Kehu Butler's Grandpa Is The Baddest Motherfucker On The Block - Stab Mag
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Kehu Butler’s Grandpa Is The Baddest Motherfucker On The Block

No wonder the kid surfs like this.

cinema // Apr 13, 2022
Words by Holden Trnka
Reading Time: 2 minutes

New Zealand, known by the native Māori as Aotearoa, doesn’t exactly have a storied history of WCT success. Before Ricardo Christie, only two other Kiwis — Maz Quinn and Paige Hareb — had ever qualified for the tour. While they all held their own, none of them ever took home an event win, let alone a World Title.

This certainly isn’t because the waves in NZ are bad. With a myriad of swell sources, and offshore wind bending around each new corner, the “Land of The Long White Cloud” is an idyllic training ground for surfers. Why then, have Kiwi surfers not seen significant tour success?

Could it be the very small population? Something wrong with the meat pies? CT hopeful Kehu Butler reckons it’s because all the kids want to become rugby stars. “Surfing is still a developing sport back home. Everyone just wants to be an All-Black — I know I did,” he says, laughing. 

“My tattoos tell my story.” – Kehu Butler – Photo: RBCP/Scott Stinton

In Red Bull’s latest series, they explore the Māori upbringing of New Zealand’s latest tour hopeful. Ranked Number 5 on the Australia/Oceania QS, Kehu’s surfing is powerful and polished, and his perspective on life is a unique one. As a grommet, he attended an all-Māori school, and says his life and surfing were deeply enriched by the community he was raised in — especially with the most badass grandpa on the planet helping to guide him through life.

“Where I come from, if you went to the sea, you had to get food,” said Te Kehukehu Butler Sr., who rocks an eye patch, bone earing, and traditional Māori face tats adorned by a snow-white beard. “Going surfing and playing around on a surfboard wasn’t the thing. But if you brought food back at the same time, they were pretty happy.”

This has clearly had an impact on Kehu.

Seizing his opportunity. Photo: RBCP/Scott Stinton

“I think having a Māori background has definitely made me a better competitor. I mean, we came from the ocean. That’s how we traveled, that’s where our food came from. The older people in my community were wise to that and shared it with me. It helped me heaps,” Kehu says. “I definitely don’t think I’d be where I am today without that deeper connection.” 

When I asked about where he sees his future in surfing, he nodded thoughtfully and said, “I’d love to create a path for younger Māori to become professional surfers. It can be hard for us to get the backing to come over to Oz and do comps, and those of us that do get the chance are always grateful. I’d really like to give back.” 

Watch the first episode of Red Bull’s Made in New Zealand to see Kehu tear apart his local beachies. Who knows, maybe you’ll learn a thing or two in the process.

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