Place: North Shore, Hawaii
The Moment: The Australians arrive on the international surf scene, revolutionizing the pastime and evolving it into a competitive realm, pushing boundaries and shaping the future of surfing. But the progress wasn’t widely embraced, particularly on the North Shore, where Hawaiians would stand their ground and protect tradition.
“As people’s comprehension of perfection reaches new heights, in relation to the level they are currently at, they begin expanding their mental awareness, absorbing and utilizing all relevant experiences, and their physical coordinations simply become a reflection of their inner knowledge.” – Wayne “Rabbit” Bartholomew, “Bustin’ Down The Door,” SURFER Magazine
The seventies were about peace and love? Not on the North Shore. As Australians and South Africans began their ascension as undeniable superpowers on the international surf scene, people the world began to take notice. They turned their attention towards the hallowed coastline of Hawaii, flooding the place beginning in 1974. While the boys from Down Under were claiming the title of “best” surfers for themselves, even they knew that the biggest and best waves were off the islands to their Northeast. And in the middle of the Pacific Ocean — where the spirit of modern surfing remained tucked away — the Hawaiians held tradition and respect near and dear to their heart.
For all intents and purposes, the Australians (more so than the South Africans) had indeed arrived. They were taking a pastime and turning it into a sport, a competitive sport. The old guard, in turn, wasn’t happy about this — it didn’t vibe with what they had come to appreciate as a true life of passion and love, what was a connection to the island’s forefathers before development had raped the land. In late 1976, stylemaster and North Shore local Gerry Lopez published an article in SURFER magazine that effectively accosted these up-and-comers, then known as Free Ride revolutionaries. As articulated in “Attitude Dancing,” to Lopez and his crew of heavies, the transplants were a threat to a way of life the islanders embraced and protected with all their might.
As expected, these transplants didn’t simply twiddle their thumbs and stay quiet. In response, Wayne “Rabbit” Bartholomew printed another article, also in SURFER, titled “Bustin’ Down the Door.” He took the opportunity to explain the other side, the non-natives’ side. In his eyes, they deserved the right to be where the best waves were to continue developing and evolving the sport — in fact, many at the time would say that the Australians were more innovative than the present-day grandfathers of the sport, introducing new styles and techniques previously unseen on the North Shore. The title itself was a reference to the means by which they planned on staying there.
Unfortunately, rather than coming to a mutual respect and understanding — what Rabbit insists what his mission in penning the piece — the Hawaiians took even greater offense to the foreigners’ presence. And thus he breathed life into Da Hui, and their gang of enforcers, the Black Shorts.
1977 was worse than anyone could have anticipated — there were constant death threats as well as physical confrontations in the lineup; Rabbit and his fellow countrymen took refuge wherever they could – namely resorts. The coastline was officially out of control. And it stayed that way until local legend and pioneer Eddie Aikau stepped in. Calling together a ho’oponopono, he brought together both sides of the battle in an effort to figure out how to better proceed. The solution? Banning Rabbit from the North Shore with the exception of professional competitions, and even then only his personal heats. Tensions continued, but the most heated exchanges were more or less quelled.
There is no denying the impact the 1970s had on surf as a sport as well as the effects of decade-plus tension would have in shaping the next 30 years. However, the main players in the Bustin’ Down The Door movement have moved on to be leaders in a less-volatile manner. Today, Rabbit has since served a 10-year tenure as president of the ASP, stepping down in 2009. When he resigned from his position, he had been an integral part of pro surfing for 36 years. He has also restored his relationship with the North Shore community and is a common sight on the immaculate stretches of reef. Lopez is now a yogi to the utmost, an embodiment of Aloha, and remains the very definition of Pipeline style.
The tensions have been documented in Jeremy Gosch’s acclaimed documentary, Bustin’ Down the Door. Watch the trailer below, and watch the full movie here.