Vale Dane Kealoha
A rash of premature announcements about Dane Kealoha’s death haven’t been entirely inaccurate with the Hawaiian today succumbing to colon cancer.
Kealoha was raised at Waikiki on Hawaii’s South Shore, a protege of Larry Bertleman’s small wave acrobatics, however he successfully adopted his act to the big waves of the North Shore and in so doing became one of Hawaii’s earliest travelling pros.
In 1977, the second year of the IPS - as the ASP and later WSL were first known - Kealoha finished 20th after competing just half the season. From 1978 onwards Kealoha climbed the rankings finishing ninth, fourth, and then a career-high second, after Mark Richards, in 1980.
In 1983, at the height of his physical powers, Kealoha fell foul of surf politics when Ian Cairns and his newly-formed ASP made a bid to overthrow the IPS. As the IPS was led by Hawaiian Fred Hemmings they still controlled the three Hawaiian contests. Cairns and the ASP made an ultimatum: “If anyone surfs in the Hawaii contests they get fined and lose their rankings.”
Showing a level of disregard akin to another Dane - Reynolds of course - Kealoha surfed in the events, won two of them, and was promptly blackballed by the new administrators of pro surfing. Rather than pay the fine and work his way back, Kealoha bid farewell to pro surfing and began a career in surf retail - he opened a few Quiksilver and Roxy stores, plus ran a surf school - and set about consolidating his place at the top of Backdoor Pipeline’s pecking order.
With his squat power stance, Kealoha successfully converted from single fins to the Thruster. Almost immediately, his Hawaiian quiver included three fins, unlike some surfers who held out with single fins and traditional planshapes. Though the Thruster didn’t require weight shifts like the single, Kealoha was fond of a quick shuffle amidships, usually after the bottom turn and before the curtain fell. His was an often-imitated style.
Though fellow countryman Michael Ho is generally regarded as the godfather of grab rail tube riding - so strikingly employed with a plaster cast at the ‘81 Pipe Masters - photographic evidence from even earlier shows Kealoha assuming proto versions of the same stance.
By 1983, the year Kealoha won the Pipeline Masters, and also the year he was booted off tour, the technique had been sharpened to such a degree that natural footers had finally realised Shaun Tomson’s vision of deep barrel riding at Pipeline. Kealoha beat another natural footer, Michael Ho, in the final.
In both his style in heavy waves and his disdain for playing the game, Kealoha deeply influenced the next generations of Hawaiians, including Johnny Boy Gomes and Sunny Garcia. He was also widely respected for his indifference to professional surfing, in much the same way that Wayne Lynch is in Australia.
Kealoha was 64-years old. He’s survived by four sons, three daughters, and two grandchildren.
Moe i ka maluhia.
Rest in peace.