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Brian Keaulana: Hollywood Waterman

Diving Into Action: Not just a waterman, Brian Keaulana designs action scenes for Hollywood.


Brian Keaulana directs Hollywood stunts—in and out of the water.

Photo: Dana Edmunds

Brian Keaulana has made a name for himself in many ways. He has been a professional surfer, a lifeguard in Makaha, the son of legendary waterman and surfer Richard “Buffalo” Keaulana, and, most notably, recognized as the hero who rode in on a Jet Ski to rescue a tourist trapped in a sea cave in 1993. But many people haven’t heard about Keaulana’s work in films, as a stuntman, stunt coordinator and second unit director. We kept hearing his name associated with locally-shot productions, and wondered, Who is this guy?

It turns out that Keaulana has been involved with film since he was 17. He began his career with modeling and was cast in small roles. After working his way up in the industry, his credits now include a slew of films and TV shows, such as Soul Surfer, Lost, Off The Map, The Tempest, Big Bounce, Pearl Harbor and The Descendants, slated for an upcoming release in December. Actor Ross Thomas of Soul Surfer says, “When you come to Hawaii and you’re rolling a camera, you’re going to work with [Buffalo and Brian].”

Photo: Courtesy Soul Surfer

As a stunt coordinator, Keaulana breaks down the stunts and figures out how to design and choreograph an action scene, whether it’s jumping off ships or a street in Godzilla completely set-up on hydraulics. And, while he’s a distinguished waterman, his stunts are not limited to being in the ocean. “As stunt people, we’re stereotyped, but it’s everything. Being a stuntman means you can’t be a specialist in one thing. You have to be well-rounded,” he explains.

Because of the Keaulana’s work with films, Makaha—where the Keaulana family lives—has become a hangout for celebrities, including Dennis Quaid of Soul Surfer, Ross Thomas and Alex O’Loughlin of Hawaii Five-0. “I’m training every day, so if they want to hang out with me, they can drive down,” says Keaulana. Any juicy movie gossip? “People only see one side of Hollywood, but most of the actors are great, great people.”


Do you know Brian?

You might! Brian Keaulana did stuntwork and stunt coordination for these blockbusters. Take this quiz to test your knowledge of locally-shot films.


Photo: Courtesy Universal



This 1995 film was shot in Kawaihae Harbor and Waipio Valley, on the Big Island.



Soul Surfer

Photo: Courtesy Soul Surfer




This recently released movie is an inspiring story about surfer Bethany Hamilton, a shark attack survivor, who finds courage to get back on the board.



Blue Crush

Photo: Courtesy Universal




Surfer girls make a splash in this movie that stars Kate Bosworth and Michelle Rodriguez.



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Honolulu Magazine March 2018
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