Jazz-man, Oahu fireman, lifeguard, a hipster when that meant you were well-read, open-minded, broadly-traveled, copacetic. Kimo is a literate hellman and a story talker of the first water. His occasional deliveries of small, first-person weavings are greeted in the TSJ editorial office like Christmas gifts and quickly set into issues. Ease into this collection like a Hawaiian tasting menu. If you find that it’s your style, there is much more Kimo to be found in our archives, free to Journal subscribers. —Scott Hulet
A day after the Surf Auction, Greg Noll called and said he wanted us to do a book signing for his new book, The Art of the Surfboard, at Joe Green’s shop, Surf and Sea, in Haleiwa. I figured a soft one, right down the road and a couple hours at most. The usual suspects signing were Henry Preece, Rabbit Kekai, Peter Cole, Ray Beatty, the imposing Bull, and myself. When I got there, Joe and his crew were setting up the scene. How would I describe it? Intimate. The Surf and Sea kids are efficient and nice. I do most of my surf business there. The people were milling around outside waiting for the big happening. Greg was moving around doing greetings. His lovely wife, Laura, who has probably done a thousand of these things, was tending to the details. A signal from Joe, and it was on.
We surfers have changed. Fifty years ago, we wouldn’t have been caught dead doing this kind of thing. Now, we have mellowed and feel privileged to do it. I was seated between Peter and Rabbit. I tried to glean from them the proper method to be used. They talked story a little bit before signing. I ended up copying Henry, sign and “next.” The people were beautiful, a thoroughly mixed bag, what you would expect being in Hawaii. I couldn’t believe how eager and sincere they were to meet us. Greg set the tone. They were there to meet him, and we were side orders.
After one hour, I was beat. The line never seemed to get shorter, and the books never ran out. Peter started a little complaining. I glanced over at Henry who remained stoic to the task. Again, I copied him. After the second hour, Peter’s complaints got louder. When he left to use the restroom, Greg got the kids to pile boxes of the books on his table. When he returned, everyone had a good laugh. Finally, the Nolls called it quits. The people left happy, and we were glad to be of service. Peter was tired. Greg thanked him, and he split for home. Joe passed out some fancy slippers, and my wife, Bunnie, got a pair. She was thrilled. Joe told us to go upstairs for grinds that his wife had ordered from the local okazu. Ray said that he had business elsewhere, and he also left. We trudged upstairs where the table was being set. Henry was thirsty, not hungry, and he split for cold beers. The finished setting looked like a lot of food, maybe too much. Yeah, right. There were other people there, but Greg, Rabbit, and I did most of the damage. It was sooooo ono.
For the aged, surfing on the North Shore is a constant struggle. Half the time, there are no open channels to paddle out. If you don’t time the sets right, you’re beat up before you even catch a wave. Once you make it out, it’s a fight to stay lined up. Strong, ever-changing currents pull you out of position. This necessitates that you can never stop concentrating or paddling. It wears you down. When you finally do catch a wave, you’re so tired you can hardly stand up and ride. After you complete your ride, you again face the daunting task of making it back out. If you don’t paddle with all your might, the inshore currents will wash you up or down the beach or back to shore. And, this is only in six-foot surf. Once the sun comes out, the wind picks up and blows right through you. If a rainsquall comes down, you’re chilled to the bone. If there is no wind or cloud cover, you bake, and your eyes ache. Nine out of ten days, you’re left gasping. You can barely make it to your car with your board. You live for that one day when everything falls into place, and you get to feel young again.
The majority of the alarms for the fire service are medical emergencies. The number and location of fire stations are determined by the Fire Insurance Rating Bureaus. This insures that the proximity of a station is within a minimum response time to population centers. Because there is a wider distribution of fire stations than ambulance units and the response times are shorter, the fire service responds to all pertinent medical emergencies to aid and assist the ambulance service.
A church. There are large immigrant populations in Hawaii. The centers of immigrant life here are the churches. The leaders of these churches are absolute in their control over their congregations. We responded to a respiratory alarm. It was a Sunday morning, and the place was packed. We had a difficult time getting to the victim. The people wouldn’t get out of our way. They were afraid of moving and offending the pastor who was in the midst of his sermon. I do think that he should have stopped and let us do our thing. Instead, we had to climb over and around pews with our equipment to reach the stricken unfortunate. When the people finally did move, the pastor admonished them for not paying proper attention to him and his sermon. What a jerk.
