Keaulana, Richard "Buffalo"


Commanding Hawaiian surfer from Makaha, Oahu; winner of the 1960 Makaha International, and often referred to as the "Mayor of Makaha." Keaulana was born (1935) in Honolulu, and moved with his family to Makaha, on Oahu's west side, at age five. He learned to surf as a child at Waikiki, and made his first board by taking a machete to a blank assembled from glued-together railroad ties.

Keaulana worked as a Waikiki beachboy in the '50s and earned the nickname "Buffalo" for his generously proportioned head and shaggy reddish-brown hair. A perennial favorite in the Makaha International contest, Keaulana placed third in 1957, second in 1958, and first in 1960. He was one of the most naturally gifted surfers of the period, ambidextrous in stance, smooth and fluid from one move to the next, and unfailingly in the right place on the wave. He was also regarded as the world's best bodysurfer. California big-wave pioneer Greg Noll once watched Keaulana bodysurf six-foot waves at Yokohama, near Makaha. "He looked so natural," Noll later recalled, "streaking across the waves like a seal. I actually expected him to turn and swim out to sea when he was done."

The barrel-chested Keaulana continued to place highly at the Makaha event, finishing third in 1961 and 1964 and fourth in 1965. He was also a semifinalist in the 1965 World Surfing Championships, held in Peru.

Keaulana was appointed head lifeguard at Makaha in 1969, a post he held until 1995. The Buffalo Big Board Classic debuted in 1977, a surf contest/beach party that immediately became a local institution. Keaulana—married with six children, including big-wave expert Brian and three-time longboard world champion Rusty—appeared in nearly a dozen surf movies between the mid-'50s and the mid-'70s, including Trek to Makaha (1956), Cat on a Hot Foam Board (1959), Angry Sea (1963), and A Winter's Tale (1974).

A statue of Keaulana was erected in 1972 in front of the Waianae Public Library, not far from Makaha. Keaulana was inducted into the Surfing Walk of Fame in Huntington Beach in 2005, and the Hawaii Sports Hall of Fame in 2010.