One of Santa Barbara’s greatest surfers died tragically over the weekend. Those closest to him say he was much more than his impressive career.
On Monday, Santa Barbara Police Department officials identified Chris Brown, 48, of Santa Barbara as the man whose body washed up onto Arroyo Burro Beach on Saturday afternoon. Mr. Brown’s body was discovered around 1:15 p.m. The cause of death is still under investigation.
“He wasn’t just my friend of 20 years. He was a brother. No one had a bad thing to say about him. Can you believe that?” said Eric Akiskalian, who praised Mr. Brown’s humility despite his surfing accomplishments.
“I met him after all that. He was just the kindest person … the impact he had around the world is incredible.”
Mr. Brown began surfing around age 10 and burst onto the professional surfing scene when he was around 15, said Matt Warshaw, surf historian and author of the Encyclopedia of Surfing.
Mr. Brown won the juniors division in the 1988 World Amateur Surfing Championships and quickly drew comparisons to Santa Barbara surfer and three time International Surfing Association world champion Tom Curren.
“He was labeled a prodigy and the next Tom Curren, but that’s not really who he was. Some people don’t have that kind of personality, to compete at that level.”
Mr. Warshaw said Mr. Brown didn’t enjoy the travel during his rookie-year world tour in 1988, and stepped away from professional surfing at the end of the following season.
He made a comeback 1992, but slid down in the ratings and off the world tour in 1995, said Mr. Warshaw.
Mr. Brown’s peak performance may have been a second-place finish to decorated surfer Kelly Slater in a 1990 Professional Surfing Association of America finals event.
The two competed regularly early in their careers and Mr. Slater expressed his condolences in an Instagram post.
In the early 2000s Mr. Brown reinvented himself as a big-wave surfer and frequented the over 15-foot waves at Mavericks surf point near Half-Moon Bay.
“When you think of big-wave surfers you think of the people who were riding their bikes off ramps as kids or something,” said Mr. Warshaw.
“That wasn’t Chris. It was so unlike his personality … I think taking on that challenge made his big-wave accomplishments his proudest.”
Mr. Brown’s father, Dave Brown, said that for all his son’s accolades, it was his smile people remembered the most.
“Talk to anyone and they will tell you he had the an infectious smile. He was well loved by all who knew him.”
Dave Brown said his son’s love of surfing grew into a deep, abiding love of the sea and he worked for years as a self-employed sea urchin diver.
He said his son regretted some of his defeats but was ultimately satisfied with his career.
“He was my first born son. I love him and I miss him desperately. He had a deep love for his family and his home. He didn’t like to be away from home, he had the opportunity to travel the world as a professional, and he choose to stay and compete locally.”
A memorial for Chris Brown will be held at 10 a.m. Feb. 16 at Calvary Chapel in Santa Barbara.
Surfers and journalists around the world posted on social media honoring Chris Brown’s memory, including South African surfer and Montecito resident Shaun Tomson, Ojai surfer Keith Malloy and surf film director Joshua Pomer.