RIP Buttons Kaluhiokalani

The father of modern day surfing passes away at age 54

| posted on November 02, 2013
Revered for his smooth yet eccentric style, Buttons set new standards for progressive surfing. Photo: Maassen

Revered for his smooth yet eccentric style, Buttons set new standards for progressive surfing. Photo: Maassen

It’s with a heavy heart that we write that one of Hawaii’s favorite sons, Montgomery “Buttons” Kaluhiokalani, passed away this morning as a result of complications related to his battle with lung cancer. Buttons was 54 years old.

Like so many other Hawaiian surfing greats, Buttons rode his first wave in Waikiki at the age of 7. The son of an army serviceman and Hawaiian mother, Buttons came of age in the time of Hawaiian greats like Gerry Lopez and Eddie Aikau. In the 1970s, Buttons, along with close friends Larry Bertlemann and Mark Liddell, helped redefine what was possible on a surfboard and ushered the sport into new realms that laid the framework for modern day surfing.

From lineups throughout his hometown in Honolulu, Buttons’ fit frame topped with his trademark fro could be seen performing a gauntlet of new, skate-inspired maneuvers. Whether it was the carving 360, the switchfoot cutty, or the overall spontaneity of his eccentric style, Buttons’ approach in the water was truly ahead of his time.

In a recent interview for SURFER, Buttons credited his inspiration in the water to the famous Dogtown skate scene happening almost 3,000 miles away in California. “I was watching [Tony] Alva, watching Jay Adams, watching them skate and I connected the dots,” he said. “I was doing stuff I couldn’t even dream of doing. I did some crazy things. But you know, brah, I just did stuff that felt good.”

READ: Back From The Brink

As bright as Buttons’ star shined, it also dimmed when he fell into drugs. Fortunately, through friends, family, and his deep-seeded faith, Buttons found his way to sobriety in 2007 and had remained clean since.

Buttons also found his way back to the lineup and moved to the North Shore where he started a surf school and made a living spreading his aloha and love of surfing to others. He is survived by his wife, eight children and eight grandchildren.

The above video is courtesy of the Encyclopedia of Surfing.

  • Paul D.

    I will miss you very much Buttons, I miss the days when we were kids at the Wall, I miss the times you me and Charles Neal would hang out when we went Washington intermediate school, surfing Velzyland, Surfing Hau’ula Bowls, Threes or Kaisers with Mark, Before all the fame, When we were children of Hawaii, I thank The Lord Jesus for our friendship

  • Kevin Lawson

    A bright light has gone out with Buttons passing. He was an ambassador of Aloha,Surfing and the North Shore so this news is especially painful. My thoughts and prayers immediately turn to Hiriata and their 2 little ones.
    I realize Buttons impact & influence on surfing and that world but far more importantly than those things Buttons was a good man.
    A man who had fallen and gotten back up.

    A delightful,kind and soulful man.
    A man that understood and extended the concept of grace to others.
    A man that I will deeply,deeply miss and never forget.

  • John Sheehan

    I knew Buttons personally. Heart bigger than the big Island. We must take care of his familly as a tribute to Buttons

  • Standupsurfer

    RIP Buttons. You were a true inspiration to the community. May your family find peace and comfort. Aloha.

  • Steve Soderberg

    Buttons, What can I say? Your passing hurts so many as so very many loved you. You were a friend to all. Giving, kind, always humorous and good natured. I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed filming your surfing and exploits as you always did everything you could to make the films entertaining. You and Mark Liddell made the difficult and heavy task of making surfing movies so much lighter and fun. My sincerest condolences go out to your family and closest friends. Aloha Butts, it was an honor to know you and the world is a less warm and friendly place without you. Never knew anyone like you. Only one Buttons!

  • Bob

    Aloha Buttons!
    One of my fondest memories of Buttons was in the early 80s, Christmas Day. Waves were 33FT to every 3rd, breaking outside. Cresting at 40ft. Arrived at sunset early. Freaking out, we jumped out of our 67′ Fairlane and looked around. Buttons looked at me and said ‘Bob, we need courage!’ Hell yea we did!! So off to Cammy Store for a 6pk of the liquid courage. We sat on the shore watching and building courage. Finally with the beers gone I grabbed my 8’2″ Juno and Buttons grabbed his Spear 8′ something. We looked at eachother, took off running and screaming! Cowabunga and paddled out! EPIC DAY!!! Mahalo Buttons

    • Bee

      While paddling out Queens one morning into some glassy 4-5 footers I remember seeing something strange….it looked like a oversize basketball flying thru a 4′ barrel. So I sat up on my 5’10” twin to get a better look saying to myself ‘what the hell was that’…..out the other end pops a smiling Buttons with his sunburned orange Afro!!! Halleluiah!
      Like the song says “There will never be another Kanaka like you!”

