History John Kelly - Legendary Surfers



History John Kelly - Legendary Surfers
John Kelly
John Kelly
Pioneer Hawaiian Surfer
and Community Activist
"I got fired from four jobs for
telling the truth - so I figured if I couldn't support my
family telling the truth, I was
gonna kick ass"
It was 1990 and Surfrider was on the map. The
pulp mills lawsuit was on the verge of being won, the
surf industry was coming around, the membership was
growing, and many of the growing pains (including
the exit of Tom Pratte) were in the past.
So at a fancy hotel in Dana Point, a celebratory
event was held, attended by all the directors and
hundreds of members. Rob Caughlan, president
since 1986, was the M.C., telling jokes, introducing
dignitaries, and generally making the thing (at least as
far as this observer was concerned) feel like a bowling
lane operators convention. They even announced a
special new award – the Surfrider Hall of Fame – with
names etched on a 2’ high crystal surfboard replica
of a Waimea Bay gun. (Said award, incidentally, was
never seen again!)
Two names were prominent on the list: Grubby
Clark and John Kelly. Clark wasn’t there to receive
his award, but in a letter he expressed thanks for the
honor, which Rob read to the audience. Unfortunately,
Rob kept reading the letter, which pretty much said
that although he was glad to support Surfrider (having
given thousands for years) and its good work, the
environmental movement was doomed, and Surfrider
was pretty much just spitting in the wind. “There’s
nothing we can do about our society’s rape of the
environment – its already gone too far and in the end,
we won’t be able to save the planet.”
Well, that was a bucket of cold water on the
proceedings, but Rob did his best to recover by
quickly introducing the next honoree, John Kelly.
He came up to the podium, pictures were taken, and
everyone applauded. Except that John was expecting
to address the gathering, and he had even brought
a slide show with him covering twenty years of
environmental activism in Hawai’i. However, the
next item on the agenda was a showing of Gotcha’s
new movie, “Surfers”. It was an awkward moment,
but ever the gracious host, Rob suggested that those
interested in hearing John’s presentation might have a
chance after the movie was over.
Well, I’d seen the movie and didn’t need to see
it again. But more importantly, I wanted to know
more about John Kelly. And I wasn’t alone. So I
joined a dozen or so members and we quickly found
a conference room off the main auditorium. We set
up our own chairs, found a wall plug, and for the
next 45 minutes watched the slide show and listened
to the man who was truly a pioneer as a surfing
environmentalist. And that is the reason we’ve
included this section in the 4th Edition.
Many thanks to Eyvinn Schoenberg for providing
much of the material used for this article and for
presenting John Kelly’s story at the first Surfing Arts,
Science and Issues Conference in November of 2001.
Eyvinn, a University of Hawai'i 1941 classmate
of John Kelly and Marion Anderson (later Mrs. Kelly)
tells of a spear fishing adventure in their known shark
waters with them in his book, "Board Talk and Other
Salty Tales".This book led to Eyvinn's presentation of
slides and memories at SASIC 1. You can get a copy
by sending $18.90 (postpaid) to Eyvinn Schoenberg,
P.O. Box 3482, Ventura, CA 93006.
Also, many thanks go to David Brown, producer
of "Surfing For Life" which includes a wonderful
section on John. David sent me the transcripts of
interviews done for the video, and those transcripts
have been edited and included here. "Surfing for Life"
is now out on DVD. E-mail him at [email protected]
com or call 415-468-7469.
John Kelly
Previous Page
Left With his dad, and his mom.
Bottom Painting by his mom.
Center Growing up in Waikiki
The maturing surfer
Bottom John and his family
This Page
As a music teacher
Commentator for ABC Wide World of Sports
Surfing for Life tape box Center/Right
Surfers for life
John Kelly
John Kelly Interviewed by David Brown –
What did you do about a board that didn’t slide
ass too much?
Well, when I slid ass on that last wave at Brown
Surf, heck I’m knew I was going to do something with
this board. So I said, ‘Gee Frank, c’mon let’s go back
to the shop’. So we came back and I took my axe and I
didn’t say to him or to myself what I was gonna do. I
just knew that something had to be done to the back of
the board.
All of us were experienced in this embarrassment
of having to throw yourself down on the board with
your arms, one arm to the front end, and one to the
back, and holding on the best you can with the edge,
cause the board is going in parallel to the wave, you
know. And, like this, and it’s going that way and it’s
no fun at all, couldn’t do anything on it compared to
standing up. And so I just said, ‘Hey Frank, let’s go
and we’ll try something’.
