Interview: Buffalo Keaulana
In late 2009, I was staying with a very dear old friend on the east side of Oahu. One day, she said to me, “Shawn, tomorrow we going to go visit my cousin Buffalo on the west side.”
The next morning, we got in the van and drove to Nanakuli, arriving in time for lunch with what seemed like a ton of food. We spent the next three hours listening to stories about growing up in Makaha, lifeguarding, and the Hokulea.
Below is an excerpt from the interview from that afternoon at Buffalo's home. It's basically a long conversation between Buffalo and his wife, Momi, both of them recalling stories from their life together and Buffalo's career. The date was October 12, 2009.
The photographs on this page were found in issues of Surfer Magazine archived at the Library of Congress in Washington, DC.
Momi Keaulana: Remember that little baby? Tell that story.
Buffalo: Oh, yeah.
Momi Keaulana: Makaha Beach.
Buffalo: Makaha Beach, of course… One morning me and my friend surfed outside Makaha, and the waves were pretty big and we were way out there. And I look in shore and I seen this black umbrella—big one—and one dog, and one baby crawling away from the umbrella. And I told my friend, “You came to the beach with your wife?” Yeah. “And one black umbrella?” Yeah. “Eh, brah, you better look good. I seen one baby and one dog walking on the…crawling on the beach” The dog was barking and the baby crawling towards the ocean. So, we were yelling, but we were way out there. So, I gave him my board and he paddled in, and I took his board and I paddled towards the reef as the surf came up. So, I caught the wave and I came inside before him. But I was way on one end of the beach, so I had to run maybe almost a quarter mile to get to where the baby was going to be at. So I was running and running and running, and I almost reach there, and I start to get one side pain. And then when I looked up towards the shore, I seen this other guy running, so I said, “Shit, he can't pass me.” So I forgot about my side pain and I kept on running and when I reached there, the wave already hit the shore and went way up and around on a sand dune and come around, and it close up and the baby was there, crawling, and it grabbed the baby and pulled it out to the ocean. And I'm scrambling and I ran right to that thing and I dive right in there and I let the ocean bring me down to where the baby was. I just let the wave take me down there, and that thing brought me down and when I reached down there, I spread out my hands and my legs and then my leg went and hit the baby. So, as soon as my leg touched something, I just sort of turned around and I grabbed the baby and just stayed under the water and came up on the other side and I held him up high and I brought him in shore, you know, body surfing, on the sand, and then brought him up and hold him face down on the palm of my hand, and tap him on the back, and then flip him over this way and then blow the air in his mouth and then flip him over again, hold his head down, legs apart, on both sides of my elbow, or whatever. And then I keep on tapping and blowing and tapping and blowing, and then the baby went cry.
Momi Keaulana: That was the most beautiful sound.
Buffalo: I just give the bruddah back the baby, and the wife, and they were all happy. So then I call my captain, Kaio…Kealoha Kaio was our captain…and I told him what happened. And I told him I was so happy. And I told him I was going to get one beer. And he told me, “You take off and you go buy that whole case of beer and you go get drunk.” Oh, thank you, Cap…
Momi Keaulana: You know what is so cute? This is… How many years ago that boy came?
Buffalo: Oh, about 35 years. Now he is with the Air Force, as an officer. He flies jet planes and all that.
Momi Keaulana: He came with his father and he came up and Buff recognized the father, but he never recognized the baby. Right? The young man, rather. And he turn around and all and he walk straight up to Buff and Buff try to tell him, “What the heck?” And this kid just grab Buff and hugged him like this and he told him, “Thank you for saving my life.” And I tell you…then he turned around…when he leave, you know, this was with his mother, and he go, “Wow! You’re big now!”