Iconic Cocoa Beach surfer dies riding California wave

COCOA BEACH — With his flowing white beard, long hair and the tanned, chiseled physique of a man decades younger, Dana Brown was one of Florida's most distinctive surfers.

For roughly 15 years, Dana and his long-bearded father, George Brown, lived near the 16th Street South dune crossover in an aging white Ford Econoline 150 van with a raised top. Known by some locals as "the ZZ Top guys," both deeply religious men hung out near the beach at Robert P. Murkshe Memorial Park until George died in March at age 87.

"Ever since he was a surfer here, he'd dreamed of going to California," Bob Brown said of his brother Dana. "My dad never wanted to go. So when my dad died, he got the job (at Wildlife Watersports in Cocoa Beach), saved up and went on his dream trip."

Dana drove across America to California in September, posting photos on Facebook at various locales alongside the message, "Hoping this will be a great year!"

But on Nov. 6, Dana caught his final wave: The 60-year-old was surfing at dusk when he collided with a pillar at the Huntington Beach Pier. He never awakened, and he was pronounced dead at a hospital on Nov. 10.

Dana's family and friends in Cocoa Beach will say goodbye this weekend. A memorial surfers' paddle-out takes place at 10 a.m. Saturday at 16th Street South. Then on Sunday, a public memorial service is scheduled at 1 p.m. at Riverview Memorial Gardens in Cocoa.

He will be buried next to his father. Bob, who lives on Merritt Island, plans to create a 3-foot surfboard to bury along with Dana's ashes.

Another brother, Ralph Brown of Spring Hill, hopes to take a vial of Dana's ashes along for the ride during a future powerboat race around the world. In May 2007, Ralph and Bob set a Guinness World Record for longest nonstop ocean voyage in a flats boat by motoring 774 miles from St. Georges, Bermuda, to New York.

Bob called his late brother and father "legends of 16th Street." In fact, the Google Maps Street View of 16th Street South still features zoomable views of their white Ford van — with George sitting behind the wheel.

"They were not hippies, and they were not homeless. They lived in a van. They had their worldly possessions in that van. They were clean. They cooked special foods. They didn't eat sweets. They didn't eat meat — not even fish," Bob said.

"They had a real limited diet, and they were extremely healthy for their age. Matter of fact, Dana wanted to be on 'Survivor,' the TV show. But his Sabbath is Saturday, which would prevent him from competing," he said.

George and Dana appeared in various YouTube videos as a father-and-son team discussing Biblical history and prophecies. Dana also launched an unsuccessful online petition to collect enough signatures to run for president earlier this year — but his brothers said his 2014 online petition drive helped thwart Brevard County parks and recreation officials from trimming 16th Street South's dense, 30-foot-tall stand of sea grapes.

Dana hadn't cut his hair since 1980 because of religious beliefs, Bob said.

A makeshift memorial has appeared at the 16th Street South dune crossover. A blue poster featuring a large photo of Dana is covered with handwritten messages, and fellow surfers have covered wooden railings with dozens of seashells, flower bouquets and an "R.I.P. Dana" painted coconut.

An unsigned sympathy card bears this message: "Endless waves with your dad. You will be missed!"

Bob and Ralph said they are talking with Cocoa Beach City Hall officials about installing a memorial bench near the van's usual parking space.

Bob said Dana planned to surf in California for 45 days during a slow period at his job with Wildlife Watersports in Cocoa Beach. He and Ralph said their brother's surfing accident was likely painless — and it served as a fitting way to go.

"People that don't surf don't understand that when you hit a wave, you have two choices: go over the top, or go underneath it. If you happen to pick one at the wrong time — try to go over the top when you should have gone underneath it — it'll throw you 20, 30 feet. Evidently, that's what happened to Dana," Ralph said.

"I couldn't imagine a better way to go. I mean, surfing? I couldn't imagine a better way to go," he said.

Contact Neale at 321-242-3638, rneale@floridatoday.com or follow @RickNeale1 on Twitter

Remembering Dana Brown

A memorial paddle-out takes place at 10 a.m. Saturday at 16th Street South in Cocoa Beach. Then on Sunday, a public memorial service is scheduled at 1 p.m. at Riverview Memorial Gardens, 3751 N. U.S. 1, Cocoa.

Florida Today


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