Surf Shacks 004 – Russell & Brianna Brownley

Meet Russell and Brianna Brownley of Carlsbad, California. Russell is a director and DP who has produced such notable surf films as “Gum For My Boat”, “Promised Land”, and “Cancer To Capricorn”. Brianna is Senior Footwear Designer for Reef. Together, they make a pretty rad surfing power couple who are constantly on the move traveling the globe for their respective jobs. Check out their lovely home, beautiful newborn baby daughter and the full story here:

Meet Russell and Brianna Brownley of Carlsbad, California. Russell is a director and DP who has produced such notable surf films as “Gum For My Boat”, “Promised Land”, and “Cancer To Capricorn”. He is also the tallest ripper I know. At 6’5, he is still charging well overhead waves and busting airs with style on boards shorter than him. Brianna is Senior Footwear Designer for Reef and focuses on the newer categories of women’s shoes, boots, and fashion sandals. Together, they make a pretty rad surfing power couple who are constantly on the move traveling the globe for their respective jobs.

Recently (2 weeks before these photos were taken and a month ago from now), their family unit grew quickly when they brought their newborn daughter, Magnolia into the world and their happy home. I took a little day trip down to North County San Diego to hang with my old Flagler College roommate, Russell and meet the two lovely ladies in his life while poking my camera in their faces (and in every nook of their home). Here is there home and their story.

Tell us a little about yourselves.

We are Russell Brownley and Brianna Marks Brownley. Being an East Coast boy, I grew up traveling to California to surf. A mutual friend introduced me to Brianna on one of these trips, we traveled back and forth between coasts for a while, I eventually moved to San Diego, we got married, and the rest is history. Since Brianna’s only previous experience of the East Coast was going to school in New York, I’ve been able to show her a little about the Southern goodness of where I’m from. Brianna is a shoe designer and I am a freelance Director, Producer and Director Of Photography. We both love to travel and pretty much everything we do is an excuse so we can get out and experience the world. About a month ago we had our first child — a beautiful little girl, Magnolia. She’s the sweetest thing to ever happen to us.

What do you both do for a living?

Russell: I own a small production company and work as a freelance Director/Director Of Photography. I usually work on surf films, documentaries, commercials, or pretty much whatever people ask of us. Up until the last two years I was averaging 10 countries a year for different projects, but now I’m in LA a a lot more frequently working on commercial projects, which is great because it keeps me a bit closer to home. At the end of the day, I want to tell stories that inspire, that’s why I got into this in the first place and I never want to loose sight of that.

Brianna: I am the Senior Footwear Designer for Reef and focuses on the newer categories of women’s shoes, boots, and fashion sandals. I also spearhead the Reef ‘We Heart Collection’, focusing on building sustainable business and community empowerment through working with artisans around the world to design and make traditional handicrafts that we then use on our footwear and apparel. I work at the Reef headquarters in Carlsbad, which is nice because we get to enjoy the relaxed San Diego lifestyle and I get to be close to my family who live nearby. I go to China and Brazil several times a year to visit our factories, as well as travel to different trade shows and inspiring places for design inspiration trips (such as New York, Morocco, Guatemala, etc.).

Russell, how did you get started being a surf cinematographer? Brianna, how did you get into designing footwear?

R: I was doing a bunch of documentary work for different non-profit organizations and getting to travel across the planet telling stories along the way. Because I surfed, a lot of the stories started involving surfing and before I knew it, they merged. I was always the grom that surfed when the waves were good and hated shooting surf, but got into shooting surf when it was part of the bigger picture, part of the story. I wasn’t really ever a vid-kid and did’t hang out with any pro surfers, rather I would just travel to weird places and tell stories with my friends that surfed really well. I ended up making a documentaries about surfing in Bangladesh, Israel, India, and Haiti and somewhere along the way, Reef saw them and wanted me to direct a film for them. Before I knew it, I was on a boat with Tom Curren, Rob Machado and Ross Williams — guys I used to watch in surf vids growing up. Now I do a lot of stuff outside of surfing, but still love it when I get to shoot or tell a story around surfing.

B: I studied fashion design and fashion merchandising and meant to go into clothing design, but opportunities came my way that lead me into footwear design – obviously it was meant to be since I am a total shoe addict. I started designing surf-lifestyle footwear at Cobian and then moved to be the Senior Designer for the women’s collection at Reef a couple years later. I have now designed for Reef for five and a half years. I still design fashion footwear and apparel for myself and my own portfolio at home.

What project(s) are you working on right now?

R: A bunch of commercial projects here and there. On the surf side, I’m actually in the process of shooting and directing a film for Reef called “De Passage”. I am working with Mark Tesi over at Reef to put it together right now, it’s basically “The Life Aquatic” meets surfing. It’s been a blast to work on so far and should be done by Spring. Working in the surf industry can be frustrating, but the payoff of making a beautiful surf movie that people are stoked on is all worth it.

What project are you most proud of?

R: As far as the realm of surf films/documentaries go, I would say “Gum For My Boat”, “Promised Land”, and “Cancer To Capricorn”. All three took a long time to make and I still watch them and can’t believe I was there to make them. I really love what I do and am pretty stoked on being able to work on the kind of projects I get to work on.

Where are you both from?

R: Virginia Beach

B: San Diego

Where do you live now?

