Steve Brown: trading his Hawaiian boardshorts for Oregon's thick wetsuit | Photo: Brown Archive

Steve Brown, the legendary one-arm surfer from Oregon, continues his adventures in the waves, beating the odds of surviving Stage IV lung cancer. He is living proof surfing is for life.

May 27, 2022

It's 1:42 pm, and I'm on the Honolulu Airport tarmac, having arrived from Portland, Oregon.

Two days ago, I surfed Shorty's, also known on Surfline as Smugglers Cove.

It was a lovely spring day in Oregon, 57 °F (13.8 °C), with no rain, and the water temperature all the way up to 50-52 °F (10-11 °C).

Figuring the only way I was going to surf in March and April, I bought an O'Neill 5/4 wetsuit with an integrated hood.

I missed good conditions by a day, so it felt great to get back in the water. Overall, it was a good warm-up for the Hawaiian Islands.

Sitting for 20 minutes, waiting for our gate to be available, I turn on my phone to check the surf conditions.

First, there is a note from Eddie Fiel: "I saw Toru earlier and told him I'll be getting your board today."

The second text is also from Eddie: "My wife's water just broke. On the way to the hospital. Will be in touch."

Plan B needs to take effect. I check Surfline; 10-12 swells just arrived from Teahupoo, and there's more energy on the way.


Surfing in town is my surf ranch - almost endless easy rollers from waist to shoulder high, year-round.

My goal is to surf like the ancient Hawaiians, not get tumbled, tossed, and held down. I can do that in Oregon any time I want.

My wife and I drop off our stuff at the condo and head to Surf Garage. Toru Yamaguchi, the owner, is there to greet us.

Besides the shop offering a great selection of beautiful boards and well-curated clothing, he surfs Rock piles and Ala Moana bowls.

He is a conduit for spreading the Ohana vibe with surfers, especially the Japanese surfing community.

I text my friend Kenny: "Did you hear about Eddie. Do you know anyone else who can cover for Eddie?".

Right back at me: "OK."

At 8:27 pm: "Sam, 808-xxx-xxxx. Let him know I sent you".

Kaka'ako Farmers Market: where to find local food on Honolulu | Photo: Kaka'ako Farmers Market

May 28, 2022

No surfing this morning, but Saturday is farmer's market day at Kaka'ako, near Ward Village, only a mile and a half walk.

My wife Carie and I snag local produce and some main course protein for the first part of the week.

Text from Sam: "Tomorrow afternoon, I'm definitely around."

We walk back to the condo and store our catch.

After a nap, we head to the beach to check out the surf. It's big, double overhead, and a visceral pounding when it breaks - North Shore stuff.

With caution, I paddle out with a promise to Carie that I will stay way inside.

I am positioned in a lull between the big stuff and a two-foot reform.

From here, there is an excellent view of the great surfers ripping it up at Bowls and the brave souls at Rockpile, knowing not to slide over with the serious crowd.

A few moments of awe are mixed with the thoughts of how to make this work over the next week.

Ala Moana Bowls: one of Honolulu's most popular surf breaks

May 29, 2022

Sam meets me in the parking lot at the little beach that leads to Rock Pile, Bowls, and Kaisers at 12:30 pm.

The same 10-12-foot surf is pounding away.

After a short get-to-know-you chat, we make a plan and paddle out. There is some smaller stuff available if we pay attention.

It's not the usual mellow island experience, more like Oregon with warmer water, but I will need to be on my game to make them work.

I am feeling pretty good about things, and we drift out a bit.

A 6-8-foot set rolls in. We're too close in to paddle out; if we could, it would only get bigger.

The first wave rolls in, we dive under, and come up - no big thing. The second wave is a little bigger, but still no problem.

Coming up, we both look outside, and there is another.

On the fifth one, Sam looks over to see if I'm OK. I am still fine but concentrating on getting as much air as I can for the next one.

After the sixth one, Sam swims over and tells me to get on the board, head toward shore, and paddle.

We get out in front enough and let the foam push us in.

Then, resting inside, we see there are a few catchable waves, so we decide to paddle back out.

After a couple of easy short rides, it's time to head to shore.

Not your normal day at Waikiki, but still a great experience. Maybe the week will shape up.

It's 4:48 pm and my phone buzzes.

