Welcome to the Big Board Surfing Classic in Buffalo, the Hawaii Surfing Olympics

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For more than four decades, this Oahu event has carried on traditional and modern styles of wave surfing with a division for almost all types of surfboards.

In Hawaiian, “Makaha” means “fierce,” but during the Buffalo Big Board Surfing Classic, this beach park in West Oahu is the opposite of its namesake.

Aloha is plentiful for the two weekends in mid-February, when everyone can participate in the Buffalo Big Board Surfing Classic. Unlike the pressurized environment of most surfing competitions, here you will find animators making jokes on the speaker and, in the lineup, men and women performing a series of fun and challenging maneuvers. Competitors smile and laugh as they ride, and the beach is full of laughter.

“The atmosphere is totally ohana (family) style, the whole beach, ”says Haa Keaulana, who is the granddaughter of the founder of the Buffalo Keaulana contest and who has participated in this community event for 23 years. “DeSotos installed on one side, Van Giesons installed on one side and Keaulanas installed by scaffolding. Everyone just walks into other people’s camps and says to themselves, “Come eat and drink our food. ” It’s really awesome.

the great classic of Buffalo surfing
Jackson Kine captures the air from Makaha’s backwash during
on an alaia, an endless wooden surfboard that’s a
replica of what the ancient Hawaiians rode.
Photo: Allen Mozo

These three last names are the most important in Makaha and the names you will hear the most over the loudspeakers. While Buffalo’s Big Board Surfing Classic is all about good times and laughs, members of these families still want to win in the division they come in and earn the bragging rights of a win.

This year is the 41st anniversary of the event which is considered the “Waterman Olympics” due to the various styles of wave surfing on display. There is a division for almost all types of surfboards: from the traditional alaia (endless wooden short board) to the massive and newly created “SUPsquatch” 16 feet long and 8 feet wide.

Nowhere else in the world can you see a SUPsquatch competing. Originally, this giant of a board was designed to be a water mat for transporting cameras and film crews during oceanic shoots. Leave it to the people of Makaha to start catching waves for fun, and its popularity has grown to include it in the Buffalo Big Board Surfing Classic. Riding the inflatable SUPsquatch is an exhilarating team effort that can be done with two experienced surfers and up to five novices. The alaia, on the other hand, is a throwback to the surfboards that ancient Hawaiians used. Catching a wave on this traditional wooden surfboard is a difficult feat, and for a surfer to actually ride one of these finless devices, it takes the utmost skill and athleticism. Yet these two surfboards have their place in competition, and there are many other surf boats that are only used in competition at this event.

The roots of the event

Richard “Buffalo” Keaulana started the surfing contest at his beloved Makaha, where he protected beach goers as the head lifeguard from 1969 to 1995. 41 years ago, the beefy 81-year-old took off. also been invited to be part of the crew of Hokulea—The traditional Hawaiian double-hull canoe that played an important role in the Hawaiian cultural renaissance — on its maiden voyage to Tahiti. Sailing without Western instruments, the crew of the Hokulea sailed from Hawaii to the South Pacific using a Polynesian compass like their ancestors.

“What was good about all about making daddy’s contest was when he sailed the Hokulea in 1976, ”says Brian Keaulana, one of Buffalo’s three sons. “He listened to his culture and what it means to be Hawaiian, then saw how generations had lost touch with their culture.”

the great classic of Buffalo surfing
At Buffalo’s Big Board Surfing Classic, the boards
must be a minimum of 10 feet. Here,
Kimo Leong looks majestic in the water.
Photo: Allen Mozo

Buffalo returned to Makaha inspired to share Hawaiian culture, especially his kupuna (ancestors) the most beautiful gift in the world: he’e nalu (sliding waves). Buffalo is an accomplished, ambidextrous surfer who can ride waves with both regular and clumsy feet (right foot forward or left foot forward). He honed his skills as a Waikiki Beach Boy in the 1950s. Buffalo also won the Makaha International surfing competition of 1960, which at the time was the equivalent of the North Shore Pipe Masters surfing competition these days. this.

With his surfing prowess and passion for sharing culture with the younger generation, Buffalo’s premier surfing event had a traditional Hawaiian procession with Buffalo and participants wearing malo (loincloth), ahuula (feather coat) and mahiole (helmet) to Makaha. But, it wasn’t just the native clothes he brought back; more importantly, it was the aloha for visitors and the community on the west side.

“You had to be really mindful and mind your stuff or get beaten up at the time, so dad took all the thugs and thefts… those cars when they come and take advantage to keep everything safe,” says Brian. “The whole thing was to change the mindset of everyone that you can enjoy, have fun, not be a bad guy and show goodness in your heart… show them what it is to be good, what it is. is to be Hawaiian and what it is to show more family values.

The contest started off as a one-day, one-division surfing contest featuring five contestants and morphed into two weekends of competition, camaraderie, camping and comedy.

buffalos large classic board
Former longboard champion Duane DeSoto and his daughter compete in the tandem surf division;
Micah Liana earns extra points in the canoe surf division by getting out of the boat and riding
on the ama (stabilizer). Photos: Allen Mozo

“It’s funny because we have people who come once and come back every year; once they come here, they fall in love. Anyone who walks on the sand and swims in the water becomes part of our family and is just absorbed in it all, ”says Brian. “When you only see and hear joy and laughter, nothing but positive, it’s a different feeling. I think it’s all about getting people involved in the competition, not just showing them what you’re doing, but teaching them what you’re doing.

Part of the fun is watching the hilarity ensue as the contestants take to the water in the heats. Rather than judging a wave on a 10-point scale like a conventional pro surfing contest, Buffalo Big Board’s competitor waves are rated along the length of the ride and a growing list of 14 wild and wacky tricks. Surfers do various maneuvers that are more like hokey pokey than a ballet, and it’s a riot. Winning the Buffalo Big Board Surfing Classic is about being creative and being able to laugh at yourself.

“We all look like idiots out there,” says Brian, “because we all joke and make crazy moves and that’s the thing – it’s creativity: if you think of a move, start -he in there. Sometimes people don’t like to be made fun of, but in this contest, too bad, because you are being made fun of and who you are making fun of.


The 41st edition of Buffalo’s Big Board Surfing Classic takes place February 18-20 and February 25-26 at Makaha Surfing Beach. This year’s event honors Rell Sunn. More information on buffalosurfingclassic.com.


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