So we got home here and put the board on the 2
saw horses, and I took my axe, and said, ‘However
deep this thing goes, I’m going to cut that much off
the side ‘. The idea was to make a narrow tail, so that
at least part of the board would be controlled by the
direction that you’re taking on it - rather than being
flat and doing what it wants to do against the wishes of
the rider.
So we did that and it had a V shape at the back.
The whole thing was now instead of about 15’ wide,
it was about 4 inches wide. It had a V shaped at the
back, and then we took the draw knife and I draw
knifed it and smoothed it a little bit, and took the
plane, and planed it down so that it had a nice clean
aspect to it, sanded it and put even a little varnish on
it, so that the water wouldn’t go into the redwood.
I can remember the sticky feeling when we went
back out at about 4:30 in the afternoon ‘cause the
1964 THROUGH 1995
1— ‘65 Surfed Green Lantern surf @ Ma’ili Point, Wai’anae, from 700 foot long breakwater
2— ‘68 Played key role to-win 1st student/faculty strike @ U.H. in Oliver Lee case
3— ‘70 Saved Kaimu surf & beach from USCE lies & a $26 million tourist resort on Big
4— Saved 40 surfing & fishing areas from Dilco’s planned 10-mile BlackPt.-to-Koko Head
5— ‘70 Saved Queens & Baby Queens surf from the state’s 1970 plan to widen Waikiki
6— Stopped Magic Island phase H saving 15 major surfing & fishing areas from hotels
7— Stopped Magic Island phase HI saving 3 major surfing & fishing areas at Kewalo
8— Saved Point Panic bodysurfing area from the state’s West Kewalo Plan
9— Saved 3 surfing & fishing areas from Army’s Ft. Armstrong dredging plan
10—Fought for and won Sand Island Park saving nearby major surflng& fishing areas
11— Staged 1971 “Hawaii’s Shoreline in Crisis” Conference with national media coverage
12—Stopped massive eviction of local families in Niumalui Nawiffiwili, Kaua’i
12—Stopped tourism’s first attempt at urbanization of Maha’ulepu, Kaua’i
13— Stopped privatization of public coastal, surfing & fishing shoreline, Portlock, O’ahu
14—Stopped 1st stage of harbor expansion & loss of Pipeline [email protected] Ma’alaea, Maul
varnish wasn’t dry yet altogether. Anyway, I caught
my first wave and headed to the right cause I’m a
goofy footer. The Brown Surf waves are almost
always a right slide. On the right side there’s a deep,
a deep channel and you ride right along the edge of
that thing and you’re getting a beautiful curl. And so
Bango!, off we went.
I shared the board with him and he did the
same thing and we came home and we figured that
something new had started. So I made a couple a more
boards and helped other friends to do that with theirs,
and it seems to have stuck. The hot curl seemed to
stick for a while, because it enables you to go through
the curl of the wave and stay on that particular angle
in relationship to the movement of the wave, and so
hot curl means it’s hot, means it’s ok, it’s doing the
right thing for us and the curl is where you’re riding
across to get the thrill of a good ride. So I guess that
was the first contribution I had made. But it was just
something that came out of the Hawaiians, because
the Hawaiian people had invented surfing and I never
really claimed to have invented anything. It’s just,
you know, you do things, but the surfing is more
important than the design of a particular board, you
know what I’m saying. And, so there were other things
about surfboards and their design I had found out later
which I want very much to tell you about.
From Mark Massara:
In 1990 when Scott Jenkins and I went over to
Honolulu to fight the jetty that the Army Corps of
Engineers was trying to build at Sand Island Park,
me spot
ask you
the bomb’
a little
out about
there in
of Sand
We went into Federal Court there and litigated that
thing. I stayed with John and he helped us develop
our case.
John was over 80 at that time, and this was more
than ten years ago. And I’m not kidding you, he
would stay up 22 hours a day, and then we would go
surfing in afternoon after court. And he would stay
up all night working and be waking me up at three
in the morning handing me documents. He was the
hardest working, most motivated guy I’ve ever seen
in my life. I was shocked – and pretty intimidated by
15—Wrote, won and participated in $140,000 legislatively funded 3-year Surf Parameters
16— Wrote & won State Shoreline Setback law limit: 40’ above upper reach of waves
17 —Proposed & won Statewide Surfing Site Survey, part of state/fed. SCORP Project
18— ‘75 Saved 14 Mokauea Is. fishing family’s homes & won Historic Site status of the
19 —Played key role in 2nd student/faculty strike @ U.H to win Ethnic Studies Program
20— ‘76 Joined Nanakujj Surf Club to win $150,000 federal court fine against BECo.
21— Played key role in base building against evictions of 600 Wai’ahole farmers & families
22—Led Wai’anae’s major fight against Horita’s West Beach Resort: KG w/drew $3 billion!
