By early afternoon, the rain showers had passed. A steady, light breeze kept the heat just below suffocating, and the cowgirls, cowboys and horses were in a good mood.
The bulls and calves didn’t look like they were having much fun, but the stands at CJM Country Stables in Poipu were packed by 1 p.m. Saturday. A few hundred people — mostly locals, with a few tourists sprinkled in — showed up to check out the Koloa Plantation Days Rodeo.
“You’re up, Caleb,” one cowboy told a young kid in a blue shirt, who had spent most of the day riding around the arena, either competing or helping to round up stray calves that had managed to dodge the lassos thrown at their hind legs and little horns.
Halfway through the process, he got interrupted by a bull that ran into a chute behind him, fired up from bucking the young man who had just finished his turn with his face in the dirt.
Caleb’s friends were helping him into pads and a helmet. He was next up, getting ready to ride a young brindle bull. Caleb said his age was, “Eleven — I mean twelve.” Then he climbed into the pen, and the gate swung open. He stayed on the brindle bull until it bucked its way halfway across the arena and pitched him into the dirt near the opposite wall.
“You’re really putting me on the spot for interview,” said a cowboy named Levi.
After turning away to yell across the arena about a stray bull, he said, “Interview the next, best, up-and-coming bull fighta. That’s the one that took the beating last night.”
Below is an excerpt of a brief interview that ended when the bullfighter — his name is Benjamin Montero, but his friends call him “Benny Boo” — had to run across the dirt ring and keep a bull from stomping or goring a rider who had fallen off.
The Garden Island: What you do?
Benjamin Montero: “Fight bulls.”
TGI: Really? Not ride ‘em, but fight ‘em?
BM: “A little bit of both.”
What happened last night?
“I did a freestyle, and, yeah, got cracks,” he said. “The bull, OK, was coming at me, and I didn’t move fast enough, and he clipped me.”
TGI: How big are the bulls?
BM: “The ones back there — the ones that they ride,” he pointed to a pen behind the arena where he stood in the dirt, directly in front of the chute a young brindle bull was being loaded into.
“The yellow one actually. He was in this corner, and I was standing in the middle. And I let him come. He was running full-speed, and I step a little too late, and he caught me — caught me on my hip. Sent me flying about six feet back. I landed on my feet, luckily though.”
TGI: No injury huh?
BM: “Yeah, followed right back. And then I played with him some more and ended up making some good runs on him — actually played with him. Went back and chased him — wanted some more.”
A friend chimed in, over his shoulder, “Put the Insta handle in there.”
TGI: You want me to? What is it?
BM: “I mean, sure. @bennyboo.23.”
TGI: Are you from here?
BM: “From Oahu. Came over for the rodeo. They needed a bullfighter, so they called me up.”
Montero is 18 years old. He’s been fighting bulls for only about a year now, but he’s been around horses ever since he can remember.
TGI: How long have you been riding?
BM: “Oh, man. Eighteen years basically. It’s all I really ever knew. Raised up on it.”
Montero fought bulls last night but not on Saturday, because, Benny explained, “It’s a little hotter in the day, so it’s harder on the bulls.” There are two types of bull fighting, Montero explained.
“Freestyle is just me and the bull — that’s it,” he said. “But bullfighting for an actual ride is different. Instead of trying to freestyle, you’re just trying to protect the rider.”
TGI: Ah, so you’re out there trying to distract the bull for when the rider gets bucked?
BM: “Yeah. Every bull. So I did the freestyle one that’s like the matador. And then the actual regular bullfighting that’s just like protecting the riders.”