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Dane Kealoha, an icon in the pantheon of Hawaiian power surfers, has passed away after a battle with cancer. His family told local media that he died peacefully after fighting the good fight.
Kealoha, a native Hawaiian, learned to surf in the late ’60s when his father taught him to ride in the Honolulu surf, no doubt growing up watching legendary watermen in the Waikiki beach scene. But the gentle surf of the South Shore, and then the more advanced breaks along the Ala Moana stretch, certainly turned him into one of the strongest barrel riders of his generation.
The regular-footed Kealoha (along with Michael Ho) is often credited with perfecting the pig-dog technique at proper Pipe – making a late read, then knifing into waves about to barrel, crouched low and grabbing rail all while using the inside hand (and butt) to control speed, a technique certainly common today for any tube hound worth his or her salt.
If he surfed Pipe with aplomb, Kealoha absolutely ruled Backdoor in the 1980s, riding the reeling right-hander with a powerful confidence and understanding of the North Shore’s crown jewel unlike any of his peers. He had a supreme competitive prowess as well (his peak was the late 1970s to early 1980s) winning at Pipeline and many other contests, including ending Shaun Tomson’s chokehold on the Gunston 500 in 1979. He was essentially a world champion, but a political dustup among the professional governing bodies left him on the outs (many of his contemporaries would say he got the short end of an extremely brutal stick).
“He should’ve been World Champ,” wrote Sunny Garcia for SURFER magazine in 2010. “He finished second in 1980 and third in ’81. In 1983, going into Hawaii for the last three events, the ASP had a run-in with the people organizing the Hawaii contests and decided that anyone who surfed the North Shore events would have their points stripped. Dane said, ‘F-ck that.’ He surfed all three events and won two, and would have won the title if they hadn’t screwed him. I think that really killed him. He was only 25 when he retired.”
His competitive career may have faded way too early, but his respect among that generation’s legends never diminished.
“When I first met Dane back in 1976, he immediately became one of my favorite surfers – absolute raw power and foot-to-the-floor attitude,” wrote Tomson. “No close-together ballerina feet softness, but a powerful and beautiful, classically pure Hawaiian style, charting back to the great Eddie Aikau. At the dawn of pro surfing and the start of the twin-fin era, at the Stubbies event in Australia, I watched Dane catch a wave at high tide, two-foot Burleigh Heads. There was barely enough clearance between his twin fins and the rocks as he leapt to his feet and started to pump down the line – faster and faster like there was a turbo beneath his feet – I had never seen anyone generate that type of speed on such a small wave – in fact, on any wave.”
Dane Kealoha was 64 years old.