    • Reid W Harris III


  • Annette Kaluhiokalani

    RIP cuz….as you found peace in heaven the world is it’s left in grief…you will never be forgotten.

  • Douglas Dutra

    Another warrior has joined the heaven’s crew. Rest in peace Buttons and thanks for all you have done for surf.

  • mazer

    fuckin sick! Rip big dog

  • Gary Capo

    I truly treasure our time together. Your spirit and generosity was the stuff of legends.
    Your memory will forever make me smile.
    Aloha Brother Buttons

  • James B


  • vicor jose

    buttons se la vacila…¡

  • Dr. Sonn

    I knew Buttons when we were students at Washington Intermediate School. We used to sniff paint together after school and during weekends. He’s a great friend and taught me how to surf at Kaiser. I’m going to miss you buddy, RIP!

  • vicor jose

    buttons se la vacila..1 class

  • Dominique Gonzalez Ushery

    Rip Buttons…… Hope you are riding those big waves in the sky!

  • Yatz

    RIP Buttons…godspeed…

  • Denise Whitford Szczech

    RIP Buttons, hug my brother Redwings for me…xo

  • Nico

    Put Buttons on the cover! Respect!

  • Scotty

    RIP BUTTONS.. that Buttons Skateboarding clip, That’s from the GARY CAPO’S Surf Film, MANY CLASSIC MOMENTS.

  • Greg Heilig

    I am truly sad to hear of Buttons’ passing. I met and surfed with him for about a week when I was a chaperone for a group of Los Angeles kids during a summer in the early 80’s. As my mom was organizing this surf trip, she needed someone to watch over us while we were in the Waikiki lineup. Her method of finding that person consisted of simply surveying the Waikiki surf zone for a day and picking the hottest, most expressive surfer out there. Guess who she picked? Buttons!
    Working through his sponser, Local Motion, Buttons became our “surf nanny”, making sure we young haoles were safe in the Waikiki lineup. What a prankster! He was NEVER serious. We joked that he was our professor of Surfology and that we were his eager students. He made us know what real Hawaiian Aloha was, he made us feel so welcome! Buttons; a fantastic, beautiful human being! R.I.P.

  • Scott

    I met Buttons under the tree by Bowls, super friendly, even to a young haole. I never got to see him surf in person but his innovative radical moves mixed with pure Hawaiian style left a deep impression on me. ALOHA and much respect, you will be missed by many.

  • Cesar P.Saiz

    Overwhelmed by the finality of the news today that I was trying so badly not to hear.
    Circa 1978~~~ Eye candy of you at Ala Mo and V~land competed for wall space in my room with magazine cut outs of perfect Point Waves and shots of the Dem…i gods known as Led Zeppelin. With the beautiful coastline of Oahu as your canvas, you shared everything about surfing that I and so many others loved, the exoticness of free expression, the spirit of freedom and Aloha ,your relationship with the ocean. In a word. you brought to life the FULL JOY that this passion we call surfing has to offer. You, Uncle Buttons had that special energy that made people happy even from afar !
    2012 I have the supreme good fortune to meet you, and trip with you to Costa Rica and instantly understand why you have had this loving affect on many ocean cultured people from our era, the reason is your Presence and Heart are Pure and Loving. Thanks for enriching my life and this Special Culture we are so Blessed to live and pass on to others ! Eternal Peace Bro…… I know you are with the Lord>…..See you there!
    ~~ In memory of Montgomery Earnest Thomas Kaluhiokalani~~~
    Thanks Brah for being who you were
    (Cesar P. Saiz)

  • professor Q

    Sad day indeed. Surfing the big island in the clouds. God speed bruddah and thanks for the memories….

    • Gary Sanders

      Buttons, I just heard. You are an inspiration. I cryed when I heard.. There will never be another you and world has a hole in it with you gone. Aloha my brother. You thought my daughter to surf and gave her a lifetime gift. You are truly a legend.

