Story by Lehia Apana
TITLE: Protection Bullfighter
SPURRED INTO ACTION: Rory Souza says he won’t get on a bull and ride it, but he has no problem with staring one down from the ground. The twenty-five-year-old from Makawao was born into the paniolo (cowboy) lifestyle, and started riding sheep when he was eight years old, eventually graduating to junior bulls. “When it came time for the big bulls, I knew I didn’t want to be strapped onto their backs, so I figured I’d do bullfighting and still be part of the sport,” Rory says.
What Rory does has neither the foolery of the rodeo clown, nor the lethal goal of the matador — it’s a serious business of protecting the riders. “When the cowboy falls off, my job is to make myself a better target for the bull,” says Rory. “Sometimes the rider gets twisted in the rope and can’t get off, so I need to get them away and out of danger.”
HERD INSTINCT: As the only person on Maui raising bucking bulls, Rory has a kind of home-court advantage. His bulls are used for local rodeos, so he’s accustomed to the hefty animals. “I’ve been around cattle my entire life, so I usually know what their next move will be,” he says. “Every one of my bulls has a different temperament, and I can help the riders by telling them which way the bull is going to spin or how far he’s going to come out.”
BANG-UP JOB: Despite this familiarity, Rory acknowledges that his role comes with serious risk. While his protective vest and padded shorts can soften a blow, it’s not enough to withstand a full-force collision. “Every time I step in there I’m risking my life. The bull weighs 2,000 pounds. If he steps on me, he’s gonna crush everything,” explains Rory, whose injuries so far have been limited to bruised ribs and twisted ankles.
But Rory isn’t focused on the dangers to himself; he’s more concerned about riders’ safety. “When I get in that arena, it’s not for the crowd, it’s not for me, it’s to help these guys do what they love and feel safe. I’ve had guys tell me they’ll jump on a mountain lion if I’m in there, so that makes me feel like I’m doing my job.”