Iconic surfboard shaper ‘Russell’ dies

LIHU‘E — Surfing lost one its most iconic figures last month when part-time Kaua‘i resident Robert “Russell” Brown died in Newport Beach, Calif.

The surfboard shaper had kept true to the sport’s romantic roots even after surfing’s popularity exploded worldwide.

The Orange County coroner’s office confirmed Wednesday that Russell, 63, died by suicide at 3:08 p.m., Aug. 20.

Widely known for selling quality and affordable surfboards, Russell opened his famous Russell Surfboards store in 1967 at Newport Beach.

He owned a piece of property on Kaua‘i’s North Shore, together with surfboard maker Bobby Allen, better known as BASA. Allen has left to the Mainland to attend a paddle-out in Russell’s memory at Newport Beach, according to friends.

Over the years Russell made many friends on Kaua‘i, and the news of his sudden death saddened many island residents.

North Shore farmer Louisa Wooton said she got her first surfboard from Russell at Curry’s store. She would often see Russell around the island, and once gave him and his wife a tour on her goat farm in Kilauea.

“He was always helpful and encouraging to young and upcoming surfers,” said Ambrose Curry, a friend of Russell. “He always had a board that was something that anybody could afford.”

Russell sold many of his boards on Kaua‘i through Curry’s landmark store in Waipouli on Kaua‘i’s Eastside.

Whenever Russell would get a surfboard back from one of his team riders he would give it to one of the kids in the neighborhood, Curry said. About 10 of Russell’s surfboards are still for sale at Curry’s store.

“We just lost a great friend and one of the best guys with a big heart that we have had the pleasure of knowing,” said former Kaua‘i resident Mike Williams in the forum at Swaylocks website.

As surfing over the last three decades grew to a multi-million dollar industry, marketing fancy and expensive clothing, Russell’s store stayed true to its core, selling mostly surfboards. His Newport Beach store has over 300 surfboards in its inventory, according to its website.

Curry said Russell had many shapers working under him, but he still shaped and was an expert in every detail of surfboard making.

“We have lost one of the last remaining craftsmen willing to live and die being true to the values that once defined surfing,” said a surfer who posted a comment in the Swaylocks forum.

Russell is survived by his wife, Cynthia; brother, Richard; and sister, Nancy, according to a report on OrangeCounty.com.

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