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Dick Brewer, surfboard-shaping innovator, passed away in May

“Pioneer,” “genius,” “king,” “icon” and “god” are some of the words those close to him use to describe the late surfboard-shaping legend and long-time Kaua‘i resident Dick Brewer.

Over the course of more than four decades, Brewer was the driving force behind innovations in board design, shaping surfing into the sport we know it as today.

Born in Minnesota, Dick Brewer moved to the North Shore of O‘ahu in 1961, where he opened a surf shop and became an integral part of what was at the time the epicenter of surf culture.

“We looked up at him in awe,” said Kaua‘i resident Mike Berkemeyer, who surfed on Brewer’s team while growing up on O‘ahu in the early 60s. “He shaped surfboards and had a business, and was out here living off of surfing, which we thought was the epitome of life.”

The legend of Dick Brewer began to take off after Beach Boy Mud Werner used one of Dick’s boards to pass Phil Edwards, at the time was considered the best surfer in the world, on a wave. After that, Richard “Buffalo” Keaulana requested a board from Brewer, which he used to win the Makaha International Surfing Championships.

“From that day forward everyone on the North Shore wanted Dick Brewer’s surfboards,” said Scott Mijares, a friend of Brewer’s who spoke to the shaper for his “Surf Stories” broadcast on KKCR public radio.

Coming from an engineering background, Brewer was on the cutting edge of innovation, experimenting with new styles of boards. He pioneered the development of the “mini–gun” in 1967 by cutting a 9’ 6” board down to an 8’ 6”, and adding a drawn-out tail, flat bottom and hard “down” rails to increase speed and hold. In the ‘70s he assisted in the development of the “ultimate small-wave board,” a 6’ 2” version of the twin-fin model.

“He broke out of the mold of all of the boards,” said Berkemeyer. “By the ‘70s he became the master. He was thinking ahead of everyone.”

Bill Hamilton, a Kaua‘i resident and renowned shaper in his own right, learned the art of shaping under the tutelage of Brewer in the late ‘60s. Along with specific shaping craft, Brewer taught “simple things,” Hamilton said.

“He’d stop and get a broom out and sweep the floor,” said Hamilton. “He says when you’re walking on an uneven surface, that transfers into the planer and then you have bumps and wobbly surfaces on the board.”

On Kaua‘i, Hamilton and Brewer were the premier shapers for years.

“He’s certainly influenced all of us that had anything to do with shaping,” said Hamilton.

One of Brewer’s most significant contributions to the sport came in the ‘90s when he worked to pioneer the sport of tow-in surfing, where personal watercraft are used to tow surfers into large surf.

“Brewer was so proud to be part of the birth of such a beautiful sport,” said surfer Darrick Doerner, a friend of Brewer’s who worked with him to pioneer the concept.

Doerner, along with surfers Laird Hamilton and Buzzy Kerbox, approached Brewer with the idea in the early ‘90s. Within an hour, Brewer came back with a tow-in prototype — a board named “Betsy.”

“Dick intuitively knew that they needed to be heavier, have less surface area and smaller fins,” said Mijares. “That was the beginning of towing surfing. He was there on the ground floor.”

Brewer passed away in his Princeville home this May at 86 years old, surrounded by friends and family, including Sherry, his wife of 35 years.

Doerner remembers seeing his old friend Brewer before his passing.

“He could barely walk, but he was standing there with a surform in his arm scrubbing a wooden blank,” said Doerner. “He looked up at me and smiled and said, ‘I don’t want to put my pistols down yet.’”

Community members will hold a paddle-out to celebrate Brewer’s life at Waioli Beach Park at 3:30 p.m. Sunday, July 24.

For Brewer, shaping was an art, not a business.

“While other surfboard shapers were focused on building their brands, Dick was just focused on working with the best surfers and making the best boards,” said Mijares.

“He let his surfboards speak for themselves.”


Guthrie Scrimgeour, reporter, can be reached at 647-0329 or
Source: The Garden Island

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