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John Nippolt
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Three Tears for Boogie
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Pick a Holiday, Any Holiday
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Taking it to the Streets
Volleyed and Thundered
Three Tears for Boogie
        I found out as soon as it happened, on the same day. A friend of mine who had been hanging out with him recently, called me from the Big Island. "Boogie died today." Those three words broke open a filing cabinet of memories I had stored away, perhaps to savor later on in life, but not right now. January 19th, 2011, was the day he left us.
          "Damn, another one." My Hawaiian friends are dropping like flies, many of them my age, not too much older, or a little younger. I understand hard living is the cause for some of what I call early departures, but so many at one time? I had to get off the phone to think about this particular man, who I met at the beginning of my new life in Hawaii. I thanked my pal, Bonner, for understanding that I would want to know about his death. George Kamai Kalama, Jr., lovingly known as "Boogie."
          Some days passed before his obit appeared: "Hawaiian Hokule'a Voyager Dies." The article explained the importance of Boogie's presence on that remarkable first voyage of a re-created Polynesian ocean going double-hulled canoe. It also reminded readers of the famous Hawaiian songs he wrote, specifically about that canoe, Hokule'a, that made the historical passage to Tahiti. It would be his long-time friend, Israel Kamakawiwo'ole, (also dead) who would record Boogie's song and make it popular on local radio stations here in the Islands.
A celebration of life would take place at Makaha beach on March 12th, 2011. Good. By that time most of our tears would have fallen. Friends, family, and the public, were invited to attend. The twelfth was a Saturday and my day off. No matter, I would have gone whatever day it was to pay my respects to him, one of my first Hawaiian friends, although to me, he was much more than that. I was aware that Boogie Kalama was one of the key players in a cultural renaissance that was taking place in the Hawaiian community. I would need time to gather my thoughts about the tremendous impact he had on my life and the lives of the Hawaiian people. Whenever anyone talked about Boogie Kalama, there would be smiles and laughter all around. We met just after I arrived in 1973, on the island of Kauai. There were so many good times; how could life have been so full of plenty?
I could see the line of cars parked up there ahead of me. At the same time, I spotted "my" parking place on the beach side of the road, cranked a left turn and whipped my car into an open off-the-shoulder space fronting the ocean. Sparse trees and overhanging bushes would provide shade for my car. It was going to be a scorcher out here on the "Westside" today. I was lucky finding such a good place and close to the water, too. I planned on being here earlier but everything was moving on Hawaiian Time. The service hadn't begun yet.
          I remembered to bring my camera. I might see old friends; I could never tell who I might run into. I packed my sketchbook and some colored pencils, just in case. I wore my papale (Hawaiian hat) to protect my ears and nose. Still, I slathered sun block on my face anyway and then covered my arms with the stuff. I adjusted my shades and I was ready. I stepped out of the car into the bright morning sunlight and breathed in the salty ocean air at Makaha, one of the most famous beaches in the world.
          Then it hit me; the last time I was out here was to say aloha to the great water woman and surfing legend, my friend, Rell Sun. I turned and looked towards my destination, just a short trek up the beach where everyone was gathering. I could smell the food from here. How could have I forgotten?
          I could see tents and canopies of all sizes as I walked closer and I thought about the huge amount of work it was to bring all this stuff down to the beach. The beach our friend so dearly loved.
          There were tables and chairs underneath a main tent that faced the ocean and another large covered area for the performers in front of it. Lauhala mats were spread across the sand for the dancers. Boogie's sister, Leina'ala, a kumu hula, (master of hula) brought her hula halau to dance today. There would also be a host of musicians to play his songs, Tahitian drum troupes and other dancers all to pay homage to him. There was another separate large covered area on the other side of the first tent that was the kitchen. It was enclosed by a barrier of buffet tables packed with freshly prepared, "onolicious" Hawaiian food.
          I stood behind the kitchen tent for a few minutes, smelling the fish, kalua pig, and squid luau, just trying to get a feel for what was happening. I walked around and beyond the kitchen to make my way closer to the water. The sand was dotted with umbrellas and other covered places with chairs underneath for guests to sit in out of the sun.
