Happy Birthday Buttons

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Editor’s Note: This Saturday, legendary Montgomery “Buttons” Kaluhiokalani reached the half-century mark. Hard to believe that the maneuvers he invented in the mid ’70s are still relevant now, but they are. In honor of one of surfing’s most important high-performance pioneers, we’ve reprinted his Hindsight interview from last summer. Happy Birthday, Buttons.

Hindsight with Montgomery “Buttons” Kaluhiokalani

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from being a surfer, it’s the respect for the ocean. Ever since I was a kid my parents always told me to respect everyone, and respect the ocean, because the ocean will give you great rewards if you respect it.

I never went to school too much, I was mainly at Waikiki — at the beach, you know — and I never knew that I’d be a pro surfer. When I was growing up, I looked up to a lot of surfers, like Jock Sutherland, Barry Kaniapuni, {{{Reno}}} Abillera, Gerry Lopez; those were the guys that influenced me the most.

Town’s a different place now. More people coming to our home every year. Back when I was growing up, you could go surfing and there were just handful of local guys. Now, it’s like a zoo, but I still get a lot of respect when I go surfing. It’s kind of overpopulated, but there’s so much waves and so much surf spots, so there’s still plenty of fun to have.

I was kinda ahead of my time when I was a kid, yeah. For me, it was all about fun. It was all about doing things you know that no one’s done; trying to create new things. You kinda get to a new level at that stage.

Towing in at Outer Logs was something I’ll never forget. A month before, Garrett [McNamarra] took me to learn and the waves were just 2-3 feet. So, then the swell comes and Garrett goes, “OK, time to go.” He takes me out to Log Cabins and it’s like 60-foot faces. That was the gnarliest experience in all my years of surfing. If it wasn’t for the floating devices they got, I’d be long gone. And you know what, I’ll do it again.

People look up to people. And if I can in any way be of help to all the other surfers coming up, it must be a good thing. Surfing has gone so much farther than when I was a kid, and much respect to the guys doing the tow-in stuff. That’s a whole different realm. It’s so cool, but it’s so gnarly. I like it. I wanna do more. Maybe this winter. I’m, like, 49 years old, but I’m 20 in my heart.

I was deep in my addiction. I was doing heroin. I had jumped bail, and [Dog the Bounty Hunter] found me. He caught me. Slammed me to the ground. It was on national TV. Gnarly, brah — super gnarly. But what can I say? What happened, happened. Now all I can do is apologize; let the world know that, hey, that’s not me anymore. I’m moving on. Maybe it was a blessing in disguise, cause I’ve had an addiction for a while. I just wanna say I’m sorry for what I’ve done, but what’s done is done.

My life has changed from all this and I’m going forward. I’m super healthy now. I train every single day. Garrett and Kaylee have been helping me. I’m going to look at it as a positive. My life is joyous. I’m super happy and having the best times of my life, so I’m just going to keep moving forward and doing what I’m doing. I train, I go to the gym, I’m buff…but stuff happens, and unfortunately, it happened to me.