California Bear

Filmmaker Greg Browning Reflects on His Generation’s Unique Impact on Surf Culture

For Greg Browning, also known as Geebs, Thursday mornings mean breakfast at Eat At Joe’s in South Redondo Beach. Greg and his crew of approximately a dozen others gather on the patio, taking up an entire row of pushed-together tables so they can chat about life, surfing, filming and mentoring the next generation.

Skateboarding came first for Greg. Surfing didn’t come into the picture until they moved to Hermosa Beach from Torrance. “Mom moved us [with older brother Jeff] to Hermosa, kicking and screaming, when I was 7 years old,” remembers Greg. “I had no idea what that moment would lead to.” 

Jeff, 2½ years older, learned how to surf at 8th Street. “I would teach Greg, and then once he figured it out, he would be better at it than me,” he says. Soon Greg and his best friend, Jack Doolittle, were south of the Hermosa pier surf rats along with identical twins Keith Brewer and Derek Brewer. “One day Matt Walls, who was a few years older, invited the Brewers and me to surf at 16th Street,” Greg says. 16th Street has a storm drain, so the runoff creates a channel that forms left- and right-breaking waves. “It was a game changer,” he recalls. 

Around the same time, the boys met Howard Eddy, a retired Magnavox engineer who lived a few houses up on a walk street. One of the boys asked him to shoot video of them surfing, and the rest is history. 

Howard filmed hundreds of hours of footage of the boys surfing. Surf in the morning, go to school and watch the footage after school. Greg believes watching those tapes helped him become a better surfer. Plus, Howard taught him how to fix broken cameras—a skill that would come in handy later in life. 

Greg excelled quickly, and by age 13 he started competing at National Scholastic Surfing Association contests. After his father gifted him an 8 mm RCA camcorder, he also began making films. Greg became well known for his silky-smooth surf style. As a “free surfer,” he chose not to pursue contests. 

“He is a powerfully explosive small-wave surfer but also has the ridiculous courage it takes to drop in on the biggest sets at the Redondo Breakwall,” notes musician Jim Lindberg. “He does all of this while being one of the gentlest, most laid-back and funniest guys you’ll ever meet. And he brought all that to his filmmaking as well.”

A cultural legend, Greg is part of a small group of American surfers coined the Momentum Generation, credited with surfing’s break into the mainstream. This group includes Kelly Slater, Rob Machado, Shane Dorian, Benji Weatherley, Taylor Knox, Kalani Robb and Donavon Frankenreiter. Some dominated the contest scene, namely Slater, an 11-time World Champion. Others realized the endless opportunities in filming free surfing for content. In 1993 Greg filmed parts in three of Taylor Steele’s popular movies, including Momentum II. Also, with the help of local photographer Mike Balzer, he landed magazine covers. 

Realizing the best memories of surf trips were the interpersonal relationships and shenanigans that go on behind the scenes, he set out to make a reality version of a surf trip. After reaching out to his friends, including Rob, Donavon, Benji and Kalani, he rented a motorhome and the Drive Thru surf videos were born. Greg filmed, directed and edited the first couple of films. Realizing it was too much work, he stopped surfing in subsequent films and eventually hired an editor. Greg not only captured amazing water footage but also B-roll on old 8 mm and 16 mm film cameras. The crew filmed videos in California, Australia, Japan, the Caribbean, South Africa, New Zealand, Europe and South Central America. 

“I pretended I knew everything just to get the chance to go on another surf trip with my best friends and some of my surfing heroes,” Greg shares. “Howard allowed me to turn my passion for surfing into a profession, which really meant I would never have to work a day in my life.” After 10 successful films that spanned the globe, the landscape changed when Fox purchased the rights and insisted on making changes the guys were not comfortable with. Additionally, the cost of music increased dramatically with Fox’s involvement. Around this time, Body Glove surfer Tatiana Weston-Webb needed a coach. Greg was ready for the challenge, and they traveled the world together for the next three years. 

Life took a drastic turn for Greg in early 2023 when he was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a nervous system disease that breaks down nerve cells and weakens muscles. There is no cure for ALS, but medications and therapy can slow down the symptoms. For Greg, positivity means trying to live the “best worst day” of his life daily.

Greg met childhood friend Dustin Maenpa in first grade. Eventually their bond continued through a love for surfing and then filming. Dustin, a film editor, worked on the Drive Thru Australia series. Around the same time Greg was diagnosed, Dustin learned he had pancreatic cancer. “It’s insanity. It’s surreal,” explains Dustin. “There is this daily thing where you almost want to ‘wake up’ because you feel like a wicked joke has been played on you.” Greg nods his head in agreement. Now the two have a bond they never thought imaginable as they both fight for their lives at just barely 50 years old. 

Greg has two sons: Parker, 24, and Drew, 21. He realized Carrie, his girlfriend of 10 years, was “the one” when she didn’t run after seeing his Star Wars room. They married in December 2023 and between the two of them have four children. 

In April, Greg, alongside Mike Balzer and David Nuuhiwa, was inducted into the Hermosa Beach Surfers Walk of Fame. “We all know what a legend he is,” says friend Kelly Slater on Greg’s induction. “All his friends love him, but now you all know a bit more about him.” 

While the ocean can be chaotic, surfers crave the feeling of peace they get in the water. Today Greg may not have the same relationship with the water that he had in the past, but he feels a similar peace and calmness at his weekly breakfasts. Waves come and go. If you’re lucky, friendships last a lifetime.

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