A prison. The guards opened the gates, and we followed a utility truck on our rig to the proper building. The guards opened the doors of the building and led us to a large room containing a number of prisoners and a respiratory victim lying on the floor. The guards then left the room and watched us from behind locked doors. To me, that felt odd. Weren’t they supposed to protect us while we tried to resuscitate the inmate? The punk prisoners were shouting, “Let that fucker die.” They started to cap on us. Firefighters are tough dudes. They don’t take shit kindly. I told them to ignore those pricks and concentrate on saving the victim. You know, I can see the prisoners acting like jerks. That’s why they are prisoners. But, I can’t see the guards leaving us unprotected in that room.
A country club. The place was filled with Honolulu’s elite. The victim, again respiratory, was lying halfway under a table. On the table, a full-on craps game was in progress. It must have been “Vegas Night.” The players were shouting and waving dollar bills in their hands as one of them made a run. I thought to myself, “I wonder if this poor guy is their friend?” Some friends. The action never stopped. It’s like no one cared or even knew that we were there.
THE BLUE TENT CREW TO THE RESCUE
The surf industry is not fulfilling its obligation to educate its clientele to the dangers of surfing. The surf forecasters don’t always get it right. The North Shore is a dangerous place. My neighborhood break was closing out so I drifted over to Alii Beach to spy on those guys. It was open with a couple of shortboarders and a lone standup paddle surfer out. I grabbed my beach chair for an extended look-see. As I settled in, a group of the cutest little Japanese-girl-boogie-boarders walked down the sand, geared up, and paddled out. I’ve given up trying to advise the young kids about what they should or shouldn’t do. The guys standing next to me were similarly silent.
The girls made it to the lineup and were catching some beautiful waves when things began to change. Huge set waves loomed across the horizon from Kaiaka to Puena. In a matter of minutes, the waves went from 6 feet to 12 feet to closing out from Avalanche to the boat channel. Those tender little girls got rolled. When the first set had passed, we located them, now separated and struggling in the fierce rips. I once made my living being a rescue man, but that was a long time ago. I felt scared and useless. We were looking at a potential big-time disaster in the making.
Meanwhile, David and Derek, the nucleus of the Blue Tent Crew, made the scene. In contrast to our original grouping, they were animated. They knew those girls. One girl made it to the beach and immediately went back out to lead the other girls in. Obviously, she was a veteran. When another girl, who had also made it in tried to follow her, David ordered her to stop and she listened. David has charisma and speaks a little Japanese. Derek knew Kaipo, the standup paddle guy, who had made it in. He got him to prone paddle his big board to the one girl caught in the boat channel rip. The veteran girl brought another girl in. They rode the whitewater to the beach on their boogie boards. That made three of them safe. Wes, who also had been watching this, sprung into action. He dialed 911 with his cell phone, requesting that the fire department respond. Kaipo had reached the girl in the channel, and they were slowly making it in. A just-arrived firefighter paddled out on a department rescue board to assist them. Another girl who was caught in the Avalanche rip was directed by David using hand signals to come in on the Japanese school end of the beach. All five girls and their Boogie boards made it safely to the beach. David got the girls in a huddle and gave them a pep talk. The girl who had got in the most serious situation in the boat channel was crying. I looked at her and also started to tear up. I wanted to console, so I went over and touched her shoulder. The same thing had once happened to me. I congratulated David, Derek, Kaipo, Wes, and Captain Jack and the Engine 14 firefighters.
All of this took place before the lifeguards came on duty. David and Derek never got wet. All’s well that ends well.
I think of all the guys in this thing of ours, Bud Browne has the best chance of making it into heaven. I have never heard anyone say anything bad about Bud. We all love him for his kindness, his sense of humor, his historic contributions to surfing and surf photography, his lifesaving work as a beach lifeguard, and, above all, his uniqueness. Bud is no pop out. There is no mold. He’s the one and only.
I had the privilege of being his self appointed helper at Waimea. I would help him carry his equipment to the point, set up on those huge boulders, tell him when a set was coming, and identify the riders. Every now and then, I would kick one of the legs of his tripod, not to piss him off, mind you, but just to make sure he was paying attention. He knew I was giving him jive, and I would get a mild rebuke. “Kimo, stop that.” The main event was when he changed the film in his camera. It had to be done quickly so he wouldn’t miss a shot, and under a black curtain so the film wouldn’t be exposed to the sun. Bud is a tall, thin, gangly man, but he could move fast. It was like a mini Chinese fire drill, and then, “Did I miss anything?” Nah, Bud, you’re cool.
