At 62 years old, Buzzy Kerbox retains the same youthful exuberance—not to mention the sun-kissed head of hair—that made him a mainstay of Polo ad campaigns throughout the ’80s. Credit the days he spends surfing with his three sons—Kody (24), Kasey (22), and Kyler (17)—near his home on the North Shore of Oahu. Or chalk it up to a lifetime of riding the waves as one of the world’s best and most innovative pro surfers. (He regularly finished in the top 10 worldwide during the late ’70s, and later invented tow-in surfing—in which surfers are “towed in” by someone piloting a Jet Ski, which allows the surfer to mount waves as tall as 50 feet—with his buddy Laird Hamilton.)
Whatever the case, Kerbox clearly still has the chops—he recently completed the Molokai Channel race, which entailed stand-up paddleboarding for 32 miles straight, a grueling experience that would pose a serious challenge to men half his age. He also revisited his modeling days with a new campaign for Polo, costarring his sons, and has been working on a memoir, tentatively titled Making Waves. We spoke to him recently about the joy of being on set with his boys, his book, and the time he modeled with a lion.
What was it like being on set with your family?
Just the idea of taking my family on the shoot was super exciting from the beginning. It was really fun getting to work with my kids. They haven’t modeled much except in front of my camera because I take a lot of pictures. So I think that experience helped.
Did they ask you for any pointers?
No. But I gave ’em pointers anyway. [Laughs.] When you’re in front of the camera, a lot of models just kind of stand there expressionless. I’ve always had some expression. I told them, “Just be real.” The camera sees real, and it exposes fake. A fake smile, you can see it a mile away. To interact with the family and make it real, it was easy because we were all there reacting off each other.
One of the most iconic shots of you is the safari-inspired one in which you’re holding a lion. You look so at ease with that cub around your shoulders. How did you manage that?
Working with the lion cubs was just amazing. I love lions. The trainer was right there, off camera. We had three different cubs, and the thing was on my head, clawing me, and biting, but it was all gentle, and I was never afraid. One of the cubs was getting a little too feisty, and we traded it out for another one. And then we kept going.
Tell me a little bit more about the book.
I’ve been working on it for three years now; it’s something that I’ve always wanted to do. I’ve always felt like I had some good stories to tell. Throughout my pro-surfing career and modeling, I always had a camera and took pictures behind the scenes of everything. Long before everybody was taking pictures, I’d be the only guy shooting behind-the-scenes stuff. I [also] kept a journal while I was on the pro tour.
That sounds great.
It’s probably 95 percent done; I’m just working on some finishing touches. I really like the way it’s coming out. It expresses my feelings and my story in a visual way. I can’t wait to get it out there.