At 94, surf legend Woody Brown has had his share of ups and downs. The sometimes thrilling, often inspirational film “Of Wind and Waves: The Life of Woody Brown” smartly and succinctly tells his story.
Written and directed by David L. Brown (no relation) of Brisbane, the hourlong documentary starts from Woody’s privileged birth in New York and follows the iconoclast, who piloted gliders and sailed cataramarans as well as surfed, through his present-day life in Hawaii. Happily, though with fewer teeth than in earlier days, he’s still going strong.
The filmmaker, who first met Woody when he directed “Surfing for Life,” a cool movie about senior surfers, has compiled some nifty historical footage. There are pictures of Woody’s early days flying — he hung out with Charles Lindbergh right before the aviator made his record-breaking flight — and his pioneering days riding big waves in Waikiki and on Oahu’s North Shore in the 1940s.
Woody built what’s known as the first modern-day catamaran, the precursor to today’s popular Hobie-Cats (creator Hobie Alter admits he got the idea from Brown in the movie) and went on to spend years earning a relatively modest living in Hawaii taking thrill-seeking tourists out on wild, wave-catching rides on the boat he crafted.
Luminaries of the surf world check in, too. Woody’s contemporaries, Wally Froiseth, Joe Quigg, Peter Cole and Fred Van Dyke, appear, as do younger stars such as the likes of David Kalama and Laird Hamilton. Hamilton describes an indebtedness to Brown, calling him an example of “imaginative grandeur” in a time, unlike today, when men went out alone to challenge the sea.
Surfing’s most famous tragedy, the 1943 disappearance of big wave rider Dickie Cross, is also noted. Woody was the last person to see Cross alive, going over a fall, before he was swallowed alive by the ocean.
While Woody has led a life filled with glee, glamorous danger and a refreshing ability to go his own way — all attractive qualities — what’s equally appealing about “Of Wind and Water” is a less adventurous, but equally compelling drama, of the man’s family life.
Clearly knowing he’s got a character that easily fills the screen, director Brown focuses extensively on Woody himself, who narrates many elements of his own life story. He begins with how, having no use for the money and city life into which he was born, he fled the East for Southern California as a teen. And how he fell in love with a beautiful young woman, whom he married.
But his blissful life with his bride and her young daughter was cut short when his wife died after giving birth to their son. Unable to handle the grief, Woody sent the children away.
He didn’t see them again for decades.
Their poignant reunion is captured in “Of Wind and Waves,” in scenes that are as emotionally wrenching as the surf scenes are exciting. What could be more tear-jerking than watching a 94-year-old and his septuagenarian children forgive each other?
Woody’s Hawaiian-born children round out the highly satisfying tale of a man whose dedication to nature, simplicity, freedom and fun provide inspiration for all.
Of Wind and Waves: The Life of Woody Brown ???½
Starring Woody Brown
Written and directed by David L. Brown
Running time 63 minutes
Screening today through Sunday at the Red Vic, 1727 Haight St., San Francisco, and Dec. 5 through Dec. 7 at the San Rafael Film Center, 1118 Fourth St., San Rafael
Info Director David Brown will appear at all evening screenings of the movie; visit www.ofwindandwaves.com for details