by Tyler Brennan Vaughan
Well, actually an impression of what resulted from the Rob Brown interview. A reaction. Rob, PJ Raia and I sat down to talk about surfing etcetera and Rob is not quite the type of person that is represented too well in Q n A format. So here is a glimpse of Rob Brown that came from a few stories, musings, interpretations, yearnings, mishaps and backslaps. Oh yeah, and from watching him laugh all the way to the bank, soul arching his way through heavy, wide, elusive barrels.
Why? Why all this surfing? Could I rip a contest to win? I want to. Could I get the wave of the day? Iʼm waiting. Could I land a full rotation air? I doubt it. Could I catch the biggest wave of my life?
If I wanted it bad enough …
Milestones and benchmarks for a surfer. Contests, maneuvers, exposure, trips, waves, sessions. Yeah, yeah; itʼs all about the ride . . . and it is all about the ride. But what about that ride? What about that infinitesimal minute component of all the rest is going to seep through and make that rest reflect that ride? Whatʼs the point, any way? Would I feel any different if I did win that contest? Or catch that wave? Or charge that session? Would something change? Would I even know that I had caught the biggest wave of my life? Or that that was the session? The breakthrough session. Would it be monumental for me? Would I then walk the streets with the same unbreakable demeanor that I employed to descend that threatening wall of water? Does it matter that my mammoth wave would be a wave of no consequence to another surfer?
Enter Rob Brown. Hawaii. Mexico. Tow sessions at cold-water slabs. Images of this sort emerge when I think about Rob. Then more personal images, more ordinary; a lanky kid with a friendly disposition, an eager storyteller with a quick smile. These casual constructions quickly become a lighter foreground to a foreboding background; Outer Reefs,heavy water charging, alone in the deep sea. Then lighthearted Rob again; laughing, beers, joking with the boys. Then that ominous background again; big olʼ stack of boards behind him; 7ʼ0, 7ʼ2, 7ʼ6 . . . 9ʼ0? If he was riding a shortboard today, and it was double overhead, what is it going to look like when itʼs 9ʼ0 time?
This is my mind space as I head over to interview Rob, with Ryan capturing our discussion on video and PJ hanging around to chime in. Rob is an accomplished professional surfer and has been getting considerable exposure over recent years. For the past decade, Rob has been putting in time on the North Shore of Hawaii, building a lifestyle and career that pays off with big waves and experience, sponsors, media recognition, respect amongst peers and reverence from admirers.
Robert Cowan Brown is from Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina and is 27 years old. Born into a family of sailors, he enjoyed summers taking sailing classes on the sound between Wilmington and Wrightsville. His real interest, however, would lay on the seafaring side of the barrier island. He began surfing when he was just seven years old and not only has it remained his greatest passion, but is also his livelihood. “The first surfboard I ever had was a blue foam board that, like, my great uncle was trying tothrow out. The thing weighed like, well I guess it probably only weighed like fifty pounds but I was so young that it was like 300 pounds. I logged it all the way back to my house. Never rode it.” Fortunately, Rob would soon after take to the waters on a different board, a 5ʼ2” Bone. He hasnʼt looked back since.
Competing as a young kid, Rob developed a prominent amateur career. His parents took him to surfing contests, never to win, he recalls, but as something fun to do as a family, like going to a soccer game. “My parents have never once taken me to a surf contest to win,” Rob reflects. “Itʼs what they were taking their kids to do. I have never been pressured into winning . . . because I fucking canʼt,” he jokes. Rob made up for what he lacked in competitive luster the only truly valid way a professional surfer can; he did real time in Hawaii. “I was sixteen my first time in Hawaii. I mean, I was scared shitless man. First time I ever surfed Sunset, I got so worked. I didnʼt know what I was doing. It has taken me ten years solid to even come close.”
Rob identifies fellow North Carolina charger Jesse Hines as someone who inspired him to go to Hawaii and pursue his dreams of riding big waves. “Jesse Hines had a Counter Culture ad of him bottom turning on a Pipe wave, and I could relate to Jesse because… Iʼd just relate to him like, ʻOh man, hereʼs this guy that surfs Hawaii.ʼ Thatʼs what did it for me, I was like, ʻWhoa, someone from here can do that?ʼ ” Rob also cites Richard and Matt Gilligan, Chris Curry, Todd Morcom, Peter Mendia and Baron Knowlton as key surfers that motivated him to take that next step and go to Hawaii.
Appreciation for the contributions of others seems to play an important role in Robʼs approach to surfing and to life in general, and he is eager to help others in the pursuit of their dreams. “Right now, everyone wants it for themselves. And if you can give it to somebody else, thatʼs the best thing you can do,” Rob says thoughtfully. He explains that he is interested in starting a scholarship that would reward recipients with a surf trip to an exotic location, in exchange for working hard and making good grades in school. “You make them know, that if you want to get this, you gotta earn it.”
Rob Brown is a surfer in a really fundamental and refreshing way. He uses his medium to define himself. To investigate whatʼs important to him. To direct his energies. To see what heʼs made of. Heʼs an artist. In a surfing world flooded with overwhelming and hard-to-relate-to ariel antics and super technical maneuvers, Rob is more of a purist, “Go straight and get barreled, man.” Rob is into riding waves; big, powerful, hollow, scary waves. Like a true artist he is not selfish. He wants to give. He wants you to know that pushing yourself and your surfing is realistic, and that itʼs worth it. Who cares if I canʼt rip a wave to pieces or do a frontside inverted slob air reverse? I wouldnʼt be any cooler if I could. But I can challenge myself to catch a bigger wave, to test my limits, to leave my comfort zone, to bet on myself. To be a fucking surfer. It might not be a Pipeline set on the North Shore. It might, it might not. It probably wonʼt be tow-ins on a cold water beast of a slab that photographically looks a bit like the Tahitian freak wave. It might though. I might not stand next to a mountain of water, breaking on a barrier reef a mile out to sea, poised and straight legged in the mouth of a gaping barrel. Itʼs possible, though. The only given is that, as surfers, we can challenge ourselves to test our own boundaries for all the right reasons, and Rob Brown aspires, and inspires, to do just that.