Hawaiian Legends return to Belmar

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Buttons Kaluhiokalani returns to Belmar. Photo by Danny Stockdale.

During the Fosters Belmar Pro, the beach is always humming. If you’re not watching the hurricane swell for a few minutes, you’re grabbing something delicious from the Fins tent, checking out some new board with the Essence Surf crew, or people watching from the boards. But in 2012, there was a different kind of excitement, something legendary.

Last year was the first time Belmar hosted a Legends event and did it ever bring some legends. In addition to the locals who have been charging New Jersey’s jetties and sandbars for years, it was two legends from Hawaii – Reno Abillera and Buttons Kaluhiokalani, who bought the beach alive.

Abillera’s lineage is Hawaii’s surf history. He was also an integral part of the shortboard revolution, not only as a surfer but as a young shaper. His surfing at the 1968 World Championships in Rincon, Puerto Rico is credited for changing surfing’s entire direction. He won the truly historic Smirnoff Pro at Sunset Beach in Hawaii and then finished fourth in the world in 1977. Not fitting the mold of the traditional pro surfer only added to his mysterious persona. But he is celebrated for the boards he created – learning under Dick Brewer and then branching out to create boards for a more aggressive approach with Lightning Bolt, Local Motion, and his own Reno Abellira label.

Danny Stockdale

Remember Reno Abellira styling last year? Photo: Danny Stockdale

Buttons had a solid little pro career in the 70s. Named for his curly hair as a baby, his afro would become famous in surfing as a sign of Hawaiian stoke. He came up under coach/shaper Ben Aipa, and when surfboards were getting shorter every month, he was among the best at pushing the tail, spinning 360s and riding switch. He won three pro contests in the late 70s and early 80s. Buttons admits that he had some problems in the 90s and 2000s, but today he is clean and inspiring others to follow that path. He is in phenomenal shape and runs Buttons Surf School on the North Shore. This summer he received an “Oceans of Possibilities” award from AccesSurf for his community involvement.

Last year, the two came to Belmar and met folks who read about them in magazines for decades. Both in phenomenal shape in their 50s, they talked story, signed autographs and attended evening events. And on Saturday, when the surf really started to turn on in the afternoon, they had every eye on the beach in the Masters and Longboard divisions, surfing against surfers half their age.

Danny Stockdale

Locals loved hanging with the legends. Photo: Danny Stockdale

This year, Mark Lidell is flying in from the Islands as well. Lidell was one of Button’s best friends growing up. After his own successful career, Lidell got into shaping and eventually opened Island Energy Surf Shop. The shop is now located in Kailua and Lidell handles the shaping while his brother manages the shop.

This year, the elder statesmen have been divided into Masters and the Legends (45+) sponsored by Rums of Puerto Rico, promising to bring out some of New Jersey’s original shredders who competed against the Hawaiians in different events in the 70s. Fans in New Jersey are excitedly anticipating the return of the kings of our sports.