Mel Kanaulu Kinney (1954-2012)

Hawaiian Big Wave Surfer and Waterman Melvin Kanaulu Kinney Passes On

Written by Clark Abbey in honor of Melvin Kanaulu Kinney (posted on SurfWire, March 2, 2012).

Hawaii just lost one of their beloved native sons, Melvin Kanaulu Kinney. On February 1, 2012 while watching the waves right off the bike path of Sunset Beach Mel suffered a heart attack. He fell into the arms of his best friend Chuck Andrus, less than 20 minutes before then he was surfing perfect 6-10 ft Sunset for 2 hours. I heard he was the standout. Mel passed away on at St. Francis Hospice in Honolulu on February 14, 2012. He was 57 years old. 

From 1968, at the age of 13, Mel's face appeared in the opening sequence of Hawaii 5-0. In 1976, he was part of the first crew of the Voyaging Sailing Canoe, Hōkūle‘a, to sail it back to Hawaii from Tahiti. 

Mel (right), with crew members Billy Richards, Nainoa Thompson and Buffalo Keaulana

He was born and raised in Waikiki. Mel's sister, Leimana DeMate reflects on their family living and surfing in Waikiki:

Our family has generationally come from Waikiki; our father was born at home in 1929 where Lemon Street is now. We were in Waikiki and our family (the Holt's) were on the land where Lemon St. is now and where the zoo is to the beach from before Captain Cook's arrival until the overthrow. And, although we lost the land we couldn't leave Waikiki. Everyone in our family surfed. Our Uncle Lemon Holt was a renowned surfer from the early 1900's. Our grandmother, Hanakaulani Holt surfed with Duke Kahanamoku and taught the kids in our family, as well as Mel, how to surf when we were really young. Mel first got on a surfboard when he was about 5 yrs. Old. He learned on our grandmothers 12-ft. wooden surfboard (with no skeg). It took three of us to carry it to the beach when we were kids. He learned to surf the traditional Hawaiian way by spiritually knowing and respecting the ocean.

Mel always wanted to be a doctor. He had great compassion for people, was fascinated by the mysteries of healing and went to pre-med school at UH. Unfortunately (or fortunately), his love of surfing and the ocean took precedence over school. He had to have the ocean on him and could not resist being a part of it whether it was surfing, paddling, or voyaging. Mel was spiritually connected to the ocean.

Mel was in the forefront of longboard surfing in Hawaii leading the way and setting the bar for the next generation of longboard champions. He was a surfing competitor in the HLSA and HLF. 

In 1996 Mel landed a cover shot on Longboard Magazine. Although a fierce Long Board competitor it was his passion and dedication to riding Giant Surf that separated him from all the rest. He was considered a "Big Gun" in the line up. For those who knew and surfed with him, he was humble, soft spoken, polite and very happy. He never bragged about himself or about his accomplishments. He was a standout at Sunset, Waimea Bay, Laniakea and Makaha, taking off on the biggest waves and riding them perfectly. He was one of the Core Surfers at Waimea Bay and considered one of the All Time Surfers of the Bay. I remember surfing 20+' with him back in the 80's and he would encourage me to ride in front of him. He was one to share and knew how to ride big waves with his friends. I certainly learned how to surf this way because of Mel. He has been on the Quicksilver in Memory of Eddie Aikau Invitee List many times. He competed in the 1990 Eddie Aikau, the year Keone Downing won it.

Ten years back I asked Mel to write to me in his own words, "what is it like to be a Big Wave Surfer", he wrote it in his own hand writing and I kept it with me and have not released it to anyone. This is what he wrote:

Surfing big waves is about RESPECT. Respect for Waimea Bay and for the fellow big wave riders that came before us. To ride big waves you need to prepare. There is a before, during and after process involved. First, you need to be mentally, physically, spiritually and emotionally ready before you go out. Second, you need to be responsible for yourself and fellow big wave riders. Third, after the session you should be humble because at anytime your life can be taken. After all that considered you just want to enjoy the moment and have fun. Its one of the greatest thrills anyone can experience. You deal with speed and G forces and it all happens so fast that you don't have time to think; you just react.

If you ever surfed with Mel then you knew that there was laughter that surrounded him. In the heaviest waves he always made you laugh and could tell a good joke before a huge set would appear. His sense of humor in the line up was contagious and it left you with a "no fear" attitude. There is an empty spot in the line up that cannot be filled. Hawaii and the Surfing World has lost someone special but Heaven has gained our loss. RIP Melvin Kanaulu Kinney.

He left behind 2 sisters, 1 brother and his father.