R: We live in Carlsbad, California. Brianna started working at Reef, which is located in Carlsbad, so that kinda put us there. I can work from wherever, but we can’t complain about being here. Her family is close (very helpful when you have a newborn) and I can be in LA in just over an hour if I need to.

How did you find your place in Carlsbad? How long have you been here?

R: We lived in Cardiff in front of the beach for a few years and loved it, then we wanted to try and buy a place. We couldn’t buy a place right on the beach like our rental, but being near the coast was important to us, especially nice to be close enough to the beach to walk/bike. Seriously, we looked for almost a year for a place that we could afford and that we liked. Well lets be honest, what Brianna liked. I liked most of them, as long it was easy to get to surf.

B: I’m pretty picky. I need something to be unique and have character, to get a certain feeling.

R: I was on a boat trip in Indo filming, got home after two weeks, saw this place the next day, put an offer down, and we’ve been here for 4 years.

What is your favorite part about the location and the space?

R: It’s nice to be close to the beach and to have such an open space, kind of a blank canvas. Brianna is the decorator, and is pretty good at it. I also dig the backyard and love having parties here whenever we can.

B: What grabbed me initially was the open beam ceiling, it’s still my favorite part.

Where did you learn how to surf? How long have you been surfing?

R: I learned to surf in 42 degree water in Virginia Beach when I was 14 and haven’t stopped since then. It’s been about 18 years now. Pretty much everything from my schooling to career have been planned so that I can be within an hour of the ocean.

Who is your favorite surfer and why?

R: Of all time… I would say Curren. He was always my favorite and now since I’ve been able to travel and work with him and see how rad of a personality he is, that kinda sealed the deal. I love to work with Rob Machado as well. He just has the best style and you always get so much work done. As far as newer guys… Craig Anderson is the man, he surfs the way you want to skate. Also, Ellis Erickson is pretty incredible to watch on a Single Fin. I shot him in Bali last year and was blown away.

What are some of your favorite surf flicks?

R: I loved Litmus, Untitled (George Manzanilla’s b-side film), The Teardevils Trilogy (Jesse Schluntz’s Masterpiece), Fifth Symphony Document, all of Thomas Campbell’s films and of course, Searching For Tom Curren. In all honesty though, I haven’t seen as many surf films these days.

What is your favorite board in your quiver?

R: I LOVE my 5’8″ Double Ender from Ryan Sakal. I’m freakishly tall for a guy that surfs, and that board is magical for a tall, skinny guy like me. I literally can rid it in double overhead Tahiti, of 2 ft Carlsbad and the board just works. Ryan just nailed it on the head.

I also love my 5’3″ Ocean Racer. I bought it off my friend Eric Melberg a few years ago and can’t believe how good it goes in all conditions. It looks like a bar of soap, but goes faster than any board I own.

Where are your favorite places to surf around here?

R: In all honesty, free time is of the essence these days between work, and the new grom. I love finding my own little uncrowded pockets of fun around here. Ponto always has something. I love the zone between Pipes and Swamis too, it’s always uncrowded and punchy. My buddy Kahana Kalama decided to call it Americas a few years ago. My friends from the East Coast, Jimmy and Zander are also believers.

What has been your favorite travel destination?

R: For work… hands down, India. It’s just a complete distortion of reality as we know it and I absolutely love it. The colors, the people and the overall insanity that comes with it makes it seriously my favorite place to shoot. I’ve done three projects there and am headed back in January. There’s waves too.

B: I love Bali, it’s just a great balance between culture and surf. Beautiful, great shopping, good friends, surf for Russell, romantic yet easy to have kids there. Russell has been about 10 times and I’ve been 3 times. Can’t wait to take Magnolia there as soon as we can. I also love the beauty and history of Italy. And Israel, especially the Sea of Galilee.

Where do you want to go?

R: I really want to experience more of Eastern Europe and Russia. I haven’t been to much of that area. I also have never been to Africa with my fam. I would love to experience that with them. Also, anywhere with a left point.

B: I would like to go to the Maldives. And the Amazon.

Now that you have a newborn baby, how will that affect your work and travel schedules?

R: Well, Brianna is on maternity leave for a couple more months which is great and I’ve been able to stick closer to home as of late, working a lot more in LA or contracting out work. It is different, but nothing we didn’t expect. We do still want to hit the ground running with parenthood and try and keep somewhat of the same pace of life we had before.

B: We’ve actually already booked a trip to Italy, we figured we might as well travel as much as we can while she flies for free! It’s one place that Russell has never been, so we plan to go in October, we’re so excited for it to be Magnolia’s first trip abroad.

How do you like to spend your spare time when not traveling and/or working?

R: I love doing pretty much anything in the ocean, watching films, and just enjoying being home when I can. Life get’s pretty nuts for us, so when we’re home, we really enjoy it.

To see more of Russell’s work, please visit his site here:

The Wuss Productions

/ Interview & Photography by Matt Titone

Matt Titone

A goofy-footed graphic designer who hails from the first state, Delaware. After attending Flagler College in St. Augustine, FL then graduating from SCAD in Savannah, GA with a BFA in Graphic Design and Illustration, Matt moved to NYC and found work as a freelance designer and art director. In 2006 he moved west to Venice, CA where he co-founded ITAL/C Studio and now resides a bit further north in Oxnard.

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