Eddie's family has added a healthy girl, her mom is doing well, and his mother is in charge, so he is ready to go out tomorrow morning.

May 30-31, 2022

The strap on my board bag is broken, so I tie it off and start to walk to the beach. A quarter of the way down, the strap comes undone.

As I look for another fix, it crumples in my hand. I grab the two handles and tote the board 300 yards to the beach.

Big surf again.

Eddie and I have to work hard to find waves big enough to have fun but need to stay inside enough to avoid an angry ocean.

We manage not to get caught inside in any big sets.

This week will be a balancing act with lots of work, but I already have two good days in the water. Things are looking up.

Eddie tells me he and the crew surfed Threes yesterday afternoon: "It was firing."

June 1, 2022

The Surfline report for the day at Ala Moana Bowls is "epic." It looks to be close to triple overhead.

Rockpiles is smaller, but there's still too much energy to be safe. It is a lost day. I've got only two more days to surf, so I'm going for a run.

Later that afternoon, I walked back to the beach and saw Kenny.

He says he saw Kai Salas surfing at Threes. I get a chance to watch his moves and try to keep up with his paddling - epic.

June 2, 2022

The big energy has passed, but it's still 5-7 feet.

It's almost a typical day of surfing in Honolulu if you could ever say so - not too crowded, and with friends is normal.

All the hard work of the week is starting to come together. I feel good on the board, locked in and ready to rock.

Tomorrow's forecast is 4-6 feet. So, it looks good for my last day in Oahu.

June 3, 2022

With an afternoon flight, it's a bonus day, and the conditions are great.

For the first time in a week, it's possible to paddle all the way out, sit up and get ready for a wave. We start small to warm up, and then it's go-time.

Looking at an oncoming swell, it begins to hollow out at the bottom. I get a body rush. I've got to get this. I turn and start to paddle.

When you are 5'7'', a head-high wave is no big deal, but it is for me [surfing with only one arm].

I am lifted, look out, and see nothing but air below my board.

Planting my right foot, I tip over the edge, right down the face, and turn left, letting the board hunt; it finds the energy, and off we go.

Paddling back to the lineup, I tell Eddie what I saw on that wave. He did not see the early part, just me taking off.

Before I can explain it, the same thing happens again, and I have to go for it. With an even better position, I make the drop, glued to my board, and I'm ready to rock.

Suddenly, I hear screaming. It's Kate, old as I am, on her six-foot board.

Where did she come from? She was not near us; nobody was close.

I did not see her paddle, Eddie did not see her, and it looks like I dropped in on her, even though it was never my intention.

I kick out the best I can, and we avoid crashing. She is not mad or perturbed.

On most mellow days, this is a spot for party waves. Someone may be in the way, but it's OK to just go straight and catch another wave.

I get it - a very nice wave, big enough to require some concentration. I think we maybe just had the same idea and kept focused.

I lost a wave but made a couple of great drops. It will be a good flight home.

June 8, 2022

At my suggestion, Eddie takes my board bag to Makena's shoe and luggage repair, which is very close to where we surf.

The guy who owns the shop is a surfer, so it's an easy-peasy fix.

Cape Kiwanda: there's always surf in Pacific City | Photo: Kerr/Creative Commons

July 6, 2022

I am on a four-day stay with the family in Pacific City. My surf buddy in Pacific City, Sean, is working on his house but can try to fit me in.

On a calm day, I can surf Pacific City Beach, also known by myself as Cape Kiwanda.

But it is a year since I've surfed there, and with big storms and lots of sand in Oregon, it helps to know what I cannot see.

There is a new sandbar on the north end, close to where the dory boats launch. There's a nice little left, but at high tide, when conditions are best in the area, it does not work.

Rights and more rights, and maybe only one left. I am not picky today, and it was great for skill-building.

It's still a good day and relatively warm. Maybe 58-59 °F (14-15 °C).

I almost feel hot when I get out after trading my board shorts in Hawaii for my 4/3 with gloves, boots, and a hood in warm water.

July 7, 2022

Sean is locked down on the phone, building a house with a tight timeline.

Walking out of the back of the beach house over the berm, I can see all the way to Cape Kiwana.

Down the beach, a couple of hundred yards away, is a 1-2 swell with a handful of surfers and a couple of kayaks.

Someplace new - time for a small adventure. It's easy to walk down the beach and paddle out.