23—Helped NSC win Tracks Beach Park with $500,000-plus HECo. fine funds by1986
24—‘78 Exposed & stopped the largest illegal dumping case in US history at Ke’ehi ($45
25—‘87 Key role in stopping Sanjiro Nakade’s eviction of Higa farmers:”No Can Eat Golf
26—Stopped evictions of farmers for 3 major Japan-financed golf courses in Wai’anae
27—Stopped Kaiser Corp.’s planned golf course that threatened rural Me/ill, Wai’anae
28—Led successful battle against a tourism h’wy around Ka’ena Point, O’ahu’s northern tip
29—Played key role against eviction of Filipino workers at Makibaka Village
30—Stopped state’s DOT plan to replace historic Ala Moana Bowl surf w/ a yacht pier
John Kelly
In 1956, the United States set off an atomic bomb
over Johnson Island. It was a little bit over 800 miles
south of here. At one o’clock in the morning it lit
up the night sky like daylight. From this porch here,
I took a picture of Diamond Head, at the moment
this thing went off. Everything was like daylight.
One o’clock in the morning. And this picture shows
Diamond Head and you can see the little trees and
things on it. Everybody was scared, pardon my
English, scared shitless, because of this endangerment.
And so Patsy Mink, who is now in Congress, and
I formed a group called the Hawai’i Committee for a
Sane Nuclear Policy. We gathered a group of people
together, and three years later we got an invitation
from Japan to send a delegate to the 5th World
Conference against Atomic and Hydrogen Bombs. So
they sent me to it.
The head of it was Dr. Kaoru Yasuii, the head of
the peace movement in Japan, and an internationally
famous person. I met him and also another wonderful
person, Dr. Linus Pauling, who was from America
and the first man in the world that had gotten 2 Nobel
Prizes for his work in medicine.
Thousands of Japanese delegates were present at
it. Dr. Pauling had written what his contribution to a
possible final statement of the all the delegates from
all over the world.
At the end of the conference I was photographed
shaking hands 2 other people. One was the founder of
the Japanese Peace Movement and the other was Dr.
Kovalyev of the Soviet Union. And here was a young
American shaking hands, there shaking three hands
with big smiles on our faces, with the founder of the
Peace Movement in Japan, with this man from the
Soviet Union, and this picture went all over the world
with the caption ‘Coexist, or Die’. In other words,
we had to solve our problems, short of using atomic
bombs or it’s all over for humanity.
When I got back to where I had been the director
of the music school for nine years, a new boss had
just been hired. He looked at me, ‘Gimme your
keys, you’re fired!’. And the reason he fired me was
because the son of the founder of the school was the
head of the Union Oil Company in Hawaii. He was
selling oil to the military, making millions of dollars
profit, and he didn’t want a peace movement cropping
up in Hawaii that would interfere with his business.
I went back to the next sixth world conference,
and took my daughter to it in Japan. We traveled all
over southern Japan, and it was a tremendous thing.
I went again in 1964 and between the first and
last time that I’d gone there we started an American
Anti-Nuclear Movement that extended from New York
to Hawaii.
A friend of mine, Norville Welch, who was also of
the same motive, and I got the word out and got every
year, delegates who were anxious to do the same thing
- that is to spread the word against atomic weapons
and atomic warfare and get some alternative that
would enable humanity to survive.
What was your experience at Pearl Harbor?
I was looking for a way to keep in touch with the
ocean, so when it became necessary to sign up for the
military, I got into the Navy Reserve. I wanted to get into
life guarding and so they made a life guard out of me.
My first assignment was out at an area designated
John Kelly
as the Nimitz Beach, for the military. And one
morning, Sunday morning, December 7th, we were
dropped off out there
about six o’clock. By
six-thirty, quarter to
seven we’d noticed
smoke and some odd
things happening over
Pearl Harbor, which you
could see a little bit of
around the corner. The
three of us lifeguards
were looking at this
and then we saw huge
plumes of smoke going up over the Pearl Harbor
direction and then there’s a lot of planes going back
and forth and so we decided to find out what the heck
was happening.
We jumped in Eddie’s car and I was driving it, a
car without a top, a little sedan. We drove along the
road from the Nimitz Beach leading toward where the
main road is that goes out toward Wai'anae suddenly 3
planes came overhead and saw us going along the road
and Naaaaaah da da da da, and they machine gunned
us. And the car was filled with machine gun holes.
I got a streak across the top of my head, another one
across my belly here, but they just made red streaks.
There was not a lot of blood or anything.
