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Surfer Chris Brown

Chris Brown was known for his wraparound and his giant smile. Image: Screenshot


The Inertia

News broke over the weekend that iconic Santa Barbara surfer Chris Brown passed away. As of Monday morning, the cause of his death wasn’t clear but his body was found near Hendry’s Beach in Santa Barbara. He was 48-years-old.

Public Information Officer Anthony Wagner told KSBY News that “the police department is narrowing down more information to determine exactly what happened, but they can not definitively rule out foul play.”

Owner of the famous “Chris Brown wraparound,” Brown was once touted as the next big thing. For a time, he had Kelly Slater on his back foot, was often compared with Tom Curren, and by all accounts was on his way to becoming a successful competitive surfer. There was one problem, though—Chris Brown didn’t want to be a competitive surfer, despite the fact that he surfed far better than most competitive surfers. He gave it a go for a few years but eventually called it quits to live a life outside surfing’s spotlight.

He found himself as a world tour rookie in 1988 but by the end of the next year, he decided to take a break from it. Then, in 1992, he gave it another shot, but by 1995 he was off the tour again. Despite his lack of interest in competition, Brown was still known as one of the best surfers in the world.

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Then, Chris Brown decided he wanted to surf big waves. In the late ’90s and early 2000s, Brown made a name for himself in serious waves of consequence. He was a standout at Maverick’s—according to Matt Warshaw of the Encylopedia of Surfing, he can be seen at the bottom of Jay Moriarity’s infamous Iron Cross Wipeout—and quickly became a standout in the big stuff from California to Mexico.

From the 1990s through to 2006, Brown was featured in surf videos like 1994’s Cyclone Fever and Shark Park: The Heaviest Wave in California, released in 2006. Although he was widely considered to be a world class surfer, Brown lived a simpler life as a fisherman who surfed for the pleasure of it and the pleasure alone.

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As the news of his death filtered out, his impact was made clear. “We are going to miss your big smile and enthusiasm, CB,” wrote Keith Malloy on Instagram. “I really looked up to Chris Brown as a youngster, he was one of the only guys that could beat @kellyslater in the late ’80s and early ’90s. He went on to charge Maverick’s and become a commercial fisherman… what a legend. Thanks for your friendship over the years, Brahda.”

Kelly Slater also took to social media. Chris Brown,” he simply wrote. “So sad. Miss you already, buddy.”

“Just heard the sad news about the passing of Santa Barbara legend Chris ‘Wraparound’ Brown,” wrote Shaun Tomson on Twitter. “The entire surf community sends out prayers to his family and friends. I will always remember his huge smile, magnetic warmth and that beautiful wraparound cutback.”

Our thoughts are with the friends, family, and all those affected by Brown’s tragic passing.

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