We were strictly the local punks. We had never seen anyone in a full wetsuit. When we saw Bud emerge from the Sunset shorebreak, we said, “Wow, the Creature from the Black Lagoon.” Bud was the only one doing water shots at Sunset and Waimea. He was such an accomplished waterman, confident and in his element, strong and graceful. We were in awe of his ability to function so effortlessly in the impact zone. And, we thought we were bad.
Bud and Chubby operated from opposite ends of the spectrum with similar results: super stardom. Bud ate one meal a day in the evening at breakneck speed. He would grind one course while he prepared the next. The entire kitchen was his stage. Stove, sink, fridge, dishes, utensils, the table and chairs, you name it. It all seemed chaotic but, in reality, orchestrated. Chubby did it leisurely, Hawaiian style, down to the finger bowl rinse. Because they were so different, they were such good friends.
I haven’t seen Bud in 30 years. The last time I saw him we were stuck in L.A. freeway traffic. He was driving a V.W. bug. I waved at him, but I’m not sure that he saw me. Peter tells me that he is now 96 years old and blind. They are having a tribute in his honor in San Luis Obispo. They sent me an invitation, but I don’t think I can make it. The old-time surfers called him the “barracuda” in reference to his long, slender build, not his persona. There isn’t a predatory bone in Bud’s entire body. [Bud passed on just before this piece was originally published in 2008. —Ed.]
Ray Beatty and his band opened up at the Breakers Restaurant in Haleiwa. I asked Bunnie to please check it out for me. She reported back that they played on Sundays in the afternoon/evening. We made plans to attend. I went surfing at the local reef break in the morning on the designated day. The waves were small and dropping. When I got out, I rushed home and got my dive gear intending to poke a few manini for a future fish fry. I figured two hours max, and I’d be out. It took me four hours. Twenty years ago, the manini schools draped the coral reef like a curtain. Overfishing by the immigrant commercial divers has changed all of that. I had to swim a long distance and scour for what little I got. When I got home, I asked Bunnie to excuse me from the music. I was too tired. She said okay and left, promising to be home in the early evening.
I watched the evening news, nodding off during the commercials. I got tired of waiting for Bunnie and hit the rack early. I instantly fell asleep. I was awakened a few hours later by the phone ringing. When I couldn’t ignore it any longer, I got up and answered. It was Ray telling me to come and get Bunnie who had had too much fun. They didn’t want her driving. I went and got her and brought her home. The next morning, I got up and went surfing. When I got home, her car was parked out front. She had taken the bus to Haleiwa to get it. She said she would call and apologize and thank the manager. She did, and that was that, and I made no further mention of it.
But, during the week, I pondered. On the following Sunday, we attended a party in Waikiki in honor of the 30th anniversary of Eddie Aikau’s passing. On the way in, we listened to the car radio. Folks, I don’t listen to square music unless I have to. I made up my mind that after Myra’s party, we were going back to the restaurant to listen to Ray’s band. My wife is a rascal, and I have to accept that. She accuses me of being a surf legend. I tell her “no way,” that in our marriage she is the legend. There is no other 60-years-and-over chick on the North Shore that can out-party Bunnie.
After Bunnie assured me that we were still welcomed at Breakers, we tentatively arrived. We thanked Ray and the manager again. I love being early on these occasions. It gives you an insight into the musicians as regular people and to witness their off stage rapport within the group and with the patrons. Everything was cool and casual, sort of like how Ray is in all he does.
The sidemen are a lot younger than Ray but are by no means young kids. I enjoyed watching the drummer, who had arrived late, setting up. Once the music started, I was so glad I had acquiesced. It is not like you can go out and buy a new wife or buy a new friend that has known you for 50 years like Ray has known me. I picked up on the changes in Ray’s music. It has gone from the ethereal West Coast style to the more bluesy East Coast style with heavy bass and drum lines. His alto sax has morphed into tenor, which, I believe, is a better instrument for the down and gritty blues. His band, all white guys, is blowing the blues like any black group from Chicago or Kansas City and having so much fun doing it. And, hallelujah, it was Sunday, and all music is church music.