But it was definitely from the bullets, so we
immediately turned the car into the sugar plantation
field there and we jumped out of the car and ran
down to a little house, knocked on the door. A little
woman came out and we said, ‘Hey have you got a
telephone?’ She said ‘Yeah, come inside’. She had
a little kind of phone that you have to crank to so we
phoned headquarters in Pearl Harbor and they said,
‘Return immediately, we have been attacked’.
My first assignment was to take a small motorboat
out into the Pearl Harbor area and pick up dead bodies.
There were two of us, one running the motor and the
other to pick up the bodies and put ‘em in. We took
these bodies over to the Aiea Landing. There was a
big platform there with a cover, like a roof, and we put
the bodies on the cement. The officer was there that
would go through and see if he could identify the dead
bodies by the dog tags.
Every once in a while we’d bring back a Japanese
pilot that had been killed when their plane was
knocked down into the harbor. And we’d bring these
bodies in and put them there on the floor too.
Then a little later they began sending us double
boxes, because they ran out of the regular coffins,
And so they’d bring us a double coffin and we’d put a
Japanese pilot and an American face to face in one of
these things.
And suddenly we began asking ourselves, ‘Who
the hell ordered these people to kill each other? They
had no grievance against each other, they didn’t know
each other, they didn’t talk the same language, they
came from opposite sides of the earth, now who the
hell is making decisions up there that causes this to
happen? And we’re sitting here putting them face to
face in death forever. And their families are going to
be grieving over this, too, so we need to know some
And this question stayed with us for years. I
know because some of my old friends that were
there whom I’d seen later during the war itself, we
never forgot that. That was one of the most revealing
incidents of my early life, and this question and the
desire for answers has plagued me the rest of my life.
I always want to know what is happening and why:
what are the motivating forces in the economy or in
the political situation or both that cause these things to
happen. Why do we have so many people that are rich
and able to buy practically anything they want, and so
many many more that are down at the bottom and are
suffering from absence of the jobs and from poverty
and so on? So these questions are good questions to
have, because the answers have to be found.
How did you incorporate surfing into your life?
I often wonder about what it is about surfing and
where these things came from that abided with me
in my later political life. Surfing gives you a great
respect for the variety of mother nature, the difference
John Kelly
between waves on one day and waves on another
day. Some waves come from the southwest, some
come from the southeast, some wrap around from the
north during our northern winter waves, and so we
found that there’s a whole lot of things about mother
nature that are comparable to the, how would you say,
the streams of energy that are passing through in the
political and social world of human beings. And they
need to be analyzed: you have to be able to chop off
the side of some of them to get a board that will ride
the curl.
We found that many of the surfing areas have
been destroyed or were about to be destroyed, and
we found out in the save our surf movement we had
to make some pretty careful and deep analysis of
who were working for and who were fighting against
in order to preserve the coastal areas from very
destructive coastal intervention. And these things
turned out to be quite successful.
As you can see my background raised a lot
of questions, the Navy thing and then of course,
swimming and surfing. During all these lifetime
episodes, I began to ask myself what is it about our
surfing interests that relates to some of these political
problems that are asking for answers too.
We were beginning to notice that a lot of coastal
interventions were taking place along the shorelines
of Oahu here and later on the other islands, and so
we began to wonder why are they doing these things.
And so in 1960 I formed a group called the Hawaii
Surfing Association, composed mainly of a small
group of surfers from Eva Beach area. We met here
and there in Honolulu once a week at least, and we’d
gather together, maybe 12-15 people at the most and
talk about things and wonder about who’s going to
endanger the surfing area.
And then the parents of some of those kids were
saying ‘Hey, what you want to do is have contests, for
the young people.” I always considered myself young
in spirit, but I thought ‘No we don’t want to compete
with each other in a contest - we want to cooperate, we
want to get together, unite ourselves, not to fight each
other.’ But the parents of this particular beach out at
Eva Beach were quite insistent, and their kids were
following along with what their parents were saying,
so I said, ‘Ok, you take over, I’m resigning as the
president of the Hawaii Surfing Association, and we’re
going to do something else.’
Most of the kids went with me, and we decided to
call ourselves ‘Save Our Surf’, because that was what
we needed to do.
By 1966 we had had a large number of people
maybe up to 50 - 75 even 100 people coming to our
weekly meetings and talking about all of these horrible
plans, some of which were being implemented, along
the shoreline that would destroy surfing areas.