          I caught movement out of the corner of my eye, an older Hawaiian man turned into my view and started to walk toward me. He was dressed in dark shorts and a blue Boogie Kalama Ohana (family) T-shirt. He seemed to be looking at the day, much like I was, or perhaps he was taking in the magnificent view of the Waianae range behind me. Either way, I knew he was coming to talk to me.
          He was only a few feet from me when I stepped forward with an extended hand and greeted him, "Good morning." He held my hand firm yet gentle, like big Hawaiians do, and bid me "Aloha, kakahiaka." We stared out at the ocean.
"I see you observing everything, trying to make sense of all of this... just like me."
Typical, I thought, this Hawaiian was on the mark. He was for real.
"I guess I am," I agreed, "Are you from around here?" I asked.
"Yeah," he said easily. "I'm from around here."
I related how I knew Boogie while introducing myself, and then after I asked his name, he dropped the bomb. "I'm Buff."
Holy smokes, the man of Makaha, himself. Buffalo Keaulana! Boogie's best friend.
          His son, Rusty, introduced me to him years ago when he won the Oxbow Longboard World Championship Award, (which I carved) only now I hadn't recognized him, but he remembered me. His hair was white, long, and tied back into a pony tail. I couldn't believe it. I recalled the last time we were together: Boogie was with us and we were at Duke's in Waikiki to take Billy Kahanamoku's ashes out beyond Canoes surf break.
          Buffalo extended his aloha and invited me to sit up front so I could get a good look at everything. Before he walked off he introduced me to a young Hawaiian surfer. "This is a good friend of your father," he told the young man. I was shaking hands with Boogie's son, who I'd never met. I'd heard of his surfing prowess which he would display later that day when he caught a wave outside and rode it all the way to the beach while holding Boogie's urn full of ashes. He ripped that wave up; Boogie's last ride.
          I drew a couple of pictures, and I did get off a pretty good sketch of Buffalo. After I finished drawing, I went for a plunge into the clear blue water to cool off and say a private goodbye to my friend. I went back up to the tent and used my shirt to dry off. A Hawaiian priest began his Oli. (A chant that is not danced to) And then there was another. The opening Pule (a prayer or blessing) was followed by Boogie's oldest sister, who gave his Eulogy. Speakers, fellow voyagers, all friends of Boogie, shared their special memories of him with us. The crowd was hushed as we listened to the closing Pule.
          In addition to the hundreds of fragrant flower leis that would be floating on the waters surface, we were all reminded to gather a plastic bag containing rose petals for us to shower over the water as the procession made its way to the shoreline. The scattering of ashes at sea in Hawaii is like no other funeral. Similar to the jazz funerals that parade the streets in New Orleans, they are celebrations of life.
          It was time to carry his ashes out and then, it all began to happen. I could feel it coming on. The whole atmosphere of the beach changed into something spiritual. The vibe and energy level had turned up a notch. Canoes were readying to paddle out, surfers were already on their boards alongside a special float made to hold dancers, who would perform a burial invocation while Boogie's ashes slipped into the depths of the waiting sea. The drums were pulsating, conch shells were blowing harmoniously and that's when I saw three whales swim in toward the crowd outside the reef. The whales breeched the surface of the water, blew plumes of mist into the air, and then dipped back into the shimmering sea to guide Boogie safely to his rest.
We were all excited as we went back up to the tents to "talk story" and eat. The food was particularly tasty today and no wonder; pure Hawaiian style. I ran into some old pals from Kauai and we reminisced about how magical this day was, just like ones we shared in that particular time and place, so long ago. They were unlike these contemporary times where so many changes have come to pass in today's Hawaii.
          True to form, the celebration had started the night before and would carry on well into the next day. I could see the direction this wake was taking and since I don't drink any more I knew it was time for me to hele on (go). I shook hands with the men sitting around me and got up to search for Buffalo. I needed to thank him for his warm greeting this morning. His well known habit of spreading aloha and welcome that he is so famous for, had made this day even more special to me. I wanted to tell him how important this memory would be and wish him a fond aloha. Driving away from Makaha that afternoon, my heart was heavy and light at the same time. You couldn't help but shake your head with wonder and smile if you knew Boogie.