Senior Editor

The Inertia

With the recent news that the WSL lost the permit for Pipeline, there’s been a lot of talk about surfing events in Hawaii. “We don’t need them, anyway!” some say. “Good riddance!” Before you write all the contests off, however, wait just a second. Don’t lump them all in with the WSL’s Hawaii blunder. There are plenty of amazing events that aren’t for points and world titles. One of the best of them is the Buffalo Big Board Surfing Classic, which just so happens to be live right now. Oh, you should know about it!

This is the 42nd consecutive year the event has run at Makaha Beach. Its namesake is Buffalo Keaulana, which is a name you should definitely know. Back in the mid-70s, Buffalo was the steersman for the Hokulea’s maiden voyage. When he came back, he wanted to set something up to “give back to his community and perpetuate his Hawaiian culture.”

Buffalo and Makaha are nearly synonymous with each other. He spent 34 years with the lifeguard service there, then eight more as a live-in park keeper. In 1969, the Mayor created a permanent position for him at Makaha. He watched over it until he retired in 1994, and he still spends most of his time there.


For most of the ’50s, Buffalo was the body surfing champ at the Makaha International Surfing Championship. In 1960, he won the surfboard event at the same contest. In 1965, he became part of the Hawaiian surfing team. In 1977, he started the Buffalo Big Board Surfing Classic, then spent the next few decades spreading himself around the world making people happier and extolling the virtues of all thing Hawaii. In 2005, he was inducted into the Surfing Hall of Fame, an induction that should have happened far earlier.

The event initially came about because Buffalo “wanted something for the old-timers to enjoy.” In the first year, there were no first place, second place, or third place. Instead, they were all winners.

As the years progressed, the event got more and more popular. Soon, Buffalo was getting sponsorships from everyone from Don Ho to obscenely wealthy Texas oil men. Town and Country came on as a sponsor, as did Hawaiian Tropic, and the crowds showed up in droves. Soon, however, the event got a little too big for its britches, and the organizers decided it was time to get back to what it was all about: surfing Makaha.


“Forms of surfing that had almost died out were revived,” reads the website. “Tandem, canoe, bodysurfing, paipo, Beachboy style (stand-up-paddle) surfing and, in 2009, the Alaia Board Division. This last division uses skegless, wood replicas of boards used by commoners during the Hawaiian Monarchy.”

Anyway, now you know about Buffalo and his contest. Watch the event live above. It’s what surfing events should be about—not world titles and racking up points, but fun, laughter, and a shared passion for the ocean.


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