moore in a three-week window?

Dec 1, 2022

What Will Airs Look Like In 10 Years?

The final installment of our editorial exploration into the nuances of airborne surfing.

Dec 1, 2022


Can A South African Cavern Queen With No Pipeline Experience Do Well At The Vans Pipe Masters?

Sophie Bell will have a steep learning curve in Hawaii.

Nov 30, 2022

After Years Of Tragic Shark Attacks, Surf Competition Returns To Reunion Island — And A CT Event Could Follow

"We compete at J-Bay and Margarets where there's the same problem." -Johanne Defay

Nov 30, 2022


Sharing Tubes And Hummus In The Middle East’s Surfing Jewel: Israel

No Contest does Tel Aviv!

Nov 29, 2022


Joao Chianca Wants A Pipeline Rematch With JJF

And ain't afraid to ride more foam to do it in the Vans Pipe Masters.

Nov 29, 2022

An Unorthodox Marriage Of Science And Surf

Cliff Kapono and The Mega Lab are changing stereotypes on all fronts.

Nov 28, 2022


Harry Bryant Dumps Crutches, Visualizes Pipeline Pits After Snapping Leg

“For once in my life, I’m taking something a bit more serious."

Nov 27, 2022

What If You Bought This Sumatran Surf Camp For $690k?

Making a blue print out of surfing's most recurring day dream.

Nov 27, 2022

Sierra Kerr On Greasing Full Rotes, Making Dad Cry & Her Concussion @ VSHPBME 

'I haven’t got my license yet, but I'm thinking of buying a little truck.'

Nov 27, 2022


“There Definitely Needs To Be More Girls That Try Airs”

Caity Simmers' thoughts on her Vans Pipe Masters debut.

Nov 26, 2022

Preview: Who’s John John Florence Flushing Down The Haleiwa Toilet Bowl?

The final event of the CS schedule is almost upon us. Let's dissect.

Nov 25, 2022


Dane Reynolds Said These Clips Weren’t Good Enough

Could'a fooled us.

Nov 25, 2022

Watch Now: Kael Walsh, Rolo Montes, And Al Cleland Jr In ‘Saturn’

Quik’s new 20-minute surf film is so good you’ll want to burn a DVD of…

Nov 24, 2022


How A Magic Island Birthed One Of The Most Radical Surf And Skate Scenes In The World

Mateus Herdy, Pedro Barros and friends in Red Bull x Stab's No Contest, Brazil.

Nov 23, 2022

The Uber Driver Turned Crypto Millionaire Who Denounced His US Citizenship And Whips Into XXL Nazare

"I do what I want, I don't have a boss." -Toby Trouble

Nov 23, 2022


‘I Thought He Was Gonna Grab A Machete… Then He Picked Up A Rock’

2x SSOTY Jai Glindeman’s drama (& left-tube) filled Sumbawa trip.

Nov 23, 2022


“The Inside Of Pipeline Sounds Like The Center Of The Universe”

Tosh Tudor seeks solitude at the Vans Pipe Masters.

Nov 22, 2022