At one of our meetings up at the library a kid
came and said ‘Hey you guys heard about the
freeway?’ ‘Freeway, what freeway?’ ‘Oh, they like
make on the broad point and one freeway all the way
to Koko Head.’ ‘What! Where did you hear about
this?’ ‘Oh, my uncle. I asked him, Uncle, how come
you was working Sunday? and he said to me ‘Oh, it’s
because I’m a surveyor for Dillingham Corporation,
and there was no surf and it was low tide, so I was out
on the reef at Kahala surveying where we’re gonna
build a freeway all the way out to Koko Head.’
‘What!’ So we immediately formed committees
and we went downtown, and we got the secret plans.
I have them in our big file downstairs. We went
downtown and poured our way into the system and
found where we could find a copy of the plans that
showed the big freeway out on the reef, all the way out
to Portlock.
We got a hold of them, in our own way, and we
reproduced them. We had a full scale print shop, and
with all with donated materials we made thousands of
copies of these plans and canvassed every one of over
two thousand households between Black Point and
Koko Head.
When the fishermen and others that lived out in
the low income area found out about that they were
mad, because the reef is their main food for fish, or the
bait for other types of fishing. And then when we’d
get these leaflets into the hands of the millionaires
living on Kahala, they exploded over this thing
because it would deplete their property values, with an
ugly, noisy, smelly freeway all the way on the reef. It
would deplete their view of the horizon, and all that.
And so all of these different groups between here
and Diamond Head or Coco Head got together and
they stopped the whole thing, and we’re still surfing
those 140 some surfing areas, all the way out to Coco
But they were something. I still have the plans.
What were some of the first actions that
established the reputation of SOS?
As we went along in our Save our Surf activism
and attempted to preserve the resources of the coastal
area, particularly surfing beaches, we discovered
that the politicians were involved with this because
they had to give grants or give permits to the private
agencies that were planning to do the bad work.
The key one was Dillingham, who had for many
years the only dredge in the Pacific, even going
back to the period when they overthrew the Hawaii
What we did was put out lots of leaflets because
we found there were many areas around Oahu and
on the other Islands where there were major attacks
taking place that would deplete the resources for the
general population in order to increase the profits for
some big agency that wanted to build a tourism facility
right in the area. They wanted to cut off the public
access to the shoreline and put certain things out in
the water that would interfere with the wave energy
and with the waves themselves for riding, both body
surfing and board surfing together.
We found out that getting people together to
protest these (attacks) was very effective, so we
decided to have a big event at the State Capital on
John Kelly
March the 17th, 1971.
We printed up thousands and thousands of leaflets
in our print shop. This is a very important thing - to
have the ability to print out leaflets, and get the word
and your hearfelt comments to the basic population.
If you don’t all the information that the populations is
relying on is coming from perhaps your opponents or
your enemies.
We had to be able to say what needs to be said
about some of these plans. We did that and we had a
little over 2,000 people, almost all of them teenagers
and almost all of them surfers, their boy friends and
their girl friends, at the first demonstration.
The next year we had over 3000 people there, by
actual count. In that second one we had an unusual
We had won a whole range of things the year
before - we got $140,000 for a surf parameter study
that went on for 3 years. We got the Sand Island Park
for surfing, and quite a lot of other things. So our
hopes and aspirations were pretty high the next year.
David McClumb was the chairman of the Senate
at that time, and he looked down from the third floor
and saw all these thousands of people there. He found
out that we had sent a committee of about eight or
nine people upstairs to hand out leaflets with certain
very simple, but important demands: to keep open
the access to the shores and to not destroy the surfing
areas with coastal interventions, and so on. These are
very simple things.
When McClumb saw this committee going
around, he sent word to all of the Senate and House
rooms and offices, ‘Slam your doors shut, don’t let
these people, these are trouble makers down there.
Don’t let them into your room with any of their
crap.’ And so they slammed all the doors shut and the
committee came back downstairs and came over to
me and said, ‘John, they wouldn’t let us hand out our
And so I was thinking for a moment. One of the
John addressing the crowd just before they shook things up.
guys sitting in the audience right in the center, with a
little black beard, was Mike Moriarty. He was I think
about 17 years old at the time, 17 or 18. He came up
to the podium and said to Christine Kemmer(?) (who
was 17 years old from McKinley High School) and
had the microphone in her hand. He said, ‘Can I have
the microphone?’ She said, ‘Why, why sure, take it!'
So Mike got up on the podium stood there and he
said ‘Brothers and Sisters, they wouldn’t let us hand
out our leaflets, so tell you what, will you all please
stand?’ He went like this and so that huge crowd of
3000 surfers and their girl friends and boy friends all
stood up at once, looking at each other with their wide
open eyes, kind of a smiling. He thought for a minute
says ‘All right. Tell you what let’s jump up and down
in unison, ready, set go!’
And everybody started jumping up and down.
Perfect unison, smiling and looking at each other.
