“One of the great icons in our sport of Surfing, Rabbit Kekai is a true inspiration…especially to young surfers,” said Surfers’ Hall of Fame founder Aaron Pai. “He has preserved his surfing culture in a very positive way, and that is by simply living it. We are honored and excited to induct Rabbit into the Surfers’ Hall of Fame!”
Nicknamed “Rabbit” for being one of the island’s fastest runners, Kekai is a living legend in the world of surfing; one that has done it all from Waikiki beach boy to groundbreaking surfer to North Shore Beach Marshall. Born in 1920 and raised in Waikiki, Rabbit began surfing at age five. At age 10 he was taken under the wing of Duke Kahanamoku who paid his entries into canoe races and had him teaching surf lessons.
A pioneer of North Shore surfing in the ’30s with George Downing and Wally Froiseth, Rabbit became known as an innovator of drop-knee turns on short, finless boards. He practically invented hot-dogging, inspiring the likes of Phil Edwards, Joe Quigg, Miki Dora and Donald Takayama. He also had a direct part in the development of surfers such as Joey Cabell, Jeff Hakman and Randy Rarick among others. The quintessential Waikiki beachboy, Rabbit boasted many Hollywood elite of the day as clients including David Niven, Red Skelton, Dorothy Lamour and Kirk Douglas.
Rabbit made his own redwood and balsa boards prior to World War II, at which time he served as an army frogman in the South Pacific. As an Army-trained underwater demolitions man, Kekai spent more than three years planting explosives on island-based enemy defenses in Micronesia, helping clear pathways for American troops. He was one of four from his 12-man platoon to return from action.
Following his return from the war, Rabbit’s surfing continued to improve and he won the Peruvian and Makaha International titles during the ’50s. He returned to his job as a beachboy, but also worked construction and as a longshoreman. Beginning in the ‘70s, Kekai worked for the annual North Shore contests. Each winter season, he can be found at every Triple Crown event, doling out jerseys, wisecracks and advice as Beach Marshall, a position he has held since the first Pipeline Masters.
Year after year he was the most active surfer in his age group, winning the United States Surfing Championships in 1973, 1980, 1984 and 1988. In the legends division of the 2000 event, surfing against men nearly 15 years his junior, the 79 year-old finished fourth. Commenting on his many accomplishments, Rabbit responds, “When you pass 500 trophies, years and years ago, you lose count.” Now in his ninth decade, his enthusiasm for talking stories, telling jokes and surfing are as strong as ever.