I love Brock Little’s quote about ’90s Pipe charger Shawn Briley. “Crazy people in general are stupid. Briley is relatively intelligent and yet he knows what he’s getting into, which in a way is even crazier.” I love it for that knife-flicking use of “relatively.” And I love it because it is the perfect description of…Brock Little. Is Brock less crazy than Briley? Maybe. Possibly. But you’d measure the difference in microns.
Briley, in any event, during his mid-’90s heyday, did as much with his share of crazy as any other top-flight North Shore psycho. Jose Angel was Briley’s match for sheer nihilism, and Jamie O’Brien flavors his Pipeline act with a similar level of humor and flair.
Then ’98 Briley played his trump card. Fucker just quit. Walked off the beach. Twenty-four years old and at the height of his powers. Tow-surfed massive Log Cabins earlier that year during the Biggest Wednesday swell, flew to Indo for a mindless two-week run at G-land and Desert Point, and lit up SURFER’s Big Issue cover with a Pipe barrel that Briley later claimed distilled all his previous Pipe barrels. “I figured I couldn’t go any deeper, bigger or gnarlier that that,” he said. “I stepped onto the sand afterwards and was just, like, ‘What more is there to do?'”
Wrestle demons, for one. Briley spent a good many of those newly freed-up nonsurfing hours at Vegas casinos and Honolulu strip clubs. Drank his way through an aquarium-size amount of alcohol. Found God, lost God, repeat. Finally settled down, shook his vices one by one, like Marshawn Lynch peeling off defensive linemen. Married a woman with steady well-paying job (always a crazy-smart move!), but pulled his weight by being a totally present and stable father to his two boys—the father that Briley himself never had. Then, and only then, he started dropping the occasional cameo at Pipeline, Teahupoo, and Deserts. Skills intact. Fearless as ever, except no more psycho, Evel Knievel, cannonball wipeouts.
Shawn Briley gives every impression these days of a man who could take or leave surfing. Appreciates everything the sport gave him, has particularly fond memories of all the friends he made in the water, will no doubt be stoked while lead-footing through his next bomb. But surfing the way he surfed back in the day? At some point that was another monkey on his back.
Shawn Briley became a grownup. Which is crazy-hard, but not crazy.