Thursday, September 1, 2011

California mourns the passing of another Surfboard building legend

Iconic Californian Surfboard builder has passed away

Newport Beach, California: Robert ‘Russell’ Brown, founder of Russell Surfboards, who shaped custom surfboards in the city since the 1960s, has died. He was 63. Brown hanged himself, the Orange County Coroner's office has determined his death to be a suicide.

Robert 'Russell' Brown founder
of Russell Surfboards at the
'Echo Beach' movie premiere.
Brown was known for his handmade surfboards, and had become a legend in the Southern California surfing community, since opening his shop, Russell Surfboards, on the Balboa Peninsula, in Newport Beach in 1967.

On Tuesday, flowers lined the Newport Boulevard shop, some with pictures of children with their first board purchased from there. 

Russell, as most knew him, intentionally never changed with the times. He didn’t shift his small shop Russell Surfboards to adhere to the big business of the surf industry. He proudly ran a core surf shop – you’ll find no clothes for sale, except for the Russell Surfboards shirts he’d give away most of the time. Boards were the business here, hundreds of them lining the Newport shop.

Russell Surfboards Surf Shop this week in Newport Beach, closed
as a mark of respect to the founder's passing.
The surf world is now mourning the loss of another classic surfboard maker, who was one of the first to hit the scene in Newport Beach and whose name was synonymous with this part of the coast. If you rode a Russell, particularly in '70s, those next to you in the line up immediately knew you hailed from Newport Beach.

As news of his death spreads, friends and loved ones are remembering Russell for his character, and his contributions to the surf culture.

Customers and friends have been flooding into his shop – which was just recently moved from its long-time location to just north of the Newport Pier, closer to the beach.

Longtime surfer and Newport resident Tom Cozad posted this on his website
A note of thanks and and a last
goodbye to
Robert 'Russell' Brown
[click photo to enlarge]

“No other surfboard manufacturer has had a grip on the Newport surf culture as long, or as strong, as Bobby “Russell” Brown and his Russell Surfboards has. The older Blackies crew can be found cruising on his boards. The younger Upper Jetties crew can be found flying around on them. And the Underground Point and School Yards crews can be found pulling into pits throughout the world on them. No one person has transcended the vast array of Newport surf crews over the years like Russell has.”

Russell laid down the roots of surfing in Newport, and soon the scene exploded with the start of big brands taking over. While Russell was still a household name in the ‘80s, it wasn’t long before most surf shops were carrying the latest expanding lines of beachwear, sunglasses, and everything in between.

Not at the Russell Surfboard shop.

“There was all this potential money making, but he wanted to stay in his purist surfing ideals,” Reynosa said.

He often ate any profit on boards – if a board had a tag on it for $400, but a young surfer only had $200 in his pocket, he’d say ‘just take it kid, get outta here’, Reynosa recalled.

Despite his rough exterior, Russell has been described as a modest and generous man who became a dedicated friend to many.

Floral tributes garnish the
door of the
Russell Surfboards
Surf Shop
this week in
Newport Beach.
“The thing that set him apart was his complete lack of ego,” Reynosa said. “He didn’t even understand why anyone would think much of him, or why they would want to take a picture with him. He could never figure out why people wanted him to autograph his surfboards”

Friends say they’ll miss dinners shooting the breeze, the life lessons he shared. They said they hoped to share and maintain his legacy.

“The past few days, people have come in and out of the shop. I never really knew how much he was respected,” said employee J.P. Roberts. “He loved to build boards, he made them all by hand all these years. There are not a lot of shops like this left, but we’re going to try to keep it going.”

Customers and friends have been flooding into the shop - which was just recently moved from its long time location to just North of the Newport Pier, to be closer to the beach.

Russell is survived by his wife Cynthia, brother Richard, and sister Nancy. Thousands of surfers are expected pay tribute to Brown on Sept. 10th and attend a paddle-out at Blackie's, adjacent to the famous Newport Pier, at 7:30 a.m.

Compiled from various US Sources, with special thanks to the Orange County Register, Tom Cozad and Nisha Gutierrez-Jaime for the shop photos and who is the local editor of the Newport Beach Patch.

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