John Kelly: Tireless savior of the surf
With the death Wednesday of John M. Kelly Jr., a family has lost a husband, father and grandfather, his surfing contemporaries a serene, skillful waterman, environmentalists a tireless leader from a time when few dared to take on the power structure, and all of Hawaii a humanitarian whose principles and moral strength never flagged.
Throughout his life, Kelly looked upon the natural world as an amazing setting for education and wonder. He came to Hawaii as a young boy, living most of his life along the Black Point coastline, where the ocean informed and molded his love for riding its waves, exploring its depths and for the Hawaiian people whose traditions and sustenance depended on its generous bounty.
He found his calling in those early days. Though he studied music at the Juilliard School in New York, and taught youngsters at Palama Settlement, wrote books and crafted boards that would influence modern surfboard design, it was the sea that nurtured his spirit.
As Hawaii began a hard turn toward tourism, he found the sea needed his care in return. Forming Save Our Surf, a loose cadre of friends and associates who ebbed and flowed through the group like the tides, Kelly doggedly protected surf breaks and reefs from absurd schemes to cover them over, beaches from being carved and filled, shorelines from unseemly development.
He was often seen making the rounds of politicians, officials and news reporters, a stack of handbills and thick folders of data tucked in his elbow. He argued with intensity, but was invariably polite. A smile was never too far away.
"Humanity flows ahead through powerful systems, changes and revolution," he once wrote. "Through it all, love and mutual respect for one another, for truth and for nature remain."
It is a soulful affirmation of an extraordinary man.
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