A Hawaiian surf legend passes away

Published On: Nov 03 2013 03:36:00 PM HST

Four decades ago, the surf world took notice of a young Hawaiian's smooth style and radical wave skills. Now, surfers around the world are mourning the passing of Montgomery Kaluhiokalani, better known as Buttons

Click here to watch Paul Drewes' report.

In the early 1970s, Buttons pushed the limits of what was possible on a short board.

"He was ahead of his time. He would do 'S' turns in the tube when everybody else was going straight. You couldn't do what he did, but you wanted to come as close as possible," said Lance Hookano, who was a team rider with Kaluhiokalani.

From switching his stance while on the face of the wave to other radical moves, Buttons brought skateboarding tricks to the surf.

"He was progressive at the time. He was so smooth. He is the reason the kids now are doing all the aerials and tricks," said Honolulu surfer Eric Shima.

As younger surfers showed off their skills at one of Buttons' favorite surf spots "Kaisers," regulars were saddened he lost his battle with lung cancer.

"Losing Buttons is a great loss. He was a great guy," said Mooch Fernandez.

Kaluhiokalani was known for his radical surf style in the water, and also his outgoing, fun personality on land.

"He'll be sorely missed. He had so many, many friends," said Honolulu resident Phillip Akau.

His friends say Buttons' life, just like a wave, was full of ups and downs. There were professional wins in surf contests but also failed relationships and drug problems.

Several years ago, Buttons finally turned his life around for good while doing good for others.

He started a surf school and helped the very young or handicapped enjoy the rush of riding waves.

Scot Huihui used to surf, but stopped once he was confined to a wheelchair.
That changed three years ago when Buttons took him out on his surfboard.

"I got into my accident in 1988, so it had been a while. Buttons made me feel safe and got me back into surfing," said Huihui.

Buttons Kaluhiokalani inspired many to just go for it.

"How many people that guy inspired? I'm just one of them. I'm sure there are hundreds of thousands. If you knew Buttons you'd be following him too," said Hookano.

Kaluhiokalani is survived by his wife, eight children and nine grandchildren.


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