Birdwell Blog

Town Surfing with Kaeo
Dazzling Blue #136

Surfing sears deep into the memory banks. Sessions recall previous sessions, and so while we might be out riding waves in 2021, we’re also feeling the echoes of waves from previous decades. 56-year-old Kaeo carries a trove of these. In his five decades of surfing he remembers Dane Kealoha hacking off the top at Big Rights, Buttons and Mark Liddell spinning 360s at Kaiser’s, and Ben Aipa and Micheal Ho dancing around the pocket at Ala Moana Bowls.

            Kaeo grew up in what might be called the golden era of Town (Town being the south shore of Oahu). Aipa stingers. Town and Country twin fins. Local Motion single fins with the fin placed at the very front of the box for maximum looseness. The coverage every summer in the surf mags was incredibly flavorful. It made the stretch from Kewalo Basin to Castles look like the most vibrant surf destination on earth. The water was turquoise. The skin tones were dark. The boards were brightly colored. The vibe was distinctly South Shore, which connoted a levity and sense of fun that was different to the North Shore. Smaller waves meant there was less at stake. In turn came flying fins and experimentation.

 

 

 

            “There were so many great Town people,” said Kaeo, a regular foot with a smooth style and a penchant for the high line. “Dane, Buttons, Mark Liddell, Gerry Lopez, Cippy Cabato, Rabbit [Kekai]—those are the people that I’ve learned from, that helped me become the surfer that I am today.”

            While Kaeo has surfed most every corner of his native Oahu, these days he’s happiest out at Queens. “It’s the closest break to my house. You can do pretty much everything on that wave. You can do roundhouses, you can get a little barrel, you can get nose rides. I just love it.”

            Kaeo surfs with a regal grace and flow. He likes the marathon session. “I normally go out for like four to six hours,” he said. In town he rides a nine-foot-three Vesso thruster shaped by Gen Asano. Lately he’s been taking his nephew, Kaimana, surfing. “When I first brought him out there I introduced him to all the elders. I made sure that every time he paddles out he says hi, and that when he first paddles out, everyone he sees has priority over him. I try to teach him the right way to surf, good etiquette, never drop in on people.”

 

 

            Like pretty much every surfer I’ve spoken to in recent months, Kaeo mentioned the COVID crowds. “When I was growing up, unless you really knew what you were doing, you could never surf Queens. It was predominantly locals only. Now you’ve got anyone who’s got a surfboard paddling out to that break. People are dropping their kids off at the beach and sending them out without any knowledge of surfing. And so now about one-third of the crowd is on Wavestorms. And with social media, too, everyone’s posting pictures of themselves—at Queens! So every kid that follows them is thinking Queens is the spot to be surfing. They have no clue of the hierarchy or the etiquette.”

            Hierarchy and etiquette are especially important at hallowed breaks like Queens, where the likes of Duke Kahanamoku and George Freeth and Tom Blake and Steamboat and Chick and Rabbit and all the rest helped to make surfing what writer Jack London called “a royal sport for the natural kings of earth.” 

 

 

            So how best to handle this giant influx of surfers? Kaeo talked about the many surfboard rental kiosks in Waikiki, and how there’s little education with regards to the rules of the lineup. He says there needs to be more of this. “If I see a beginner, and they don’t know any safety or etiquette, I let them know that Canoes is the better break for them.” He mentioned roots and lineage, and how baked into those things are respect and etiquette. “Wherever you surf, you should learn the history,” he said.

            I asked how surfing fits into his daily life. Kaeo laughed like a kid. “Surfing is the first thing and the last thing I think about,” he said.

 

Follow Kaeo at kaeo.at.queens

 

And on the lineup etiquette tip, I found this excellent piece by the writer Justin Housman from a back issue of Surfer

 

  1. The Proper Paddle Out
    You know what sucks? When you look behind you, shoreward, and see a guy or two paddling directly out through the break, right to the peak, instead of walking up or down the beach and paddling outaround the break. This is of course much worse at a spot with a super-defined takeoff zone. Don’t do this, and, equally important, don’t let others get away with this. Just like in the NYC subway system: if you see something, say something.

 

  1. Johnny Paddle-For-Every-Wave
    In a busy lineup, just because one can catch a wave, doesn’t mean one should always paddle for it. If it’s the inside surfer’s turn to catch a wave, those on the shoulder SHOULD NOT PADDLE FOR IT. The rider with inside position ought to be allowed to catch the wave without the hassle. If they blow it, alright, next time go ahead and be a bit more aggressive. But it’s hugely disrespectful to paddle for a wave while looking back inside toward the peak to see if the inside surfer will catch it. The peak doesn’t need to get any more competitive than it already is. When this happens to you, go ahead and be a jerk about it. We aren’t trying to make heats here; if you can surf, you deserve the dignity of paddling into a wave unmolested.

 

  1. Take Turns
    If somebody is paddling back out after just catching a wave—it’s not their turn. If you’re stroking out to the peak at the very beginning of your session and there are already people out—it’s not your turn. If you just windmill-paddled for a wave but didn’t catch it—you’ve lost your turn. Beginners have no idea how a rotation works. Many long-time surfers don’t either. The only way they will learn is if you tell them. It may get uncomfortable. That’s just fine. Often a terse “don’t even think about” is all it takes.

 

  1. The Shadow
    It’s so nice to finally find an uncrowded peak, especially if you just paddled 50 yards to earn yourself some elbow room. Then along comes a solo paddler, who, for whatever reason, decides to sit five yards away from you. This is often extremely irritating. Nothing at all wrong with telling your new friend to keep it moving. Nobody likes clingy paddlers.

 

  1. Lineup Magnets
    At big, open beachbreaks, there’s often hundreds of yards of empty lineup. Sometimes, you just want to be by yourself, or with a friend or two. But then, you turn to the beach and see a couple surfers stroking out to say hi and sit on your peak. What the fuck? There’splentyof room for them to find their own bar. You know what? Tell ‘em.

 

  1. The Ceaseless Kicking
    Kicking isn’t really necessary unless you’re scratching into the wave of your life at Rifles. Especially when it’s crowded, kicking like Michael Phelps trying to out-touch somebody at the wall is infuriatingly annoying to your fellow paddlers. It splashes everybody, and worse, makes you look like a single-minded dolt. How about you just get into position earlier? It’s only fair to send buckets of water at somebody if they’ve just drenched you while kicking their way into a two-foot mushburger.

 

For the entire piece go to https://www.surfer.com/blogs/culture/managing-a-lineup/

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