By Tamayo Perry
“I want to know where Dane Kealoha is nowadays. I miss him. He was such an awesome and talented surfer. Just the way he rode barrels was influential to anyone who wanted to ride deep in the hole. He’s one of my heroes for sure. I always think of goofy-foots as my favorites, but then I’ll look back and be like, ‘Whoa, what about Dane?’ Dane’s the mack. I think he’s one of the best barrel riders of all time.”-Tamayo Perry
Dane Kealoha was one of the most popular surfers in the early 80s due to his incredibly powerful and dominating style of surfing-especially at Backdoor and Pipeline. He truly epitomized Hawai’ian surfing and dramatically influenced a number of today’s top pros.
Kealoha, born in 1958 in Honolulu, Hawai’i, was first introduced to surfing in Waikiki at the age of ten by his father, a carpenter and full-blooded Hawai’ian. By 1973, Kealoha was the Hawai’i state champion in the boys’ division. At nineteen years old, he burst onto the pro scene by taking third place at the legendary Duke Kahanamoku Classic at Sunset Beach, taking down Wayne Bartholomew, Mark Richards, and Peter Townend-the Kellys and Andys of the late 70s.
In December of 1983, Dane’s career hit its highest and lowest points. He won the Pipe Masters that year, showing the world a new way to ride the barrel backside-a technique first called the “lay-forward” but known nowadays as the “pig-dog”-and was all set to be the first Hawai’ian to win a world title.
The governing bodies of surfing had other ideas, however. Due to a political pissing match between the ASP and IPS, the events in Hawai’i were not sanctioned, and those who surfed in the events would have all their points taken away and be banished from the World Tour. Dane put Hawai’ian pride before politics and surfed the events anyway, winning two out of three on his home turf.
The repercussions were swift, and Dane went from leading the ratings to having no rating at all. Angry and bitter, Dane quit competitive surfing and fell into a downward spiral of partying and Backdoor Pipe punch-outs. Realizing that was no way to live, Kealoha walked away from the surfing scene, got a job with Hawaiian Airlines, and cleaned up his life.
In an act of kindness and faith in Dane’s ability, Bob McKnight from Quiksilver offered Kealoha a job managing the Quiksilver Boardriders Club on O’ahu. He excelled at the position and soon relocated his family to Maui in order to open a Roxy store in Pa’ia.
Dane resurfaced in a big way on November 26, 2002 at Jaws, when he whipped Garrett McNamara into one of the biggest barrels ever ridden. Out of respect, everyone out that day gave Dane a wide berth as he towed Garrett into the beast-and to this day Dane holds a spot in the lineup at Pipe, whenever he wants it.
The last spotting I personally had of Dane Kealoha was last winter on Maui when Kaleo Roberson, Tai Van Dyke, and myself were checking out an outer reef from a cliff top high above the 25-foot surf. A speck on the angry sea, Kaleo spotted the pair first-Dane and his tow partner motoring through monster swells at a spot where, according to them, nobody had ever surfed. “Brah, that guy is nuts,” said an admiring Kaleo as we watched.
A legend? Absolutely.
Dane Kealoha Timeline
1958-Born in Honolulu, Hawai’i.
1968-Poppa Kealoha introduces Dane to surfing in Waikiki.
1973-75-Wins Hawai’i state championships
1977-Wins first pro contest as a nineteen-year-old rookie taking out Rabbit, Mark Richards, and Peter Townend in the process.
1983-Ranked first in the world, Dane decides to surf in non-sanctioned Hawai’ian events and is stripped of ranking. Wins Pipe Masters and quits surfing competitively.
Mid to late 80s-Dane is the main enforcer at Pipe and Backdoor. Refines his backside barrel riding unmolested by drop-ins.
Mid 90s-Manages Quiksilver Boardriders shop on O’ahu.
1999-Moves to Maui to open Roxy store.
20022-Tows Garrett McNamara into monster barrel at Jaws.
Today-Conquering new breaks on Maui with tow-partner Bobo Pahukoa, selling banana bread, and living life-Hawai’ian style.