The Snap issue 76 by John Bilderback shot of Keahi de Aboitiz 2500 barrel

The Snap Issue #76 Keahi de Aboitiz at Off The Wall

Keahi big perfect kitesurfing barrel Off The Wall


‘The Snap’ is John Bilderback’s regular Kiteworld column. This one featured in Kiteworld issue #76.

John Bilderback’s journey through North Shore kiting culture brings him face-to-face with the future – resulting in encounters with unusual kite converts after Keahi’s actions in surfing’s most hallowed hallway


I believe everybody is a teacher. There’s really no one who you cannot learn from. Some lessons you recognise right away, some are more subtle. On some occasions, you don’t realise you’ve been taught at all.


In 1914 a humble Hawaiian man, named Duke Kahanamoku, won the Australian National swimming titles and paid a visit to Freshwater Beach outside of Sydney. He’d brought an unusual piece of wood with him; a surfboard. He was a very strong waterman and it may be him for whom the term was invented. He was an Olympic champion swimmer. And he went surfing.


Some hundred years later, Australians own the sport. They took it seriously, essentially invented the profession of surfing and founded many of the brands that the world wears to the beach. With the exception of a current Brazilian World Champ, and a freak named Kelly Slater, Aussies have pretty well dominated competitive surfing.


You’ll find them in lineups everywhere and, though I recognise the danger in generalisations, I feel safe saying that Australians are never the dickheads in the line-up. Fair play and humility seem to be part of their DNA; especially humility.


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Watch any Australian athlete being interviewed and, whether he or she won or lost the match – tennis, rugby, cricket, or surfing – without fail he or she will give credit to his/her opponent. They will downplay their skills and probably say something like he/she was lucky, and just glad to be out on the court, field, pitch, or beach. I guarantee it.


Enter our kite-wave-riding World Champ, a half-Hawaiian, half-Australian with a tongue-twisting name befitting his mixed heredity. Keahi De Aboitiz will predictably be uncomfortable with any comparison to The Duke, and I’m not going to draw one, except to say that he honours the concept of Aloha with his humble, graceful spirit. No one who knows him would disagree; he has the modest gene encoded into every cell in his body.

Keahi de Aboitiz at Off The Wall in Hawaii

Keahi, locked in  / PHOTO: John Bilderback 


Two weeks ago the man who runs the Triple Crown of Surfing stopped his truck in the middle of the street and began a conversation with me. Beginning emphatically with “Dude!”, he proceeded to say that he was super excited to get into kitesurfing, and would I please help him get started?


Of course he got my attention, being who he is, and as a small traffic jam was forming on Kamehameha highway behind him. I simply laughed because I knew where this was coming from. I’d been getting this same speech from various hardened surfers over the previous month, and I wasn’t surprised exactly, just proud. This was the guy at the very pinnacle of professional surfing contests; the final voice on the stand at the Pipeline, Sunset and Haleiwa surfing contests. He’d seen it all, judged it all and was a former professional surfer himself. I ignored the cars piling up behind him and said what I always do, “Dude, for sure.”


It was the result of little more than five waves that broke at a spot called Off The Wall, which can be found about fifty yards down the beach from Pipeline. It is the spot where aspiring surfers go from neighbourhood nobodies to surf magazine stars. It’s what we used to call ‘Kodak Reef’ because it is beefy, hollow and very photogenic. If you have ever picked up a surf magazine, you’ve almost certainly seen it.


The day was big and messy; just big enough and confused enough in the lineup that the usual hoards of surfers had gone elsewhere. After a run of strong east winds Reo Stevens and Keahi jumped on the opportunity. The beachfront homes on that stretch of the North Shore are some of the most exclusive real estate in the surfing cosmos. Owned by companies like Volcom and Billabong, their front porches are always lined with the who’s who of surfing’s elite. These are the Skyboxes in the Coliseum. The spectators who watch from there are surfing’s superstar athletes and captains of industry. When Kelly Slater watches Pipe, he watches from one of these houses. He wasn’t there this day, but apparently many people were. And so, naturally, were the North Shore lifeguards.


This was what you might call a really tough crowd – at least when it comes to riding a kite in one of surfing’s holy places. You could definitely expect some heckling, but it never came. I actually heard cheering when Keahi found his first barrel.


(Click the images to enlarge the gallery)


It bears repeating that this was no ideal day. The waves were coming from different directions, crossing up and acting very unpredictably. Reo shopped for a long time before hooking into one and in the course of two hours maybe only ten waves got ridden; not many, considering how many you’d get in a normal session. It is also worth noting that a few North Shore kite regulars, like John Amundson and Konrad Bright, watched it for a while and decided to pass. It wasn’t very appealing, and it certainly wasn’t perfect, which really speaks for Keahi’s skill as a wave rider. He saw potential mixed with madness and patiently sorted through it, until he found what he was looking for: a handful of mindless, thick, make-able barrels.




Keahi big perfect kitesurfing barrel Off The Wall

One of the most perfect kiting barrels ever seen / PHOTO: John Bilderback


Yet the most remarkable thing to me was not that he had swayed the minds of some of the hardest nosed surfers on the planet, nor that the lifeguards actually jumped onto their quads and drove to the water’s edge to high-five him on what he’d done after one particularly deep, massive tube, nor that he’d just gotten the best kite barrel I’ve ever seen, but that he carried himself with his usual humility after upping the bar on the world’s most prestigious surfing stage. He honoured the best traditions from Hawaii and Australia and taught us all how it should be done, wet and dry.


It’s amazing that one day, and one person’s actions can introduce a truly fundamental change. One act of just doing what they do, just being themselves without pretence and without agenda, can completely change the public’s perception and begin a new era. It could have so easily gone the other way. Sometimes people teach without thinking of themselves as teachers. And sometimes those lessons are the most powerful. Check back in a hundred years, you’ll see.


Reo Stevens kitesurfing at Off The Wall, Hawaii

Reo Stevens also found his way to a couple of classics / PHOTO: John Bilderback

‘The Snap’ is John Bilderback’s regular Kiteworld column. This one featured in Kiteworld issue #76. Subscribe to receive kitesurfing’s original international magazine each issue. 

Kiteworld issue 76 kitesurfing magazine cover

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