  • Rodger

    Buttons will be greatly missed. He embodied all that I loved about surfing. He had power, grace and he had fun. I remember looking forward to each Surfer Magazine as a kid. Just knowing Buttons would be in there. Peace to Buttons and his family. He found a lot of demons and came out on top. He loved surfing and could care less about contest. A lot can be learned from the example Buttons set.

  • Nicola Lugo

    He was a really good man. I’m sad.

  • Alex Ziolkowski

    Alhoa Buttons, and RIP.

  • Ramon Vargas

    I come from a different island but Buttons was always with us with his style in surf n skate! God bless him and his family

  • Francisco

    Man…. you fucking heavy surfer and so North Shore icon…. god bless you man.


  • mrsliquidchef

    nalowale ‘oe. aloha!

  • Chief_Mongo

    My favorite surf anti-hero. RIP, Buttons.

  • Kimo McGowan

    RIP Buttons. Thanks for the t&c twinnie back in 1984. I cherished that board!

    • Chip Douglas

      Shaka brah!

  • g.o.

    Nice piece. Thanks for the fitting tribute.



  • Pat

    Aloha brother,
    So few years ago, I was happy to hear about your life turning around. I watched you surf with admiration, but more admired you for rising above the demons. You won that fight and did not deserve to die young. With many tears and much aloha, mahalo bruddah.

  • WillisBrothers

    The Willis brothers and their families wish to extend our deepest sympathy to ka ohana Kaluhiokalani. See you at the paddle out. Love and Respect God, Milton Bradley Willis, Michael Clebert Willis.

  • scott

    I was just telling my youngest daughter about buttons surf school on last Sunday. I had no idea he had passed away. I asked her what so wanted to do for a living when she grew up and she said she wanted to open a surf school. That’s when i told her that Buttons had done that same thing. I had no idea he had passed away the day before. At least he died clean.Love you bra.

  • Kukailimoku

    Eh braddah, hope you are having a great surf in that rippin’ line up in the sky…thank you for being a positive inspiration to me and my braddah Vic (who’s nick name is also “Buttons” ‘cus of his button nose when he was a keiki…me and our Ohana still call him Buttons)…the best to your Ohana in their time of loss, and know that the love and respect of your life and memory, and of all Surfa’s and Kanaka Mao’li will assure that they will get through this. Much love and Mana’o to you braddah…see you in da line up,

    Aloha ‘a hui ho

  • Kukailimoku


    SURFER Magazine, you guys should put Buttons on the cover next edition…would be supa rad of you guys!



    A lot of us in southern California who took up surfing in the early 70’s had a list of heroes we looked up to. Guys who were on the forefront of a new era. That south shore crew led by Buttons, Mark, and Larry were inspirational to say the least. Buttons saw the highs and lows of life but from what I hear he eventually found the Lord and that’s what makes him one of life’s true heroes.

  • Kukailimoku

    What? Brah, have some respect…wasn’t like Buttons went die ‘cus he was trying to get out of taking care of his children…or his grandchildren…hooooo man, some people get pilau attitude no matter what kind of tragedy befalls their fellow men and women.

  • mililani

    REALLY!!!??? Did you just SERIOUSLY say that??? He died…dumba$$…of a disease…What kind of human being are you to make a comment like that!!?? Oh wait!!! I just figured it out….there is NOTHING HUMAN about you…no compassion, no R-E-S-P-E-C-T!!! Some peoples parents just have no clue on teaching their children how not to be SO IGNORANT….Found the second puzzle piece…can’t blame you completely for being IGNORANT….GOTTA blame your IGNORANT PARENTS for not raising a HUMAN BEING!!!

  • Philip Chapman

    Buttons you will be missed and in our hearts. Met you once very briefly many many years ago. We will all “catch one” with a smile Aloha see you in the Big Blue! NOID.

  • Keoni Cameron

    I grew up with Buttons and Mark, surfing Queens on the weekends only because my cousin and I “had” to go to school, when the other 2 got to surf it everyday of the week. We all entered our first contest’s together and he and Mark Liddell just killed it in every contest they were in. Although, Buttons will be the first to tell you he did get ultra-nervous in all of his heats from the first contest all the way to the Pro’s. He will never be forgotten at every surf spot he ever showed up at. The planet has lost a true inspirational guy who everybody loved and cared about. Aloha my friend, we’ll see you in the next life. Rest In True Peace and my God always be with you. Aloha, Keoni….

