Buttons Kaluhiokalani lost his battle with lung cancer on the morning of November 2, 2013. At 54 years old, the complications due to the cancer overtook him. He is survived by his wife, eight children, and nine grandchildren. The surf legend that we knew as “Buttons” was born in 1959 as Montgomery Ernest Thomas Kaluhiokalani (after his mom’s favorite actor). As a baby, his hair earned him the nickname Buttons, coined by his Grandma. It stuck.
Although you could spot his afro and sheepish grin a mile away, it was his innovations in surfing that stood out. He was known for 360’s, spinners, and riding switchfoot. Those who surf regular or goofy were no longer bound to ride a wave completely one way. Surfers owe their versatility in surf stance today to Buttons. If you are too young to have been influenced by his progressive surfing, you can rest assured that he inspired your icons. For example, Kelly Slater posted the following on Instagram:
When I was about 8 years old, I saw a surf movie with ‘Buttons’ Kaluhiokalani and he immediately became #MyFavoriteSurfer. He was switching stances and sliding 360’s in the tube and doing carving 3’s. Surfing just looked like more fun the way he did it. He surfed the way I wish I could mind surf. […]"
Buttons was never shy in discussing yet another battle he had in this lifetime, an addiction to drugs. He overcame that battle and focused his attention on teaching kids to surf at his surf school. Before ever having been diagnosed with cancer, Buttons helped teach children with various diseases and genetic disorders (including those with cancer) to surf. This was in conjunction with the Mauli Ola Foundation. He expanded any limitations for what surfing should be and embraced possibilities. He encouraged all to surf whether it was babies, the sick, or even women! What inspired him to bring such inspiration to others?
He once said to reporters: “Most of all, God inspires me. He gives me hope – He’s my Savior. He’s pulled me out into the right direction.” Button’s faith gave him focus to help others. He was the living embodiment of Mr. Aloha. May the man who rips and shared the joy of surfing with multitudes truly ride in peace! Not only did he wear Santa hats and rainbow hats, the always eccentric Buttons wore the hat of father, grandfather, friend, inspiration, charity worker, visionary, and surf legend. It is with this notion that surfers say a respectful and vibrant, “Aloha a hui hou kakou” to Buttons Kaluhiokalani.