Revered power surfer from Haleiwa, Hawaii; world-ranked #9 in 1976, but best known for his innovative and never-duplicated approach at Sunset Beach. Kanaiaupuni was born (1945) and raised in Honolulu, the son of a supervisor for the Honolulu Rapid Transit bus system, and began surfing at age eight in Waikiki.
As a teenager he was briefly featured in Bud Browne's 1963 surf movie Gun Ho!; three years later Rick Surfboards introduced the Barry Kanaiaupuni Model, and in the 1967 Malibu Invitational, according to Surfing magazine, the handsome dark-haired Hawaiian "brought a quiet crowd to cheers with his power surfing unlimited."
But Kanaiaupuni didn't come into full bloom as a surfer until the late-'60s shortboard revolution, when boards went from unwieldy 10-footers to spearlike seven-footers. Sunset had long been a North Shore favorite, but where longboard-riding surfers had for the most part been forced to simply maintain speed and hold a straight line from takeoff to pullout, Kanaiaupuni, atop a slivery "pocket rocket" of his own design, was able to swing up and down the big foaming Sunset walls. "He never had to look for a place to turn like the rest of us," California surfer Mike Armstrong recalled in 1992. "He turned anywhere he wanted to—and he really hit it hard." Kanaiaupuni constantly rode on the edge, and wiped out often; his style was a perfect counterpoint to that of Jeff Hakman, another power-turning Sunset master from Hawaii, whose specialty was precision and exactitude.
Kanaiaupuni was a hit-or-miss competitor. Virtually all of his best results came at Sunset, including a second in the 1973 Hang Ten Pro, wins in the 1975 and 1976 Pro Class Trials, and a fourth in the 1976 Duke Kahanamoku Classic. He competed in every Duke contest from 1968 to 1979, and was invited to the 1970 and 1971 Expression Session events. "But I was never really much of a contest surfer," he admitted in 1995. "I never had the mentality for it."
While Kanaiaupuni never went looking for the spotlight, he was featured nonetheless in virtually every surf movie of the early and mid-'70s, including Cosmic Children (1970), Morning of the Earth (1972), Five Summer Stories (1972), Going Surfin' (1973), and Tales from the Tube (1975). A sequence of Kanaiaupuni riding Sunset to Jimi Hendrix's "Voodoo Chile" in 1973's Fluid Drive has been called the ultimate fusion of surfer and soundtrack.
Kanaiaupuni began shaping surfboards in 1967 and, in chronological order, he worked for Rick Surfboards, Country Surfboards, Surf Line Hawaii, and Lightning Bolt, before opening BK Ocean Sports in Haleiwa in 1979. Ten years later he opened a second BK retail outlet, in nearby Waianae, and in 1996 he opened Quiksilver Boardrider's Club, also in Haleiwa. He shaped boards for many of the best surfers in the '70s, including Ian Cairns and Shaun Tomson; he later made boards for Rusty Keaulana, his son-in-law and three-time longboard world champion.
Kanaiaupuni is married and has four children.