It is with a heavy heart that we report the passing of Waikiki’s Albert “Rabbit” Kekai, who died at Leahi Hospital in Honolulu this morning. He was 95 years old.
Born in 1920 in Honolulu, the young Rabbit quickly earned a reputation as one of the city’s most gifted natural athletes; he was reportedly as fast on land as he was adept in the water, which caught the attention of Duke Kahanamoku during Rabbit’s formative years as a beachboy, a vocation he continued for decades. Throughout his life, Rabbit worked a myriad of maritime jobs. During the Second World War, he served in the Navy as a UDT swimmer, the precursor for the modern-day Navy SEALs, helping to clear beaches of Japanese defenses in Micronesia. After the war, he worked construction and as a longshoremen in Honolulu. Through it all, his passion for surfing remained.
But his energetic, high-performance surfing — a strange, exhilarating sight, compared to the conservative angled approach of surfing’s early history — led to a renowned influence on the sport and its epcoch-turning figures, like Phil Edwards and Donald Takayama.
On a competitive level, Rabbit held the titles in both the Peruvian and Makaha International events. Up until recently, he served as the beach marshall for the Triple Crown and was a stalwart figure at the competition.
"It's an end of an era," Randy Rarick, a co-founder of the Triple Crown, told the Star-Advertiser. When Rarick was 10, Rabbit taught him to surf in Waikiki. "He led a great life," Rarick added. "He's riding that big wave in the sky, happy with what he's done."