  • JP

    I’ll never forget a real brief look Buttons gave me when coming in from big lani’s, I had just watched him catch a solid set wave and ride it through into the chanel, he hopped off his board and just smiled at me, not with arrogance or pride or greed just a smile of pure joy and that is how I will remember him.

  • Kim

    RIP Brah!

  • Froza Kaluhiokalani

    Farewell and rest well, Buttons! Your surfing and shaka-dakine lifestyle inspired thousands of groms like my friends & I in the mid 70s…you were truly ahead of your time!


    Froza Kaluhiokalani
    Island of Maui

  • jay adams

    my bruddah BUTTS,,you’ll be missed but i know for sure your just saving us a spot to hang out again with the LORD.ETERNITY is gonna be even better than the life we had here,all your family and friends are gonna miss you bra but we all know its just for a lil while and we’ll all be together again .Next time we meet up there wont be any pain or bodies growing old the LORDS house is gonna be perfect more than we can ever imagine

  • jay adams

    i miss you already

  • Lardog

    Rest in peace buttons you were one of the best prayers of peace to your surviving family

  • Billy Thornton

    Tales of the Seven Seas, Adventures in Paradise and all of the hype Buttons created in the 80’s is how I remember him. Then going to the North Shore and meeting him and several other of Hawaii’s sons at Steamers was like being in the presence of God. Buttons was a giver of his time and aloha and he didn’t shun me for being a haole….I always saw and read about him as a giver. I pray he is with the Lord surfing da kine in heaven!

  • PeterL

    Aloha my friend I flash back to V-Land when we use to sleep in our cars, you & mark would walk pass my V.W and tap on it to wake us up to hit the morning session, The good days will live for ever Miss you Buttons! See U when I see U ALOHA….

  • Michael Clebert Willis

    Montgomery “Buttons” Kaluhiokalani March 30, 1959 — November 2, 2013.
    Malibu, Surfrider beach paddle out

    In honor and with big love and respect an official ceremony and paddle
    out was held for legendary, truly iconic surfer, Buttons Kaluhiokalani.
    Kaluhiokalani a Hawaiian native son was known and respected world
    wide in the surfing community for his “supernatural” surfing skills
    and ability. In addition to his surfing prowess, a flamboyant
    personality, chiseled physique and rouged good looks caused him to stand
    out like no other. Buttons personal life was a roller coaster of highs
    and lows that he not only survived but he later overcame and flourished.
    Buttons passing is the passing of one of surfings all time greatest.
    He will be deeply missed and always remembered for his passion, love
    and aloha. The following is a true eyewitness account of the November
    9th 2013 paddle out for Buttons Kaluhiokalani at Malibu Surfrider Beach
    in Los Angles County, California.

    Milton Willis and I, Michael Willis – the Willis brothers arrived at
    Malibu Surfrider Beach for Buttons paddle out slightly after sunrise.
    We weren’t the first though, someone before us had taken chalk and
    written, “We love you Buttons” and drew a big heart on the walkway. In chalk i added “Ua
    mau ke ea o ka aina i ka pono.” The sky was clear the temp warm and
    the air electric.

    Paying deep respect, amongst the first to arrive was Alan Sarlo, King of Malibu,
    who himself is a notable surfer with strong Hawaiian and
    California roots. Sarlo, one of the Bu’s best surfers ever, joined
    Milton and I slightly up the beach where we were playing tribal drum
    beats for Buttons. Milton had brought a conch shell, which Alan picked
    up raised his head to the clouds and sounded off for Buttons.

    Moments later, as if on queue, people began showing up and the official
    ceremony was about to begin. Beautiful women and rough looking, well
    tanned, muscled and tattooed men abounded. Cameras were everywhere, it
    could have been a scene in a James Bond movie but it wasn’t, it was
    Buttons posse coming to pay honor and respect. Though it felt surreal
    it was very real.

    Cory Whitlock, from the Whitlock surfing family, demonstrated his love and
    respect for Buttons by having “Love like Buttons” t-shirts printed up.
    Bless the Whitlocks for demonstrating some Californians have aloha.
    Proceeds from donations went to help Buttons family.

