"Family is always the most important thing growing up in Hawaii. Your ohana (family) is your community," says Rosie Jaffurs who grew up in Pupukea, the mountainous region north of Waimea Bay. On the seven-mile miracle of Oahu—where the ocean can quickly shift from glassy and calm to turbulent and hazardous—guardian sea angels in the lineup are more valuable than a pocketful of gold nuggets.
In this high-stakes playground, Rosie credits legendary surfers for fostering her confidence and love of the ocean—a skill that’s become her livelihood as a surf instructor on the North shore. When she’s not guiding visitors into their first waves at her home break, Rosie is feeding her legitimate addiction to levitating on the tip and scheming her next surf trip. There’s that time she stopped through California on the way to Mexico sans wetsuit, but that didn’t phase her from paddling out at Malibu in her swimsuit when everyone else was shielded in no less than 3mm rubber. Or the countless times she’s rallied with a smile—despite knee-high sloppy shore break—to share the Aloha spirit with out-of-towners.
Before Rosie headed out to her next weeks-long surf sabbatical in Bali for the Deus 9 Feet & Single Surf Festival, we caught up with her to talk more about the mentors who shaped her identity.
Photos by Luki O'Keefe, Bryce Johnson, and Keoki Saguibo shot in Oahu, Bali and Australia.
How did you get involved with Buttons’ Surf School and what lessons did you learn from him that stay with you?
I got involved with Buttons Surf School one day when I was surfing. I heard someone behind me say, "Eh girl, like work?" I worked for another surf school at the time and we shared the same reef but hadn't ever thought he needed my help. Working for him changed my life and attitude. Have you ever had a boss ask you if you were happy with the amount they paid you and if you needed more? He was that boss.
I like to think that Buttons is still surfing with me at times, pushing the radicalness or protecting his 9-year-old out in the lineup. Buttons taught me about what it means to be a Hawaiian and a surfer, all fun and love.
Just recently when I was at the Noosa [Festival of Surfing] contest, a Waikiki boy was on a wave and Robbie Paige came walking up and yelled, “How much Buttons does that boy have dripping off him. Holy sh*t, I'm sitting here with the Hawaiians. I got goose bumps all over me!" I could see the instant chill all over his body and I teared inside knowing that Buttons was with us.
I like to live through Buttons’ style and the way he treated everyone with love and kindness. I miss him all the time and am thankful for him coming into my life right before his time and teaching me life lessons.
What was it like going to school in Hawaii? How was surfing part of the culture?
Going to a school being Asian in a Polynesian world was pretty crazy. I would say they roughed and toughened me up. I played soccer, swimming and water polo in high school.
I remember once going surfing after swimming practice at 4-foot Ehukai [Pipeline] and a huge set breaking right in front of me. I took the leash off and bailed my board. The guy next to me tried to duck dive under the wave, his leash got ripped off anyways and he came up with no board. I realized I probably did the right thing by bailing my board and things like this made me feel safer in the ocean knowing what to do at the right time.
My swimming coach Peter Cole was one of the first guys known to have surfed big Waimea. Every race I did better than expected and made the state team even though I didn't really know what I was doing. I just jumped in and swam as fast as I could, and kept up with the private school girls. At the end of the year, I made him proud and he told me this. Little things like that made me feel good and confident in the ocean.
Did you realize that Hawaii was a famous surf mecca when you were growing up?
When I realized that all the world’s best surfers came to my home to prove how good they are, I realized I had no reason not to be a skilled water woman being born and raised in some of the world’s most respected surf.
I always have felt lucky to have been born and raised in such a beautiful place with perfect waves in the winter and lake-like snorkeling conditions in the summer. All my friends are water dwellers as well. Growing up surfing with your friends was the best time of our lives. All we did was surf, piled as many people that could fit into the van or truck and headed to Haleiwa. Older sisters surfed outside Haleiwa while babies surfed the white wash on the inside and we all slowly progressed to the outsides and other spots. Playing in 10-foot Waimea shore break as a little girl was just something we did for fun.
They have careers or families now, but they always crave the ocean at some point or another. In old Hawaiian days, everyone's village ran from the mountain towards the ocean, Mauka to Makai. I enjoy going into the mountains too, it can give me the same calm as the ocean. Surfing and the ocean are all I have as an identity, as a water baby, I don't know what life would be without the ocean.
We can't wait to come visit you again on Oahu. Welcome to the family Rosie!
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