Well within about a minute the whole capital started
to shake. They’d found the resonant frequency
of the State Capitol, and the walls and everything
was beginning to vibrate. All of the secretaries and
Senators and the House people upstairs were running
and screaming and yelling, and running down to get
out of this ‘Stop it stop it, it’s cracking the cement, its
cracking the State Capitol’ Everybody was just going
on (jumping up and down) just smiling at each other.
Voom, voom.
And then a group of about nine policemen, the
state capital’s guards, came over and they ran around
the circle of people and came over to me. ‘Mr. Kelly,
tell them to stop, it’s cracking the cement, it’s falling
on the offices downstairs’.
So I looked at them and put my hand on one
of 'em, on his shoulder, and said, ‘Do you know
what brudda’ with a smile ‘You go up to your boss,
Governor Burns on the top floor and you tell him,
when he’s stops pouring cement in our surfing area,
we’ll stop cracking cement here at the state capitol’.
They looked at me and they looked at the crowd
and they snuck away like this. If they had started
anything, these nine cops, with over 3000 angry
people like this it would have been all hell.
And it wasn’t until just recently - I think a year or
two years ago at the big renovation of the state capital,
one of the things they did was to patch up all the
cracks, on all five floors of the state capital, that were
created by several thousand angry and united surfers.
Hey, don’t spoil our surfing areas.
Give us a brief summary of the SOS victories.
One of the things that is interesting to me is
how how the surfers were able to unite and create a
people’s power base sufficient to stop a lot of these
horrible plans that were being put out. 3 years ago I
put together a list of all of the victories that we’ve won
and they’re not all of the victories, they’re just the
major ones from about 1964 or 65 until 1995. That’s
about 30 years isn’t it?
John Kelly
They involve mostly coastal intervention, and
it happens that the coastline, the beaches and the
waters and so on are a prime, prime focus of many
corporations to build those cement jungles either
next to water or in the water and destroy the surf.
That story I told you about the freeway would have
destroyed 140 surfing areas. We don’t call them
surfing sites any more, because when the waves get
big the surfing area spreads more widely, further out
than from side to side, than when it’s a small surf. So
rather than calling sites, which is too specific, we call
them surfing areas.
Over on Maui we’re fighting the Ma'alaea harbor
where they want to put a big harbor and destroy the
wave which is world famous for the length of its ride.
We’ve gone through our victories, listed them
and it adds up to about 35 major victories - lots of
other minor ones - but major victories, totally over
3 and 1/2 billion dollars of tax payers money saved
from very destructive coastal interventions. This is
thanks to the Save our Surf united movement: people
coming together, uniting and letting the public know
and eventually the politicians and the corporate power
structure that lies behind them, that this is something
we’re not going to stand for. And this extends from
Kauai all the way down to the big island.
So it’s been a worthwhile effort, from the
standpoint of environmental successes in saving
irreplaceable surfing areas. When you talk about
surfing areas you’re also talking about fishing areas,
because what when the surf is up people rides waves,
but when the surf is down people go out and catch
fish and squids and other things for their food supply.
They need these things, especially the Hawaiians,
and so to save the surf means to save other resource
aspects, of the areas that surround our beautiful island.
How do you feel about victories?
The victories make me feel partly good, but the
thing that I don’t like is that we won these victories
and the system goes on with lots of other attempts
to intervene in the coastal zone. We’ve got two
examples right now, dumping derelict ships and a big
barge and even a derelict airplane in Waikiki to create
an artificial habitat for fish so when they take their
tourists down below for profits in the submarines,
they’ve got something to look at, you know. It’s just
Now they’re trying to do the same thing in front
of the Ala Moana Park, out into about 50 or 60 feet of
water, and they want to do the same thing with derelict
ships there. They’ve gotten a few up at the University
who are willing to sell themselves by saying this is
going to be a nice thing: it won’t harm the biosphere,
and so they sanction these things. There are a few
people that will go along with that and are probably
putting some money in their pockets as a result.
But the basic approach to this is that there
should not be any coastal interventions that alter
what mother nature has presented to us for millions
of years. So we’re fighting those two things right
now. And it’s gonna take a bit of time to get further
detailed information and also to spread it out among
the population as a whole, so that they’ll have an
opportunity to take part in the final decisions.
A few moments ago we said something about
privatization, and we mentioned the fact that the
three big systems, slavery, feudalism and the
market economy all share one common feature, and
that’s privatization of land, labor and resources.
Competitive privatization, fighting each other to get
hold of it.
Now, there’s a lot of that still prevalent today.
Even though we’ve got these victories we’ve been
talking about, we haven’t changed the system that
has caused these interventions in the coastal zone and
ruined a lot of fishing and surfing areas and beaches.