    Troy, from Kaau Crater Boys, along with his daughter provided the
    opening music. The crowd went completely silent when they sang Israel
    Kamakawiwaole’s “Somewhere Over The Rainbow.” Buttons had actually
    played harmonica with the Kaau Crater Boys. Somehow i felt Buttons
    looking down soaking in the California love. Chicken skin.

    As a perfect background, a phalanx of surfboards lined the famous
    Malibu wall. Included were actual surfboards Buttons had surfed. There
    were also surfboards decades old that featured Buttons label. Included
    in the line up were true Willis Brothers surfboards Phazer bottom big
    wave guns built in Hawaii. There was even a foam blank which (i
    presume) was going to be shaped for Buttons.

    Noble Kaluhiokalani, Buttons brother of the same mother was in attendance
    and spoke of his brother. He related about how as a youth certain bad
    boys would pick on Buttons but Buttons shrugged it of. Buttons was
    about love, BIG LOVE. Noble related how Buttons encouraged everyone,
    “hate no one, love all.”

    Sumo, a childhood friend of Buttons and now a pastor in
    California, spoke of how as keikis, Jr. Moapono would bully him.
    Moapono ruled Velzyland and would often send Sumo to the beach. It was
    Buttons, friend to all, who befriended Sumo and encouraged him to stay
    positive. Sumo, with a wry smile and distant gleam in his eyes, spoke of
    going to the “dark side” with Buttons. All said and done Buttons had
    turned his life around and by all means finally becoming responsible
    and successful operating a surf school on the north shore of Oahu
    under his own name.

    Ben Aipa, true Hawaiian surfing living legend, was represented by his
    son Duke. It turns out Buttons and another great surfer Mark Lydell
    were his baby sitters growing up! It was a blessing to see the Aipa
    family represented, again conformation of Big Love and respect from
    surfing’s revered who’s who. Buttons legacy shall live forever.

    Strongmen stood with reverent looks on their faces. Women and men
    were crying. The crowd of between 500 and 1000 or more was unified not
    by personal religion or credo but rather true and unconditional Big
    Love. Buttons wife Hiriata stood bravely as did his lovely daughter
    Nawaii. Close by a beautiful– beautiful young woman with a white
    burka covering her hair let out a steady stream of spirit filled
    tears. She was illuminate.

    Sumo — a hefty Polynesian man with long hair and beard gave
    instructions for the paddle out. He implored us to have a vision
    of Buttons in our minds and Big Love in our hearts and spirit. Family,
    and those closest to Buttons, would be in the inner circle and the rest
    would form an outer circle around them. Truth be told, even the outer
    circle was in the inner circle! An important human event and noted
    history was about to crystallize.

    One may have thought most of the paddlers would be mostly surfers,
    however Buttons world was most expansive. Artists, musicians, models,
    businessmen, actors, along with prominent surfers, mothers, fathers
    and whole families grabbed their surfboards and paddled out. Famed Dog
    Town skater Jay Adems and his girlfriend were amongst the first to
    paddle out. Popular Los Angeles musician Billy Wilson showed up as did
    famed surfboard shaper Jeff Ho, Big Love. And the beautiful young
    woman wearing the white scarf on her head — she paddled out
    wearing baggy blue trunks and a t-shirt and yes the white scarf!

    Milton and I waited until the majority of paddlers had positioned
    themselves before entering the ocean to join them. We paddled in
    unison, both holding flowers soon to be tossed in honor, respect
    and Big Love. We arrived to perhaps the middle of the outside circle.
    Noting that the other side of the circle seemed to need shoring up I
    began paddling. By the time i was half way there the other side had
    filled in. Though perhaps the furthest from the inner circle something
    told me that i was right were i was supposed to be. Buttons perhaps?

    Sumo led the charge, flowers were being tossed, ocean water reverently
    splashed and loud shouts for Buttons filled the air. Adding to the melee, an
    official L.A. county lifeguard boat soon appeared firing a water cannon and
    sounding a siren. On board were two of Malibu’s top lifeguards along
    with Noble Kaluhiokalani and six or seven very beautiful women.

    As fate would have it, the lifeguard boat parked less than 10 feet of
    where i was sitting. The steady stream of water enveloped me and with
    the sun at just the right angle a rainbow appeared. As if possessed by
    the holy spirit, a fully clothed Noble Kaluhikalani dove head first from the boat into the chilly waters. A gracious man on a kayak close by began
    unstraping and offered his kayak to Noble. Noble turned to me and
    commanded — take me to the center.

