Paddler, surfer, stuntman, waterman – Oahu’s Brian Keaulana is beyond definition. Deeply rooted in the Hawaiian ocean tradition, the stunt double, who has played himself in Baywatch and done scenes for movies like Waterworld and Blue Crush, explains why standup paddling is here to stay and why beginners should ease their way into the surf. He should know. Keaulana is also an innovator in big-wave rescues, virtually inventing the jet ski rescue at places like Jaws. –Joe Carberry
I grew up on the west side of Oahu. My father, Buffalo Keaulana, was a huge influence on me. When you talk about the pioneers of watermen, he exemplifies all that.
I look at life as enjoying the ocean and surviving off the ocean. My father taught us so much about surviving and playing in the water. I started swimming before I could walk and surfing and paddling an outrigger when I was three months old. Paddling is such a big part of Hawaiian heritage.
Paddling standup boards is not new. The beach boys of Waikiki, guys like Duke Kahanamoku, Hawaii’s famous Olympian who won three golds in swimming and helped save surfing in Hawaii, was paddling them years ago. There’s a standup contest named after him in Waikiki.
I like standup paddling for the core workout. I paddle for an hour and it’s equivalent to board surfing 10 hours. That’s why I laugh when people say it’s a novelty or fad. I had a friend who was weighing 285 pounds last year. I introduced him to paddling and saw him this summer down to 185. Losing those 100 pounds changed his life forever. It’s not about surfing, although it can be. It’s about enjoying the water. And it’s not just coastal either. I was in Utah on the Colorado and had so much fun in the river. That was as much fun as big ocean waves.
I’ve surfed some big waves on my standup board. Not on Jaws, that place is a zoo with all the surfers and 80 jet skis in the water. I’ve got my own personal Jaws, a secret spot that’s pretty big, probably over 60 feet. It’s crazy paddling into big waves with a paddle. It gives you an advantage. You’re more in tune, you can read the water. You’re always adjusting balance and it’s a lot more body and mind. But it’s not a lot easier. It takes understanding and you need a surfing foundation to standup paddle into giant waves.
People put labels on themselves: I’m a short boarder, long boarder, whatever. No piece of equipment defines me. It’s just the tools I use to perform. I consider myself a waterman. The equipment doesn’t change me or who I am.
Photo by Allen Mozo