Buffalo Brings Back Bodysurfing

Bodysurfers hold hands along Makaha Beach | Photo courtesy Todd Tamura

Bodysurfers hold hands along Makaha Beach | Photo courtesy Todd Tamura

One by one, they joined hands and stood along the shoreline at Makaha Beach. The human lei, more than 100 strong, stretched across the white, sandy beach. It was an impromptu gathering of different ages, races and abilities, a symbol of unity before the start of the final event of the Buffalo Big Board Classic.

It’s what Buffalo Keaulana visualized 38 years ago when he came up with the idea of a surf contest for all comers.

“It’s always been about family and friends and the chance for everyone to come to Makaha and enjoy the ocean,” says Brian Keaulana, Buffalo’s oldest son. “Here we are 38 years later, and the event has grown into a world-class event.”

Keaulana often refers to the classic as “the watermen and waterwomen Olympic games.” This year’s event brought out some of the biggest names in the local surf community as well as some special guests from the Neighbor Islands.

“Big Island Mayor Billy Kenoi and Kauai Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr. were here and they had a blast!” says the former City and County lifeguard, who manned the tower at Makaha Beach for many years. “This year we started off with rain, but the whole beach was still packed!”

And it stayed packed until the final event of the classic, a special bodysurfing session for Hawaii’s finest wave-riders.

“We invited the best body-surfers from all over Hawaii to compete in an expressive session,” says Keaulana. “The boys from Point Panic on the South Shore were there, along with guys from the Eastside and Sandy Beach.

We even had a few from Pipeline on the North Shore. Everyone joined hands and then jumped in at the same time. It was an amazing sight to see more than 100 body-surfers in the ocean together.”

Keaulana says the event came about after he and his dad witnessed a close call at Makaha. He recalls watching a young surfer fall off his board and try to fight his way to shore after the leash on his surfboard broke.

“He was swimming and tried to bodysurf a wave in, but couldn’t catch it,” says Keaulana. “Then another wave came in, but the same result. The rip current started taking him out to sea, and lifeguards rescued him seconds later. My dad was stunned, and I told him these days many of these kids don’t have the foundation to save their own lives. Some of them can’t swim, and many of them don’t even know how to bodysurf.”

It was at that moment the elder Keaulana realized he needed to help make a statement that being a strong swimmer was critical for survival, and relying on your own body to get you to safety was important as well. Buffalo decided to host a body-surfers-only event at his annual classic to drive home the point while still having fun.

“The bodysurfers were in heaven in the 4-foot surf, getting super-long rides on waves that are usually filled with a crowd of surfers,” laughs Keaulana. “There was nothing but heads in the water, and that’s what Dad wanted to see, just heads in the water.

For those 30 minutes or so, bodysurfers were the kings at Makaha.”

Keaulana says a friend visiting from Australia helped put things in perspective.

“He was blown away by the whole event, and I told him to ‘close your eyes and tell me what you hear,'” says Keaulana. “The beach was packed, and he said, ‘I hear kids.’ Then he paused, and said, ‘I hear happiness.’ That’s why my father did it, so others can appreciate and understand the happiness that Makaha creates.”