    Somehow i felt Buttons spirit working together with God, orchestrating
    the whole event. With honor and humble pride i shouted “Noble coming
    inner circle!” Moments later, task completed, i returned to my original
    position. The ladies on the boat were blowing kisses to the crowd. I reached out
    and caught one, said a prayer and released it. Shortly after the royal
    send off, surfers began making their way to the surf break to catch a
    wave for Buttons.

    Milton, myself, Jeff Ho and Sumo were amongst the last to leave. Upon
    reaching the lineup i saw Hiriata on a very large surfboard. The
    waves were between six inches and perhaps two feet high. Hiriata
    seemed to have a little difficulty finding the right wave to surf. A
    small wave came by and despite a gentle push from behind by another
    surfer, she had a wipe out. Hiriata got back on her surfboard just in
    time to catch the following wave.

    Most of the waves ridden were surfed by 5 or more surfers, this one
    had only one other surfer and it was Milton! With deep respect and
    love Milton rode in watching Hiriata make it safely back to the
    shore. Again i suspected Buttons somehow had a hand in it, God did for
    sure. They say behind every good man is a great woman, Hiriata is
    credited with being the great woman behind Buttons. God bless

    The good book tells us all is vanity, and for the most part this is true. i say
    for the most part because all is vanity except love. True love is
    unconditional, ever constant and perfect.
    God made the world we live in, God made the lives we live. Buttons
    legacy will go on, but perhaps years from now he will be remembered
    less for his surfing exploits and more for being a great surfer who
    said, “Hate no one, love all.” Big Love.

    Blessings and Respect,

    Michael Clebert Willis

    • Jesse

      Aloha Growing up on the Big Island of Hawaii , I got into surfing at a young age. And like all young surfer around the world I look at all surfing magazines. And that was when Jerry Lopez was doing less surfing . And a local Brahdah with a Big Afro started covering the pages of the surfer magazines. And I was like damn , wow awesome moves I think if I give up my boogie board. And get me a surf board and I started to try to Imitate his moves. And next I know I was getting good and I wanted to be like Buttons. I surfed every chance I got and had set a goal to be a Prosurfer like Buttons my Idol. And once when I was in High School my friends and I went to Kalapana before Madame Pele wiped it out. There was a surf spot called Drain Pipes, not big waves but nice ankle to shoulder high waves. And it was like a little pass 9am . When one of my friends said “Hey look that looks like Buttons & Dane Kealoha???” We looked and said naw it’s to small here, but we were like damn it is. They paddled up and we all was like schoolgirl when a really handsome guy comes up and talks to them. They were like hey guy’s is it ok we surf with you guy’s? We were like “oooooh yea yea , and Buttons told us “If you guy’s don’t run this guy swimming with us, he is our photographer. Please Don’t run him over and maybe you will be in da magazine. So we surfed with the 2 best surfer in the world at that time and my idol. The first time I met Buttons. And yes there was only 1 picture of me but could not tell. Only if you knew my surfboard you would know it was me. Cause I did not have any large tattoo’so on my back , I was hooked . But my grandmother said no you can’t make money surfing you need to have a career. I end up moving to the east coast working as a Dj , Bartender , Waiter , line cook , sous chef . Then moved to California (San Francisco) then to Vellejo . But my heart was missing home. I moved back to Hawaii, I lived on Oahu for a bit. But wanted to go back to the Big Island , a really laid back place , 3 cars is a traffic jam , mellow mood Island.

