Soaring, Surfing & Sailing


Born in New York on April 5, 1912, the older of two children, Woodbridge (Woody) Parker Brown came from a very wealthy home, headed by a father with a seat on the Wall Street Stock Exchange. Woody was expected to step into that position.

But he had other ideas and, at the age of 16, walked away from school in favor of hanging out at Long Island airfields, because he was crazy about planes. He learned to fly, and acquired a glider. (Gillette)

He met aviator Charles Lindbergh at Curtis Field on Long Island. Inspired by Lindbergh, Woody learned to fly in a Curtiss JN-4 “Jenny,” an obsolete single-engine trainer used by the US Army Air Service in World War I. (Kampion)

Woody virtually lived at New York’s Curtis Field where he became a protégé of Lindbergh, but Woody soon discovered that his true passion was for the unique world of gliders, soaring silently on invisible currents of air. His goal was to acquire the finely tuned sensitivity required to read the air and wind with nothing to hold him aloft but his own skill. (dlbfilms)

“Soaring appealed to me because it’s like surfing or sailing. It’s working with nature; not ‘Brute Force and Bloody Ignorance.’ You know, you give something enough horse power and no matter what it is it’ll fly.”

“Flying was brand new, then! Every time you took off it was an experiment. You didn’t know what was gonna happen. Every flight was a brand new flight. So, it was real exciting.” (Brown; Gault-Williams)

He soon met Elizabeth (Betty) an Englishwoman and they headed West to San Diego in 1935. The young couple lived at La Jolla, where Woody got into bodysurfing, then surfing.

He built his own board, a hollow plywood “box” that would float him so he could catch waves at Windansea, Bird Rock, and Pacific Beach. His second board – the “snowshoe” – was more refined.

He adapted some of the aerodynamic wisdom he’d acquired to the much denser medium of water. The outline was traced from the fuselage of his glider; it featured a vee bottom and a small skeg.

At nearby Torrey Pines, he was the first to launch a glider from the high bluffs into the vaulting updraft of the onshore breeze. He survived a couple of near-death experiences there and a couple of crashes riding the inland thermals. He became a soaring champion, winning meets around the state and country.

In the midst of “the happiest years of my life” (Kampion,) in 1939, at Wichita Falls, Brown flew his Thunderbird glider 263-miles to national and world records of altitude, distance, maximum time aloft and goal flight. President Herbert Hoover sent him a congratulatory telegram. (Marcus)

He made it home for the birth of his son; unfortunately, his wife, Betty, died in childbirth. Distraught, he left his infant son and all of his possessions in La Jolla and moved to Hawai‘i (he eventually reconciled with his abandoned son, some 60 years after the fact.) (Surfer)