Rabbit Kekai was one of the original beach boys trained by legendary surfer Duke Kahanamoku. A professional surfer, Rabbit was an innovator of modern day surfing and is considered the father of modern hotdogging; a fancy style of surfing. He was a dominant master of the sport in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s, and also a winner of the Peruvian and Makaha International titles.
Albert “Rabbit” Kekai was born in Honolulu, Hawaii on November 11, 1920 and grew up near Waikiki Beach. He got his first taste of surfing at the age of three when his uncle, a lifeguard, taught him how to surf, and by the age of five, Kekai was surfing on his own. As surfing became a significant part of his life, ten year old Rabbit looked to role models such as Duke Kahanamoku, who instructed Rabbit in water sports surfing and outrigger canoeing.
Even as surfing consumed most of his time, Rabbit managed to concentrate on his school work and excelled academically at Kamehameha Schools. A standout football, basketball, and track runner, he was offered athletic scholarships to attend college, but chose to enter the workforce after high school, and earned a living with his first love, surfing.
Interestingly, Kekai earned the nickname “Rabbit” for his running, and not his surfing. He was one of Oahu’s fastest runners in high school. According to the Encyclopedia of Surfing Rabbit is said to have run a 10-second 100 yard dash while in high school.
By the mid 1930s, Rabbit had risen in the ranks of surfing devotees as he innovated drop-knee bottom turns and hotdogging on shortboards, and surfed on finless boards called “hot curls”. Rabbit is mentioned as having been the top hot curl wave rider of his day. During this time Rabbit ventured away from Waikiki and began surfing at the world class surf spots on the North Shore of Oahu.
Like most young men of the time, Rabbit served in the U.S. military during World War II, and was fortunate to be stationed in Haleiwa on the North Shore for part of his service. He worked on the Underwater Demolition Team deploying depth charges against Japanese ships. Not wanting to let his surfing skills deteriorate, Rabbit would surf after his daily military duties.
After being discharged from the U.S. Navy Rabbit was one of the founding members of the Waikiki Surf Club and helped it win numerous surfing championships and canoe races; he also won numerous international surfing titles independently. By the 1950s, Rabbit made it a point of passing on his surfing techniques to countless younger generation surfers. He also catered to celebrities who visited Hawaii on vacation, teaching them the basics of the ancient sport.
Rabbit Kekai was inducted into the Surfers’ Hall of Fame in August 2012 at Huntington Beach, California.
Albert “Rabbit” Kekai died on May 13, 2016 at Leahi Hospital in Honolulu. At 95 years old he remained an avid surfer until his death.