    • Jesse

      Then I got into and surfing accident on Jan 9 , 1997 at Hapuna Beach Park surfing a 15-20ft wave from what everyone told how big it was. But my board stalled cause it was my last wave and was surfing the wave in. But since it stalled by the time I got the board going it was to late. The lip was coming over and I tried to cut back down but was to late. I went over the falls and felt something hit the back of my head. And I heard a loud crack and my vision went black and I could not move but was concession. At one point I was felt myself floating sideways, I knew cause I could tell i was left side up cause I could hear the difference. Then I heard a wave break really close and knew I was going back down. And I took as much air as I could then the water covered me and took me under. All I saw was black , then I saw myself as a baby sitting on my dad’s parents couch and I am 1 1/2 or 2 years old. Like a video put on fast forward while watching everything around me went fast. But I remained like a ghost watching. Then next thing I knew I was on the beach coughing and gasping for air. And saw my fellow lifeguards around me and I was in a C collier and strap to the straight board. I found out I died and was brought back and had a broken neck. I recovered kind of quickly but was partly paralyzed waist down. On my 1 year anniversary I went out for the first time since my accident at Hapuna Beach. I went back out on a boogie board even though it was not big I was out there. I then moved to Honolulu in 2007 and joined Acessurf and got to meet Buttons again and we became close friends. My idol and I spent a lot of time together was awesome. I got to see a great loving , giving , warm , and lots of Aloha is what he showed me. I was very lucky to have spent a week with him a week before he started his battle with cancer. I spent my time with him and his Ohana while he was in the Hospital in Hawaii before going to Cali for treatment. I WILL MISS HIM DEEPLY BUT HE WILL NOT BE FORGOTTEN!!! I will cherish the memories,,,,,

    • Cesar Saiz

      Michael, thank you so much for sharing this account of that day. As one who admired Buttons greatly from afar as a young kid, and one fortunate enough to experience that “Big Love” first hand, traveling and surfing with him in Costa Rica 2012. It was a joy to read your beautifully written “story” of that Memorial day. Makes me feel as if I was there .
      Mahalo with much respect Cesar P. Saiz !

  • Will from VA

    Buttons was a great person to share the aloha spirit. He gave my mom and sister a stand up paddle board lesson and gave me a sweet red Hui sticker to put on my car. Mahalos Buttons. Aloha, RIP.

  • Daniel

    how the hell do you get lung cancer in Hawaii if you don’t smoke ?

  • CheChe

    BVD what’s your real name and where do you live? Lung cancer obviously hit the wrong person. Tears of sorrow for Buttons. I pray his dear family does not see this evil missile. God speed Butty Boy.

  • jerry

    Surfed with this amazing guy in Nov 2011 at jockos and chuns all I can say he was soo funny where all out there and there would be three guys going to catch a wave and you would hear him say GO BUTTONS GO! LOL just amazing

  • Nikki Gibson-Dofflemyer

    RIP.. Your memory and legend will go on forever. Love to your family.

  • chris

    buttons could rip on a barn door

  • D

    You are a douche bag…

  • grantiago

    Hawaiian Welcome!

    My first day ever in Hawaii, I’ve heard all the smack about the bad vibes for outsiders, I pull into the parking lot at Puena. All these big Hawaiians standing around. One of them looks kinda familiar. I grab my board, tail between my legs, and slink towards the point. One of them steps out of the group and says to me, “I know you.” I think to myself, damn here it comes. I look at this guy and I DO know him. But I can’t remember how. “No,” I say, “I know you!” And it starts to go around: all smiles and I realize this is Buttons! He laughs and says, Oh man, I thought you were someone else and gives me a hug! That smile and banter shaped my, brief, Hawaiian experience. Thanks Buttons! Your smile will live forever!

  • Mona Massfeller

    RIP Buttons!
    You will forever be remembered as one of greats to grace the North Shore!
    Buttons, Beaver, Eddie, Reno, Owl…just some of the amazing talent to come from obscurity in the 70’s & early 80’s and become some of the most influential surfers of their era and in the world!!!! They paved the way for surfers to get paid big money…they all surfed because they loved it & if Local Motion gave them a board or two and some free wetsuits or even their airfare paid….they were the richest guys in the world….getting paid to do what they loved. They all paved the way to be noticed and be sponsored by the surf companies we see today.
    God Bless you and your beautiful family!

  • Waterman

    Our stars go down to rise upon another shore…….ride on BUTTONS, aloha

  • Endoxa52

    I met Buttons at the Sundek Classic in Corpus Christi in 1984…heart of gold…RIP, my brother.

  • tom avritt

    my name is tom avritt had prevlige to have surfed with buttons for years at Kaisers , v-land.weused to do some crazy stuff,can’t bealive his gone?love you bro. see ya on the other bro

  • John F. Hendry

    Just learned of Button’s passing on Facebook. My condolences to his loved ones left behind. Him and Mark called me Nugent and both were there to help someone fresh of the boat with no need of any negativity towards anyone. Those were good times back then. One of the great Hawaiians who will be remembered. What an honor to uphold. Give it time.

