Glowering power surfer from Honolulu, Hawaii; world-ranked #2 in 1980, remembered as the best tuberider of his generation, and often credited as inventor of the "pigdog" tuberiding stance. Kealoha was born (1958) and raised in Honolulu, the son of a pure-blooded Hawaiian carpenter father. He tried surfing for the first time at age ten at Waikiki, accompanied by his father; after wiping out on his opening wave, Kealoha swam for shore crying, ran across the street, and threw his arms around a tree. He didn't surf again until age 14.
Francis Kealoha, Dane's older brother, had meanwhile become one of Hawaii's top amateur competitors; Dane himself, once he got over his fear, proved to be a natural, winning the boys' division of the 1973 Hawaii state titles less than two years after he started surfing, and winning the juniors division of the 1976 United States Surfing Championships. In Waikiki, Kealoha, Buttons Kaluhiokalani, and Mark Liddell were the photogenic teenage protégés of high-performance surfing wizard Larry Bertlemann; all four were proponents in the mid-'70s of the split-railed sting design surfboard. Nonetheless, it was a shock to the first-generation world tour pros in 1977 when Kealoha, a stone-faced 19-year-old rookie, placed third in the prestigious Duke Kahanamoku Classic at Sunset Beach, beating Reno Abellira, Mark Richards, Wayne Bartholomew, and Peter Townend in the final.
At 5'9", 185 pounds, with thighs like a fullback, Kealoha was a born power surfer. He rode in a wide stance, slightly hunkered over, pressing his board into deeply chiseled turns and cutbacks. Kealoha also had an infallible sense of where to find speed on any given wave and Zen-like composure while inside the tube. South African surfer Shaun Tomson had in the mid-'70s invented a weaving method for tuberiding, allowing him to ride deeper and more creatively than any surfer before him; Kealoha improved on Tomson's technique and by the late '70s had taken over as the world's best tuberider, able to find his way out of the deepest caverns, especially at Backdoor Pipeline in Hawaii.
In the early '80s, Kealoha developed a compact drop-knee method of riding the tube—originally called the "lay-forward," later known as the "tripod" or "pigdog"— that eventually allowed backsiders to ride nearly as deep inside the wave as frontsiders. Meanwhile, the dark Kealoha scowl frightened most surf journalists off, and convinced virtually all other surfers, even his world tour peers, to give him a wide berth. Australian surf journalist Tim Baker described Kealoha as "solitary and strangely quiet" while waiting for a wave. "He seems almost anchored, not bobbing around like the rest of us at the mercy of the temperamental Hawaiian waters, but somehow rooted to the spot."
Kealoha was a world pro tour mainstay from 1978 to 1982, finishing (in order) ninth, fourth, second (behind four-time world champion Mark Richards), third, and sixth. He made the finals of the Pipeline Masters four times, winning in 1983; he was in the finals of the Duke six times, winning in 1983. In what should have been his best season as a professional, 1983 instead brought a career crisis, as Kealoha was trapped in a political dogfight when the pro tour administration removed their sanction from the three Hawaiian events and banned the top-rated competitors from entering them; Kealoha defied the ban and won two of the three events, refused to pay the $1,000 reinstatement fine, and was stripped of his pro tour rating. Bitter and angry, he retired at age 25 from full-time competition.
Kealoha rode with consummate power and precision for the next few years, and his style was picked up on by a number of next-generation surfers, including Hawaiian strongman Johnny-Boy Gomes and 1990 world champion Martin Potter of South Africa.
Kealoha was featured in more than 40 surf movies and videos in the '70s, '80s, and '90s, including Fantasea (1978), Wave Warriors (1985), Gone Surfin' (1987), and Rolling Thunder (1991). He finished runner-up to Mark Richards in the 1980 Surfer Magazine Readers Poll Awards; in 1990 and 1995 he competed in the Quiksilver in Memory of Eddie Aikau big-wave contest at Waimea Bay. As of 2012, he was running the Surf Academy by Dane Kealoha, in Waikiki.