Hawaiian Surfing Legend

Surf legend Montgomery Ernest Thomas Kaluhiokalani was a local surfer from Hawaii. He was simply known as Buttons. He got his nickname because his hair looked like small buttons hanging off his head. Buttons was half Popolo, half Hawaiian, his father was in the Army, he was raised by his Hawaiian mother.

His Hawaiian side of the family were paniolo (cowboys) originally from North Shore, Oahu although Buttons was raised in Waikiki, just a block from the ocean waves. As a youngster Buttons would go to the beach fascinated watching his uncle surf. Eager to jump in the ocean himself Buttons used a beat up foam surfboard that was discarded by tourist. Buttons rode his first wave near the “Waikiki Wall” when he was only 7 years of age. His mom, a little hesitant bought him his first surfboard. Teaching himself how to swim and surf a surf legend was born.


Buttons came of age in the time of Hawaiian surfer greats Gerry Lopez and Eddie Aikau. In the 1970s, Buttons, along with close friends & fellow surfers Larry Bertlemann and Mark Liddell, helped redefine what was once thought impossible to do on a surfboard. Buttons applied his skateboarding skills into new innovative surf moves. He was a forefather, an original who shaped the framework of modern day surfing.

In 1973 Buttons came in second for the Boy’s Division of the United States Surfing Championship. At the age of 21 he competed in the Pipeline Masters and Sunset World Cup. In 1979 he won the Sunkist Malibu Pro; he also came third in the 1975 Pro Class Trials, third in the 1981 Pro Class Trials, third in the 1981 Pipeline Masters, and first in the 1981 Peru International.


With a bright flourishing career came a lesser known dark side. In 2009, Buttons described himself as a “recovering drug addict” who had been sober for three years prior. His drug problems began in 1985 with cocaine; he returned to surfing in 1996 but was arrested in 1998, although charges were later dropped. In 2007 he a featured guest, so-to-speak, on the “infamous” TV show Dog the Bounty Hunter after being arrested for drug offences.

Buttons died on November 2, 2013 due to complications from lung cancer. He was survived by 8 children and 9 grandchildren. A memorial service was held at Kapiolani Park in Waikiki on November 29, 2013. This was followed by a ‘paddle out’ of more than 100 surfers and their boards, from the adjacent beach to the waters where Buttons had practiced his craft.

Montgomery Ernest Thomas “Buttons” Kaluhiokalani (March 30, 1958 – November 2, 2013)