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The Half-Century Files: Bird Mahelona

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Bird Mahelona, Laniakea, 1980. I met Bird at Makaha in an era of change for the Hawaiians. The Dane Kealoha, Bertlemann, Buttons, radical Town style of surfing percolated and combined with the radical Makaha style of surfing in which Bird, Guy Pilago, Craig Wilson, and others influenced Johnny Boy Gomes, Brian and Rusty Keaulana, Sunny Garcia, the Ferrimans, and many more. They brought it to a new level. The wave at Makaha was erratic and they developed a quick reaction to the sections, a radical quick turn and snap. Bird was an early West Sider to bring it all to the North Shore. I remember him getting a perfect 10 at the Pipe Masters and then within 15 minutes getting another 10. That was a big deal at the time for a West Side surfer to have the whole beach at an international event screaming at his surfing. Johnny Boy Gomes and Sunny Garcia soon back filled that spot as the best West Side surfers on the North Shore. Bird was down-home. He became a preacher and later on a roofer. —Jeff Divine

Fifty years ago, TSJ’s photo editor Jeff Divine picked up a Pentax H1a and began shooting the surf landscape and its denizens, creating images that in many cases have now become iconic. In this semi-regular series, we’ll blow the dust off a half-century’s worth of slide-sheets and dig around for the under-seen shots, always with an eye for compositions that offer riffs on time, place, and the backstory to his body of work.