I first met Dusty at the fire station. He was working with Matney on the Chupu running charters and commercial fishing out of Haleiwa Harbor. Matney would cook up fish dinners, and Dusty would show up for the leftovers. As a captain, I was responsible for what went on over there. One more body meant one more responsibility. Plus, he could grind. My skepticism ebbed, and I began to ma‘a (dig) Dusty’s act. He was jovial and a gifted storyteller. But to tell you the truth, I had never before met a redneck surfer.
Dusty is your basic no-frills big-wave surfer. Don’t let that slow, southern drawl fool you. He goes deep, and he goes heavy. He doesn’t give a shit about polls or contests or sponsors. The best surfers in the world aren’t all glamour-boy pros.
Dusty was born in the Northeast but moved to Florida with his family at an early age. His parents were teachers at the University of Florida in Gainesville. His older brother was a star athlete and got Dusty into surfing. His brother went on to bigger and better things, and Dusty remained a beach rat, surfing and fishing. He is also a swamper. In Hawaii, he would stay at Helm’s Haven. Back in the swamp, he would knock down the tenderest deer with bow and arrow. He would package the meat and bring it over with him to feed the brothers. He would roast the portions and cut it up in thin, small slices. Dusty makes his own hot sauce from Florida peppers that he mixes with catsup for the dip. A bunch of those Florida dudes surfed some big ones, and they invited me over for the celebration on the balcony at Helm’s Haven: beers for them and redneck sashimi. Broke the mouth.
Dusty got by doing odd jobs. He restored the pilings for the piers in the swamps’ lakes. He and a friend would scuba dive the waterways in the swamps looking for sunken fallen timber. The wood cures and hardens in the cold swamp water, and Dusty and his friend made good bucks selling it to the furniture makers. Dusty is a licensed pilot and ran a utility boat from the Port of New Orleans to the offshore oilrigs before the big hurricanes. He also makes furniture and surfboards, small time. He made up his mind to become a firefighter. Through sheer guts and determination, he made it and now works for the City of St. Augustine Fire Department. He says the firefighters he’s with now eat more than we did. They love his cooking.
Dusty reminds me of Eddie, little sweet talk and lot of action. Like Eddie, he sports a quiver. I always got by on one or two, or at the most three boards. Dusty and Eddie, at least six. One for each spot, wave size, and wind velocity. Dusty went to Indo with six boards expecting to stay a month. He had to leave after two weeks, broke them all. Dusty makes it to Mexico by car, a 4,000-mile trip and big bucks for kakalina (gas). He prefers to drive, not fly, so he can pack up the surfboards. Less than six, he feels naked. Dusty shares his stories of his surf travels with the other rednecks. They dig it because some of them in their whole lives have never made it out of the county.
Dusty’s pride and joy is his son, Duke, named after our Duke. Dusty sends me pictures of the Duke posing with, to my eyes, a dangerous alligator. Dusty and Duke live on a lakeshore, and the alligator is a pet. In fact, the neighborhood people call on Dusty to solve their alligator problems. He said it’s against Florida law to feed a wild alligator. That makes sense. In Hawaii, they feed the wild sharks. No common sense. Dusty periodically calls me. He says he misses Hawaii. He tells me that it’s not the waves but his friends over here that he misses the most. When you think about it, Hawaiians are a lot like rednecks.
In the 50s and 60s, professional wrestling was big in Honolulu. The matches were held at the old Civic Auditorium on South King Street before huge crowds of raucous locals. Mr. Ed Francis was the promoter, and Lord “Tally Ho” Blears the matchmaker, announcer, and sometimes combatant. A motley collection of characters served as referees, handlers, ushers, security, ticket sellers, food and beverage dispensers, and janitors. They were all integral parts of the whole show.
The wrestlers came from all over the world. They were top-of-the-line athletes and actors. They also loved to surf. On any given day in Waikiki at Left-slide Canoes, they could be found partaking in our sport, which provided them with a good workout and an enjoyable respite from the rigors of the ring. Lou Thesz, Lucky Simunovich, Sammy Steamboat, Lord Blears, Nick Bockwinkle, and Curtis “The Bull” Iaukea were a few of the wrestlers that a neophyte Kimo got to surf with. The scene that they created on the beach was almost as much fun. Those mountainous men were congenial comics. The banter was incessant. It also helped that Chubby was part of the package. This group became a magnet for the beach kids during our chill time out of the water.
