Chris Brown 1970-2019

Stu Nettle
Swellnet Dispatch

The Santa Barbara surf community are reporting the untimely, and so far unexplained, death of Chris Brown. Both Keith Malloy and Shaun Tomson have each expressed commiserations via social media.

Brown was a Californian stylist in the same vein as fellow Santa Barbaran Tom Curren, but his junior success - he won the juniors of the World Amateur Championships in 1988 - wasn't followed by professional sucess. In his rookie year, 1988, he finished 100th in the world - pre split world tours - then 101 in '89, and 154 in '90, before he slipped into early retirement.

In 1990, Brown played a bit part in 'Kelly Slater in Black and White' as runner up to Kelly - wearing his famed star trunks - in the final of the 1990 Body Glove Pro at Lowers.

(Body Glove/Mike Balzer)

Brown returned to competition in 1993, coming 23rd on the CT, but again his results headed south: 40th in '94, 42nd in 95.

He then retired to work as a professional fisherman and chase big waves at Mavericks. It was at Mavericks that Brown played another walk on role to a famous event. On the 19th December, 1994, Brown was paddling out for his very first surf at Mavs when he watched Jay Moriarty get pitched from the lip in his famous 'iron cross' wipeout. That wipeout made the May 1995 cover of Surfer, with Brown visible at the bottom.

In 2002, Brown spoke to about that moment:

It was horrendous! First of all...[deep breath]...that was my first day ever at Mavericks. I paddled out at dawn with a few of the boys and the winds were hauling offshore and the swell was 20+ straight out of the west. The offshores made the waves so critical only a few people were taking off. I didn't feel up to the challenge so I, um...watched from the channel.

Jay showed up on a boat and paddled straight to the peak. The very next set that came, he turned around and went on the first wave. He was just charging as the wave hit the reef. The immense force of the wind as the wave jacked held him at the top until the bottom dropped out. At this point, it didn't look makeable, but he was committed anyway. The situation seemed to get worst by the second and he pretty much fell from the sky and landed with the lip directly on him during impact. Right at this moment, I was thinking to my self, um...I've never seen anyone drown and if there was a time, this would have to be it!

After impact, the first thing that happened, was his board broke in half. As the wave passed, I could see the other half of his board tombstoning in the pit. He was pinned to the bottom at the end of his leash. I later heard this was the first incident where somebody touched the bottom on a wipeout at Mavericks.

I was relieved when his head popped up just before the next wave passed. After going through that wave, Jay swam to the channel and back to his boat. I was shocked by the intensity of the wipeout and decided to paddle to shore. As I was heading in, I looked over to see Jay waxing up another brand new 10' 6". I thought to myself 'this guy is heavy...'.

Surfer, May 1995, Brown sits like a deer in the headlights as Moriarty gets pitched into oblivion

The experience didn't completely deter Brown. He became a Mavs surfer of renown, first towing with Adam Replogle and Anthony Tashnick, before then paddle surfing Mavs after the ski ban came in.

In the same interview, Brown said he was motivated to surf till an elderly age:

I admire things like longevity in surfing. For instance, there are a lot of good surfers that fall by the wayside. There is somehting to be said for someone that stands the test of time. Take a guy like Steve Bigler, he's in his early sixties, I think, and he's surfing better than ever. This motivates me.

Chris Brown was 48-years old.


crg's picture
crg's picture
crg commented Monday, 21 Jan 2019 at 2:04pm

I think it was either 98 or 99 and I'd got to know Brownie a bit after a few years living in Nor Cal. Mavs was huge, back in the tow days, no access other than ski's. The channel was a ridiculous 10ft quadruple up due to the size of the swell, its period and direction and the low tide. No boats were out only Jeff Clark, Flea, Peter Mel and Skindog as tow teams and I vaguely recall Grant Washburn maybe hitched out with them and was trying to paddle the smaller edges of a few. It was 40ft plus. Brownie turned up in the carpark and decide to have a crack at paddling out. He later told the story of how the inside reef was the scariest thing he'd ever seen and when he got annihilated there in a spot you usually paddle through he knew he was in trouble. He got caught in the current and washed about 2k out to sea and finally made it back to land way down past State beach over an hour and a half later. He then walked back to his car as people were preparing to send out a search party for him. He never stopped laughing and smiling the whole time telling the story.
A really great bloke, amazing surfer and human being.
RIP mate.

Irukandji kiss's picture
Irukandji kiss's picture
Irukandji kiss commented Monday, 21 Jan 2019 at 2:46pm

Chris stayed with us for a week during the Coke Classic in 1993(?) and though he was highly rated back then it felt like he was looking for another path. He wasn't of the same mold as Slater, Herring, Powell, almost like a different generation even though he was only a few years older. Vale mate.

mysto83's picture
mysto83's picture
mysto83 commented Monday, 21 Jan 2019 at 8:01pm

RIP Chris Brown. I remember that Surfer mag and cover shot vividly. Jay's wipeout was a few days before mark foos death in what was an epic el nino winter. Eerie reading about brock little and Mike Parsons being dragged through rocks and possibly bumping into foos body underwater