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Buffalo and Brian have dedicated their lives to traditional Hawaiian values:
Treat everyone like family, hone your skills, and share your knowledge.
1. Richard ‘Buffalo’ Keaulana
By Peter Apo & Hoʻoma’a
Born in 1934, Buffalo’s father descended from King Kamehameha I and his mother from King Kekaulike. Although blessed with a royal genealogy, he faced a lot of challenges growing up on the Waianae Coast and early on, the ocean became his rescue tube, his place of refuge, his teacher, his mental health counselor and his spiritual center of gravity.
He spent so much time in the ocean his mother nicknamed him Buffalo. Not the Montana-Wyoming bison we mistakenly refer to as buffalo — but water buffalo as in India. If he wasn’t working – he was in the ocean.
During the 1950s Buffalo hung out with some of the legendary Waikiki Beach Boys that included Rabbit Kekai and Duke Kahanamoku. He met his wife Momi on the beach and in a heartbeat they were married.
In 1960, when he was 25, he was hired as sole park keeper for Makaha Beach Park after several years of job-hopping. There was a modest cityowned two-story A-frame structure on the beach with a bathroom and a kitchen that went with the job and so Buffalo and wife Momi moved in with their four children.
As a Makaha Beach lifeguard Buffalo’s rescue record was heroic. But driven by a strong sense of community responsibility Buffalo did not distinguish much between his function as a Makaha Beach lifeguard and other stewardship responsibilities he felt compelled to assume relating to Makaha Beach, however unofficial.
One of these included bringing an end to rampant auto break-ins by personal intervention with support from the local surfers and beachgoers. His evolving vision was to “Malama Makaha Beach” (to celebrate, preserve and protect), as a safe gathering place for families, a nature center with the ocean as teacher, a place for community celebrations, a surfing haven where surfers and other ocean users celebrate a sense of color-blind brotherhood.
Over the years, Buffalo, leading by example (he was not much of a talker), either directly, or by inspiration, triggered the rise of a number of young leaders and organizations following his lead with the ocean as a classroom for all to share.
In the mid-60s, the coconut wireless kicked in and Buffalo was widely acknowledged and celebrated as the Mayor of Makaha Beach.
The Buffalo Big Board Surfing Classic represents all of the above as the house that Buffalo built. One of his most notable accomplishments was bringing people together to take up the challenge and share the sense of responsibility, creating a community based trans-generational leadership structure of fathers, mothers, sons, daughters and grandchildren. This leadership structure is now in its third generation of stewardship.
- Peter Apo
How Hokulea led to the Buffalo Big Board Surfing Classic - By Hoʻomaʻa
In 1976, the year of the nation’s bicentennial celebration and the height of a hawaiian renaissance, Polynesian Voyaging Canoe Hokulea’s set sail on its maiden voyage of cultural rediscovery to Tahiti. Buffalo Keaulana was the double-hulled canoe’s steersman. After enduring 35 days beating in rough seas, drifting in doldrums, and dealing with others’ experimental ideas, Buffalo, 41 at the time emerged tested and toughened in his own sense of self worth and Hawaiian culture.
On return to Makaha, Buffalo got a chance to steer his path in what originally was the pastime of Hawaiʻi aliʻi, Larry “The Weatherman’s” suggested that Buffalo start a big board surfing classic at Makaha. The idea struck home. The classic became a collective expression of giving back to surfing and for 33 years has flourished under Buffalo’s sense of what’s right. “I wanted something for the old-timers to enjoy,” he said, something to bring out those who don’t usually surf in contests, something that doesn’t rely so heavily on judgement calls, something that uses big boards (10 feet and over), and something that is fun. With the help of his wife Momi, co-founder Adam Holbron and Makaha friends, the first mission was to clean up the beach in social ways. “No stealing for two days,” was the law. “I wanted the boys to feel what it was like to do something good.” Buffalo said.
-Bunky Bakutis, Hoʻomaʻa Foundation
His lifelong relationship with the ocean was as deep a relationship a person could possibly have by any measure of man’s relationship with the natural world.
With a very respectful but fearless sense of exploration, Buffalo Keaulana, now 88, spent his life mastering just about every challenge he encountered in the ocean he loves. Whether pole fishing, spear fishing, hand harvesting sea plants, canoeing, sailing, board surfing, body surfing, body boarding, and of course saving lives, his life’s adventure with the ocean and the enormous knowledge base and skill sets he acquired is the stuff of legend.
It would not be an overstatement that, if in fact anyone wanted to meet the real Aquaman – you can find him at Makaha Beach.
- Peter Apo
2. Brian Keaulana
By Hawaiian Lifeguard Association
Some refer to Brian as one of the greatest watermen on the planet.
He grew up on the beach at Makaha where he learned about surfing, diving and water safety from his father, legendary waterman and big-wave rider Buffalo Keaulana, who was the Lifeguard Captain there – this beach was their backyard and the ocean their playground. Brian became known for surfing the biggest waves in Hawaii, was a regular competitor in Big Wave surf contests, and went on to become Lifeguard Captain for the West Side of Oahu. He is credited with developing new approaches to water safety in big surf and invented the equipment to support it, was the first to use the jet ski in water rescue operations, and invented the rescue sled that the ski tows. This alone would be a remarkable legacy. Brian collected more than 500 trophies by the time he was 20 and more than 1000 trophies over the years. He’s been invited to and participated in more than 30 Eddie Aikau Big Wave surf contests on Oahu’s North Shore, famous for its huge waves. He has surfed in the ISL, ASP and WSL. He won the ISA tandem surfing world championship in 2006.
Brian is among the very small group of people that has won both the Quiksilver Eddie Aikau Waterman of the Year Award AND the Duke Kahanamoku Waterman Hall of Fame. Brian spends his life in the ocean and participates in every imaginable type of water activity including big wave riding, tandem surfing, jet ski, hydro foiling, tandem surfing, wind surfing, kite surfing, bodysurfing, canoe surfing, paddling, Polynesian canoe sailing, diving, scuba diving, kayaking, power boating, fishing, and ocean survival training (underwater survival and self defense training) and any other water activity you can think of.
While stand-up paddle boarding has existed for many years, he and his business partner are credited with commercializing this sport, making it available for the public when they launched their C4 Waterman brand of paddleboards. Brian is very much an entrepreneur, involved in many businesses, among them C4 Waterman (stand-up paddleboards where he designed and created a line of new ocean recreation products), waterman (government and military consulting, training military units and lifeguards around the world) and Honokea (design, build and operate surf resorts around the world to bring the joy of surfing to a wider audience). But, his primary vocation today is in the film and TV industry, ever since he was hired as a consultant for the film Waterworld in 1995. After this, the film industry embraced him and seeks him out as their go-to expert on all things water related. He has worked in various capacities (acting, assistant director, producer, crew, and is the go-to stunt man for Hollywood’s most dangerous water stunts) on more than 50 films and television shows, and currently works on Hawaii Five-0 regularly.
Among Brian’s accomplishments, he received the Medal of Valor Award, 1990 HLSA Sportsman of the Year, and was honored as a selected participant in the 1996 Olympics running of the torch, but perhaps his single greatest achievement is that he has been recognized as THE person to bring personal watercraft into the lifeguard world as a means of saving people much faster, especially in very difficult conditions and big surf. With this, the Hawaiian Lifeguard organization became the model for how all other lifeguard organizations around the world function today.
- Hawaiian Lifeguard Assocation
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