This Junior Champion and proud Maori, is ready to become a WQS warrior.
In 2018 Kehu Butler became only the second New Zealander to win an Australasian Junior title, after Maz Quinn back in 1996. The versatile natural footer has a commanding presence in and out of the water; perhaps a product of his early training in Mau Rakau, a traditional Maori martial art. However, despite his apparent self-confidence and success at a junior level, Kehu is well aware only a handful of Kiwi surfers have made an impact at surfing’s highest level and suggests he is prepared to work twice as hard as anyone to bust down the WCT door.
Where did you grow up in NZ?
I grew up in a place called Mount Maunganui (the Mount) where the waves are pretty flat for most of the year. Even though we have inconsistent waves, the Mount is a surfy town where you know everyone. My favourite surf spot is Matakana Island, it’s epic when it’s on. Perfect A- frame beauty barrels ... heaven!
Is it harder being from New Zealand where fewer people have actually gone on to crack the elite level?
Yep – I feel you have to work and surf twice as hard to build a reputation within the surfing industry. My full name is Te KehuKehu Mokoia Ngawhika Butler ... pretty long name but I feel privileged to be named after my grandfather (Koro). Of course, I don’t see it as Maori culture but who I am ... everyday living for me. Both my parents are Maori. I attended total immersion Maori schooling until high school, so I can speak Maori pretty fluently. When I was younger I trained in Mau Rakau, this is a traditional Maori martial art with weapons. It was pretty full on and we were trained hard – no room for weakness. My family love singing Maori Waiata (songs) being with the whanau (family). My Koro has a full face tat moko and a traditional Maori puhoro (from your knees to back tattoo – yep his bum included) I have a few but don’t think I’m brave enough to get one on my face.
Any friends who are elite rugby players?
Yeah a few of the boys and family – Carlos Price, Pari Pari Parkinson and Codie Taylor. I’m involved as a Red Bull ambassador in an All Blacks elite training program where they groom future All Blacks ... hopefully I get to take a few surfing
You spend a lot of time on the Gold Coast. Is that to gain a competitive edge?
It was mainly for conditioning and fitness training with Brodie Ledgewood (he’s a ledge – no pun intended haha) and to work with my shaper, Wayne Lowen. Also helped surfing around the best surfers everyday.
Does every session almost feel like a competition?
Nah. Most sessions I try to have fun but work on my weaknesses as well. But when I surf with my dad it’s definitely a comp, haha.
How do you develop an act that will get you on the WCT and allow you to thrive once you get there? Do you have a strategy?
I have been fortunate enough to have strong support around me from an early age. I have had guidance through every stage of surfing till now. I think, the people you surround yourself with can help with reaching the WCT and staying there. The thing about the act of being on the WCT, it’s very fluid, it is changing every event, every month, every week, every day is a new lesson waiting to be taught. I need to make sure I am watching and taking in the changes as they happen and try to predict what’s next. It’s so dynamic what Gabby, Julian and Filipe are doing right now.
Do you think the surfing that gets you to the WCT is a lot different to the surfing you have to do when you get there?
Yes, because on the WCT your technique has to be perfect. You can’t do QS snaps on the WCT ... well not if you want to last, ha.
Is it challenging to be mature enough to think like a professional at a young age while also making time to enjoy yourself?
Yes it is challenging, but I like it, I want to be a good professional surfer. Keeping a good healthy balance of work and personal time is my aim.
Are you ready for a WQS conquest?
Yeah – I’m training hard in preparation for 2019 when I start the QS grind.