  • Cutter

    All of these wonderful comments show what a great person this man was.
    Beyond the circle of surfers, the world needs more people like this.
    Rest in Peace Brah.

  • Kurt Brechter

    i grew up with buttons His mom and mine worked steering G.I ‘s coming back to Hawaii from Viet Nam to buy “Nifty Thrifty Honda 50’s. His mom and mine Sat on the little bikes on a platform that rotated, My fondest memory is Knee Boarding off the jetty at Kuhio beach. I was already in the water and riding covered by white water and Buttons dropped his board striking me dead on my head knocking me out cold the next thing I knew my Dad was bulling me out of the water with Buttons right behind us dragging my knee board and His shouting” I saved your board Brah I saved your board” the boards then were 1/2 inch plywood cut into a shape looking something approach a skim board of today. It was sometime close to 1969 and we lived in an apartment just off Kalakaua on Lemon road. The building was full of returning G.I.’s who were a reliable sources of change for candy.I Started many times to go back to Hawaii to look him up,but my own battles with substance abuse and I never got back to look him up. I was at a house party in Santa Cruz about 20 years ago there was a T.V. with a surf video on I wasn’t really paying attention to it until I heard “And this is Buttons Kaluiokalani the Enfant Terrible of surfing”. My ears picked up and I said” oh shit I grew up with Buttons” the guy’s who thought they were hardcore said “right you know Buttons” I said no I do” but they just laughed and again said “right brah you knew Buttons”
    I will always will remember him telling me “I saved your board Brah I saved your board.
    And I will never forget the day we paddled ou at Queen Surf next to the Outrigger canoe club the day of Duke Kahoamoko”s memorial”
    I am sorry to just read about his passing at this late date. Aloha Brah I got your board

  • Robin Zimmerman

    I did nit know you passed away till today….youve been gone 2 yrs but no one will ever forget you….RIP BUTTONS <3

  • Al

    ~1975 I saw Buttons get tubed at double-overhead Laniakea, cutback, then head back into the tube backward. He somehow got turned around in there, popped back out and finished the wave. I still cite it as having witnessed a minor miracle.

  • André Breves

    Buttons!!! True hawaiian!!!

  • James Mc Cormack

    Got shoulder hopped by Buttons at Trestles on 5-6 I was in awe of the grace and phenomenal style he displayed in front of me….we both kicked out and he Smiled and said “Sorry. Bruddah” …..He came over later back on the beach and we shot breeze and he teased my little sister for making a cat tail that she had pulled from the swamp scream….ALOHA TO BUTTONS

  • Keahau

    Aloha all, I am Buttons sisiter,Kehau, may I ask a favor, I would like to know if it’s possible to get articles or any memorable items of my Brother for our Ohana. Your kokua will be greatly appreciated. My email is As brother would say Aloha, a hui hou!

  • Andrew Lott

    Wow you are some kind of GOOF eh!! The man passed away and was a true legend and family man!! He did everything for his family, children and friends! You are a piece of dirt! Truly. Have some respect you low down piece of garbage! RIP Buttons!!

  • Pete

    It’s been nearly 3 years. and it’s still a sad moment to realize that Buttons is gone. Wish I knew him. Mahalo Buttons for what you brought to surfing.

  • Mark spi

    I watch buttons on the dog the bounty Hunter episode. Not knowing the man. He seem very nice

  • Patti

    Oh no i just saw Dog The Bounty Hunter that had Buttons on. I e-mail on how he was doing… Didn’t know he passed away. so sorry…

  • Eric Salazar

    Believe it or not I had an awesome opportunity to meet & party with Buttons while he was visiting the Gulf Coast at Padre Island. We were judging a surf contest my friend Val Bazaldua & myself Eric Salazar with Frank Floyd. We then all met up at a Club called Babaroobas and that’s where we really got to hang out and talk, he was very charismatic, cool and easy to approach always had this smile that was contagious. Buttons was a first class surfer without the attitude and he was fun to be around always joking around full of energy. I had heard that he was going through some bad times with drugs but got cleaned up. Now, that I live in Southern California For the last 35 years I saw a show and saw Buttons on T.V. Recently before his passing on Dawg Bounty Hunter & the next thing I knew I said Wow, that looks like Buttons & it was him. I will remember him as an ecsentric surfer whose behavior was raw what you saw is what you got. A one of a kind of man who loved life and lived life to the fullest.