I’ll show you maps that we have here that just rock
your mind when you see how much has taken place
already, much of it going way back.
All right, so its very nice to know that we’ve had
John Kelly
some victories, a large number of victories. A large
number of victories means that there are lots and lots
more projects being considered by the private industry
to go into the coastal zone in order to make money
out of it. We see that happening at the Hilton Village
and also at the Ala Moana Park now where they want
to dump derelict things in order to create artificial
habitats for the fish.
So the important thing is while we’ve won
victories on specifics we haven’t yet changed the
system. The motive of private gain, with the loss of
public resources, has not been altered.
We think that one of key aspects of life today in
all respects is how to cope with and eventually get
rid of the privatization of land, labor and resources,
competitive privatization land, labor and resources,
and return to what most of our indigenous ancestors
had, certainly most of Polynesia and the Hawaiian,
which was family sharing of land, labor and resources.
And until that happens, which also brings with it love
of nature, and all of its aspects, until that happens
our problems are not over. We still have to fight
and we have to build a people’s power base and get
information out in order to advance this struggle and
eventually to win.
You know, life is not consistent altogether. There
are changes and some of them are imposed on us by
circumstance that we may not be familiar with. In
my case, I actually get about an average of three to
four hours sleep a night and sometimes I’ll give up a
night’s sleep altogether and work all night, because
there’s a lot to do. And also, when you get to be
my age you don’t need as much sleep, at least that’s
what I think. That’s the case with me. So I can get
by on that, but I’m still in need of extra time to get
these things done so we can get the information out
in printed forms, and in something that’s appropriate
for the people that would like to learn more about the
ocean, about surfing and about our basic themes of our
But one of my problems is that when I got
involved in some of these projects I wasn’t able to go
out every day on my board and ride. As you know I
made the first gun in 1936, and then I made the first
hydroplane, even got a patent on that cause I was
having to make a little money. I was very poor in
those years and still am, but - in doing so, in making
these changes I wasn’t able to consistently go out and
board surf. So I got in touch with my friend Georgie
Downing and he gave me a boogie board, I had asked
for some help on that and he gave me a nice one.
I’ve gone out on the boogie board and it’s easy
to do and I can do almost as much as I used to do on
the surfboard, other than standing up. I’ve been able
to get up on my knees, and turn the board around
and do things like that. But I get the exercise, the
exercise is what I like. And the exercise of the Boogie
Board involves your legs in moving from one place to
another because you’ve got swim fins on. Once you
catch a wave, boardriding uses your leg muscle too,
but for going from here to there not much. But on a
boogie board, you got your fins and your whole body
is involved with that. So that’s one of the aspects that
I’m anxious to keep it.
The other is that I found I had a little balance
problem when I got back on some of my old boards.
And so I just feel a little bit insecure when I get up
on my feet on my long board, and I don’t feel quite
as confident as I used to, and so until I can find some
time to get out and practice every day you know for
a few weeks, I’ll just stick with the Boogie Board.
That’s where I’m at right now. It’s a substitute for my
old board riding.
I’ve been boardriding since the 1930s, as I told
you, David made my first board for me in 1928, so
38,48, 58, 68,78, 88 that’s sixty years, 98 will be
70 years of riding, so I guess I have to learn how to
accept a little bit of change and modification and how
to adapt to it. But I’m not going to give it up. I’m
going to stay out there in those waves, not matter
I love the waves, I love the challenge to it, and
somehow, Boogie Boarding can give you a challenge
too that the regular board riding doesn’t have. You
can ride through the white foam more easily. With
boardriders, you’ve had it when you get off the sheer
wall, and you’re riding in the white water and what
can you do there? But some of the boogie boarders
out here stand up on their boards or do 360s. I haven’t
tried some of the things, but you know I’m going to
get unto that soon. (Laughs)
Tell us the story about Himalayas.
We had gone out to Waimea Bay and it was white
water from left to right, from rocks to rocks. We
watched it for about an hour and said, ‘Hey there’s no
way we can surf in this, it’s too big’. I mean you can’t
ride white water safely, so we thought maybe Lanaikea
would be a good alternative, so we went back there.
Laniakea was beautiful, but there was this
enormous surfing area to the left of and so we thought
we’d try that. It didn’t have a name in those times.