During the winter, the scene shifted to Makaha. Bockwinkle and the Lord continued to surf in the old Waikiki style à la Duke Kahanamoku. Curtis, in great shape, did his rendition of a hot-dogger à la Conrad Canha. It was inspirational. Imagine this 6’4″, 280-pound football player/wrestler up and downing it from the Point across the Bowl and through the inside sections. It’s too bad that Curtis, because of being a wrestler, got too heavy and beat up to do encores in succeeding seasons. The Lord and his family eventually took up residence in the area. The Lord’s kids, Laura and Jimmy, both became contest surfers and respective champions. Curtis, after wrestling, got into the lucrative beach concession business in Waikiki at the groin opposite Kapahulu Avenue.
Val Valentine, in the beginning, slid under all that glamour. He was retired from active wrestling and worked for Mr. Francis in other capacities. He also took surfing pictures of the tourists at Waikiki. When Makaha or the North Shore got big, he would locate out there. He and his lady, Madeline, eventually moved to a little house on the beach fronting the break at Sunset. This house became the focal point of the Sunset Beach surf scene. I know that Val got sick of us calling him at all sorts of hours for the surf report. We were also parking our cars in his yard to go surfing. He took it all in like an understanding old uncle. I guess it was because we were the young punks that rode the big waves, and he made a few bucks selling the pictures that he took of us. He probably made some longer green when Fred Van Dyke and Kimo McVay used his house as the headquarters for the early Duke contests. After too many surf check phone calls, Val began to cheat to get even with us for the intrusions. If Sunset was closed out, he’d call it six feet. If Waimea was across the bay, it was eight feet. In his eyes, double digit North Shore didn’t exist. The phone calls stopped.
Val invited me to accompany him to the wrestling show at the Civic. He knew I was a big fan. Saturday on the firehouse tube was golf in the morning and wrestling in the afternoon. The Lord would say hello to “Kimo and the hardworking firefighters of Engine 14, Waialua.” At least he appreciated us. I lived in Wahiawa, and Val picked me up at the neighborhood fire station. At the Civic, we got our passes from a side window. We were early, and the auditorium was just beginning to fill. I was directed to a front-row seat, and Val disappeared to do his job for Mr. Francis. The preliminary matches were fun but undistinguished. There was a long pause in the action before the main event, and the packed crowd grew restless. When the dapper Lord finally introduced the participants, there was a huge roar of approval for the “good guy” and an extremely vitriolic greeting for the “bad guy,” our own Curtis “The Bull” Iaukea. I couldn’t believe the intensity of the hatred these people had for one of their own, a native son.
Ignoring the consequences, I started cheering for Curtis. I was immediately drowned out by the rabble. I’m part Portuguese so I recognized that the Portagees were the most demonstrative. This one guy took off his belt and approached the ring to hit Curtis with it. He was quickly grabbed by the security. These two old crones sitting at ringside were giving Curtis the finger and the “F” word. Now, I realized why Curtis said he was never afraid of his opponents but was always wary of the hostile crowds. He told me that in Japan a pretty kimono-clad Japanese girl presented him with a flower bouquet before a match with Riki Dozan, the Japanese champion. Curtis threw the bouquet on the mat and started stomping on it. He had to be rescued by the authorities from the ensuing riot that he had caused. But this was Honolulu, his hometown.
I can’t remember if Curtis won the match. But after it was over, he came down, grabbed my arm, and held it up in the air and proclaimed that I was the only one in the house with any guts. I was hoping that no one paid me any attention. Curtis left the arena accompanied by a loud chorus of booing. I had to wait for Val so I snuck over and peeked into the wrestlers’ dressing room. There was Curtis carrying on like nothing had happened. I can still remember what he said. “Hey, Kimo, let’s go drink beer and eat manapua.” I declined. Val arrived, I said good-bye, and we headed home.
The years passed. One day, I received a phone call from Butch informing me that Val had died. He was stricken by a heart attack while fishing in his small skiff off of Three Tables. Butch had swum out to the skiff and boarded it. Its motor was still running, and the skiff was going around in circles. He attempted to revive Val to no avail. Val was a great guy. He died on the ocean doing something that he loved to do.