I get some friendly welcomes from almost every one as I find a spot in the lineup. The waves are small but tricky.

It's a typical day when you count two good waves as a success. And what looked good 30 minutes ago is gone.

Because it is never too cool to just sit on the beach and watch, I think about what I can do in the water.

Some days, it is just paddling practice and time in the ocean.

It's not great, but it's better than swimming laps at the pool and practicing pop-ups on the deck.

July 8, 2022

Surfing at high tide is almost always better in Oregon, with the long and gentle sand break. So, I plan my morning around 8:20 am.

Looking down the beach, I see some people getting rides at the same break. It looks good, so I head on down.

As I paddle out, I see the same kayakers, sit up, and see what's happening.

I am confident I can find something to ride on my 9'0'' with a concave bottom shaped by Tim Bowler of Shapes and Hulls.

Very quickly, it's just me and the kayaks.

It's a nice day. I'm having fun in the water but not really surfing up a storm. After a while, it's just me chasing waves up and down the beach.

Walking back to the house, I can feel my entire right side tired but well-exercised.

Stronger paddling is a big help to me. So, it's not two days wasted; it's two days of excellent training.

Otter Rock, Oregon: one of the easiest spots in the world to surf according to Steve Brown | Photo: Brown Archive

July 9, 2022

From Pacific City, it's an hour's drive to Otter Rock (44.73722N, 124.0615W), the only Surfline cam of a real break for 180 miles.

It is also the general area setting for the Ken Kesey novel and movie, "Sometimes a Great Notion."

I look down to see gentle slow rollers can be seen from the top of the roughly 100 stairs to the beach - a Santa Cruz vibe.

Shielded from the NW winds in the summer and open to the south for long-period mush waves in the fall, Otter Rock is one of the easiest spots in the world to surf.

It's noon, 74 °F (23 °C), and sunny (very rare, even in summer) - a true gift.

Today, I am with Dayl Wood, who works at Otter Rock and Pacific City. I want to learn about the break from a local.

There are many people in the water, but it's not crowded - beginners, longboarders, and a few shorts boards. Everyone has big smiles.

After a very short paddle out, I sit up, and here's a wave. It's a right, but I have been practicing, so it works. Same thing again, on and on.

After three days of struggle, 45 miles north, this is the Waikiki of Oregon.

I go from counting poor surfing days to good workout days to being fully stoked. Flat out amazing.

If only it were not a five-hour round-trip drive... I need to book a three-day stay.

Short Sand Beach: probably the most popular surf break in Oregon Photo: Oregon Surf Adventure

August 1, 2022

Staying at Shelter House in Arch Cape, we are only 12 minutes from Short Sand Beach, maybe the most surfed break in Oregon.

It's 62 °F (16 °C), sunny, the water temperature is 55 °F (12 °C), and I am surfing with Lauren Ahlgren of Oregon Surf Adventures.

I do most of my work in Oregon with her. She helps me immensely in conserving energy in short-period waves.

Right now, the wave period is 3-3.5 to 7 seconds.

So, the first wave comes fast. I do a quick pop-up, ride down the line, paddle back, and get another.

Then things slow down a bit, but there are still more decent waves than usual.

My friend Tom joins us in the water. He is a world-class age group swimmer and professional surf coach.

His pop-ups learned on the North Shore of Oahu are a little rusty, but he has a great feel for timing and finding the peak. His only concern is paddling too fast, too bad.

Steve Brown: surfing with Oregon friends is always fun | Photo: Brown Archive

August 2, 2022

It's sunnier and warmer than yesterday.

We walk out and catch a couple of foamies, looking to see what will happen - there are 3–4-foot waves, but they're steep.

Turning a switch, the waves lay back a bit, and it's time to surf.

On my first wave, I head down the line and keep going, riding it almost to the beach.

However, I am now so far from my spot in the water that it makes sense to walk back up the beach and paddle straight out.

Waves and rides come easy, one after another.

It picks up a bit, and I find myself staring at the air as far away as I have ever seen, planting my front foot and going.

At the bottom, my board wants to go left, and my body keeps going forward. I want another one, but I know I am getting tired.

Pointing the nose at the beach, I take a couple of easy paddles, hear the roar behind me, feel the push and ride the foam to the beach, WSL-style, relaxed, happily sated on waves for the day.

Words by Steve Brown | Surfer

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