Star-Bulletin Sports

Wednesday, August 1, 2001


Rabbit Kekai, 80, in front of the Duke Kahanamoku
statue at Waikiki Beach, will be installed tomorrow as
a member of the Surfing Walk of Fame in California.
Kekai says Kahanamoku, Hawaii's most famous surfer,
taught him everything he knows.

Kekai immortalized

The legendary surfer will put
his mark on the Walk of Fame

Surfing is his life

By Diana Leone

Life still holds surprises for Rabbit Kekai.

The 80-year-old Honolulu waterman will be installed tomorrow as a "Surfing Legend" on the Surfing Walk of Fame in Huntington Beach, Calif.

"Surprised me!" was the still-surfing Kekai's reaction when reached at his home yesterday.

Asked how many honors or titles he has received in his lifetime, Kekai responded: "There's a whole mess of them I've been getting. I don't know, I've been up there (to California) for a lot of awards ... surfer of the year awards, waterman awards ..."

He recalls that a few years ago he and some other surf veterans put their handprints and footprints in cement squares in Long Beach, Calif.

This time, the honor will be done on the sidewalk where the Pacific Coast Highway meets Main Street in Huntington Beach -- just a stone's throw from that town's Duke's Restaurant, said Ann Beasley, a longtime volunteer at the International Surfing Museum.

Beasley said Kekai and those honored in four other categories (surfing culture, surfing champion, local hero and woman of the year) will be asked to say a few words at the 10 a.m. ceremony. Then everyone will head to the International Surfing Museum for a reception.

Though the museum is not officially connected with the Walk of Fame on the beach, it does store photos and biographies of everyone honored in the walk since its inception seven years ago, Beasley said.

"Duke Kahanamoku was the first one honored," she said.

Of Kahanamoku, his mentor, Kekai said: "That guy's my teacher. He taught me everything -- surfing and canoeing."

Kekai's advice to up-and-coming surfers is simple: "Practice, practice, practice. Practice makes perfect and you get where I have been."

Still surfing at 80, Hawaii's Rabbit Kekai took off
and rode this wave at Waikiki Beach. To stay in
shape, Kekai shadow boxes and works out as
much as possible.

Surfing is
this legend’s life

Kekai was a pupil of
Duke Kahanamoku, Hawaii's
greatest surfing legend

By Kalani Wilhelm
Special to the Star-Bulletin

It's a flat day at Queens Beach, not a wave in sight. But for Hawaii surfing legend Rabbit Kekai, there's no other place he'd rather be.

The statue of Duke Kahanamoku -- his teacher and friend -- stands in the foreground. Kekai's eyes are fixed on the Pacific blue. The mauka ocean breeze blows through his silver hair but can't remove the look of appreciation and satisfaction that the scenery brings to his soul. He's in his comfort zone.

To his back lies an overpopulated city filled with tourists. What lies in front of him is what life is all about.

If the great Kahanamoku is the father of international surfing, Kekai is its son.

The 80-year-old Kekai is from the stable of original beach boys, from a time when wave riders used heavy boards made of koa, some weighing in excess of over 200 pounds. Back in the days Kekai calls the "hanabata days," there was no such thing as million-dollar surfing companies or sponsorships.

Surfing was less commercialized, days were simpler. During the old-school days of surfing, all you needed was a surfboard, a towel and a passion for the water.

As a child, Rabbit and his buddies would head to one of his many favorite surf spots for a day in the sun. While his friends carried their lunches in half-gallon-size mayonnaise jars, Rabbit would always come empty-handed.

"Never have time," Kekai said.

Kekai said he would never be hungry for long. He would pick the right time to head to shore and "borrow" his friends' lunches.

"When they would come in, no more lunch. I would always eat 'em," Kekai said with the smile that has been synonymous with surfing for more than 70 years.

Bodyboards, hoverboards, windsurfing ... there's only one real tool for the ocean.

"Longboards rule," said Kekai. "If there's no work, and the waves are good, heck with everything. I go surf."

Although boards are made much lighter these days, Kekai admits that it is a little more of a chore getting out there.

Surfing wear and tear has taken a toll on his legs. He still feels pain in his surgically repaired left knee.

The urge to rush the ocean is as strong as it was the first time. He'll still take to the water for hours on end.

To battle the aches and pains his body has endured for over seven decades in the sport, Kekai takes staying in condition very seriously. He shadowboxes, and to tone up his back and arms, he spends time on the rowing machine to increase his stamina.

"I try to work out as much as I can," he said. "Mostly, my workout is in the water when I'm paddling."

A MAN OF many stories, Kekai recalls the times when Kahanamoku would patrol the beaches, shouting out words of encouragement and advice to his pupil. Kekai said that Duke would speak in Hawaiian so his words could only be understood by the locals.

"Whenever they want advice, I just tell them 'go get 'em, give 'em your all' ", Kekai said. "He was a natural. Duke taught me everything I know."

It's these teachings of Kahanamoku that Kekai tries to pass along to the new generation of young surfers, like correct judgment of waves, proper stance, paddling techniques and wave strategy, or what Kekai calls "the finer points of surfing."

Kekai is happy that the passion for surfing lives on in the surfers of today.

In all of his years in the water, the thought of retiring has never once entered his mind.

If the legendary Kahanamoku was around today, Kekai thinks Duke would show his approval with a simple nod and a smile.

Asked to describe the perfect wave, Kekai believes it's all about perception.

"The perfect wave ride can be found anywhere. You can't just pick the spot. You have to be lucky enough to be there. Whatever the waves offer you, you take it and make the best of it."

Kekai says he has been riding the perfect wave his whole life.

"Surfing is my life," he said. "I feel good. I can surf forever."

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