Russ Stakoki said he’s not going to go out
because he’s not quite up to waves that big. Roy and
I were going out, along with Douggie Forbes. We
all grew up together and Douggie worked in a big
electrical company. He was spending an awful lot of
the time doing that and not much time surfing so I told
him, ‘Hey, Douggie, when you get out there, if you
lose your board - this is before ding strings - if you
lose your board and you’re fighting the waves, if a big
wave comes and breaks like this, don’t go down too
deep in this area. Because if you get way down deep
you’re getting the current of water that was carried
in shore ward by the previous set of waves, and that
water is going out underneath. If you go down and
get in that lower train of water and you’re going to get
carried further out, rather than further in. So when a
broken wave comes, go underneath it and come up a
little sooner than you would ordinarily and ride the
turbulent part of the back of the wave. It will carry you
right over the shallows and so the wave was almost
touching the water’.
Then we saw Wally in the middle of this huge
wave and I could see in the background the whole
Waimea range out to Kaena Point. That’s how big that
wave was. I mean small things can reveal big things
if you’re looking right, but that was nevertheless an
amazing thing.
The waves were breaking out way out in deep
water and I’m sure the waves were breaking at
least 35-40 feet high. They were bigger waves than
Waimea, and it was just beautiful. There was hardly
any wind and the left slide was clean, a clean wall all
the way across. I got 16 rides, I’ll never forget it. It
was my biggest day of surfing and the best day in my
life. And when we got ashore, we kicked around and
say ‘Hey, how about calling this Himalayas, biggest
mountain range in the world’. And it stuck and they
still calling it the Himalayas today (laughs)
How did your parents influence you?
We came to stay for one year in 1923 and never
left. My father and mother were artists, and many of
his beautiful art works (reflect) the beauty of their
culture while we stayed here. They enshrined the
Hawai’ian people in their art, in most of the things you
see on the walls downstairs, the etchings.
One of the nice things about living with artists
is that they were constantly looking at leaves and at
plants animals. They loved animals and we picked
up some dogs when I was young and invited them to
come over here and gave them food and we became
their home.
I often found my father looking at the lines in a
plank that’s been carved or cut, where you can see
the contours of the inner grain. The grain has curves
through it that are beautiful, and often you look at my
father’s etchings of people and you’ll see the effect
of his study of the grains of leaves and woods and
flowers. Those things influenced his appreciation of
the beauty of the human forms, cause they’d spent
most of their lives doing the human things, my mother
John Kelly
in sculptures and my father in etchings. That sort of
reached to me and to my heart.
So my life has been drawn into the beauties and
the multiplicity aspects of mother nature, with all of its
forms and its dynamics and its planting and growing.
Just the day before yesterday I was looking at all the
leaves falling off this Kamani tree and today, when I
looked at the tree there was a whole new set of brand
new leaves coming out all over the tree. I mean how
do the trees know how to do that? You know, it’s just
amazing. We need to know how nature takes care of
itself. There are a lot of marvels having to do with
This ocean is the same. It’s very much a part of
life and it draws you in to life to watch things. I’ll tell
you a story.
I was fishing one day out near Coco Head. There
was the biggest Hawaiian fish pond there, the biggest
one of its kind in all of Polynesia. An old man Lukela,
was the Hawai’ian in charge of this thing. I was
standing next to him, we knew each other, I had my
throw net. There was a big school of mullet right off
shore and so he started to lift the gate that opens the
passageway into or out of the fish pond. It was 500
acres. He started to lift it and I said ‘Papa Lukela, you
going to lose all your mullet, the tide is falling’.
‘Oh no Keone’ he says,‘You watch’. He lifted
the gate up and the sure enough the water came out
of the fishpond, strongly, but no mullet that were in
the pond (millions in there) came out. The big school
of mullet that was out offshore, came in and swam
against the current, right into the pond.
So I said, ‘Wow, how come you know that?’
‘Because the mullet always swim against the
current because they eat the stuff that clings to the Ele
That’s that green filamentous seaweed that grows
about this long and half an inch wide and very thin.
You see it at Waikiki and wherever there’s fresh water,
you know. This Ele Ele seaweed has little things
that cling to it, the mullets’ mouth is shaped in order
that they eat those little things.
That’s their food supply. The
way they determine how to
find the EleEle seaweed is they
always swim against the current.
They know where the fresh
water is: you can taste the fresh
So they swim against the
current in order to find the Ele
Ele seaweed where it grows in
the fresh water. So we turned
that into a political philosophy.
Always swim against the
current, that way you know
what’s coming. If you go
always with the current, you’re
in the same stagnant atmosphere
and you don’t know what’s
happening. And it works.
Any parting words?
The thing that makes me happy right now is to
know that there is something in life that we can all
be very happy about, the very item that needs to be
generalized throughout humanity, and that is to share.
Share life, to share resources, and so on. Life isn’t
shared fully. Look at these big hotels in Waikiki.
They’re all owned privately.