A VERY BRIEF HISTORY OF SKATEBOARDING IN HONOLULU
It’s crazy to believe that skateboarding started in Hawaii. Except it didn’t have wheels, or trucks, and they skated in water, and only did vert (and freestyle). Since surfing is the daddy of skateboarding, it can be easy to assume that rollerskating were it’s mama. One place in Chinatown, Honolulu, is a relic of their once tumultuous affair, A’ala Park. With it’s ready to disco and fall on your ass rink, complete with half-dome waves on both sides, plus the “lip”, unaffiliated descendents run renegade in this Chinatown palace, complete with jesters and drug addicts guarding the gates.
But let’s roll back a bit. Sidewalk surfers were cruising in O’ahu in the late 50’s/60’s, and probably still getting harassed by security guards and good samaritans. By the 70’s, the Z-Boys became a proper gang and everyone knows that story. Here in Chinatown, there was a shop called Cobra Skates, founded by Paul Mattis, an oddball ahead of his time. Mattis was a shop owner and a philanthropist, having ran for governor and swearing he invented the puka-shell necklace, and to be honest I have no reason not to believe him. He may have lived on the stranger side of life but he has an important place in skate history nonetheless. Unfortunately he’s also near impossible to track down, which is maybe for the best. Godspeed Paul, wherever you are.
The 70’s are when things really picked up, but the 80’s were definitely the Golden Age of Hawai’i skateboarding. Mark Oblow was there capturing raw sessions at backyard ramps, rich folks pools, the Catlin Park quarter-pipe, and off the walls while Animal Chin was on the run through Wallows. Parking lot demos were happening at Pearlridge Mall, and Gonz learned how to say Mahalo. T&C Surf was the shit and everything was there to make any person with a sense of nostalgia escape into that fantasy. So much of skating in Hawaii in the 80s was documented and showcased today through stuff like Grosso’s Love Letters to Skateboarding, and Oblow’s Back Den Monday’s, that I think it’d be nice to just let it lie, and lend a little shine to Honolulu’s post-vert ramp era.
In the early 90’s downtown was getting mashed and the original crew was crushing A’ala Park. Street skating in downtown was documented on film, vhs, and hi-8 by kids like Kyle Collins and Ryan Toyama. Baggy jorts and pressure flips reigned supreme and the progress by skaters in Honolulu mirrored that of skaters in every other city in the world. This is the time when spots like the 24 hour fitness double-set and Mililani Mall got broken in for the rest of us. Heavy hitters include Rob Carylon and Rene Matthyssen, who were skating for New Deal at the time and repping Hawaii spots in videos and magazines. In New Deal’s Children of the Sun, at least half of Rene’s part is shot in that mile between A’ala park and Bishop street. To me, this is one of Honolulu skating’s purest era’s. Homies were shooting photos of other homies doing the first tricks down legendary sets and gaps, setting an example for all the generations who would come to film and skate those same urban streets.
A’ala Park was never not getting shredded. When the city was planning to demolish this relic of the old gods, Chad Hiyakumoto stepped in and gave it a face-lift, giving life to generations of Hawai’i skaters. Chinatown, Honolulu’s very own APB, founded by Chad Hiyakumoto and Rob Carlyon, has been documenting and showcasing skating for 20 years now, and a good place to start on their video catalog is with the A’ala Park Bastards debut video, “Midnight Mariders” (1999) . While the park was under renovations, the crew also produced “Lowercase” (2003), the jump off to Chinatown’s APB Skateshop.
Midnight Mariders and Lowercase is the O.G. shit. Dudes were crushing the fucking lip (see video screen grabs for reference). The art direction of Lowercase seems like a eulogy to a lost era of Hawai’i skateboarding, with Kyle Collins and Chane Wilson’s black and white photography coupled with Darin Lee and Chad’s perfect blend of hi-jinx and cityscape romance. Highlight’s include the Larry Stress/Makiki section, Darin’s backside nosepick 270 out on the lip at A’ala Park, an excellent soundtrack, and the bums fighting in front of the old shop.
Hawai’i skateboarding in the 2000’s was bountiful in it’s production. We were gifted with Sean Reilly’s loveable madness in “Shitty Kids The Movie” (2004), “Brokeback Skateboarding” (2005), and a few more that are lost in time and secured on DVD’s and VHS’s (if you’re lucky). His videos are fueled with anecdotes of charismatic strangers, slam sections, and some of the craziest shit you can try in the heat of the moment. If I could sum up Bedpan Productions, I would say he’s the Worldstar of Hawai’i skateboarding. “Candy Bandits” web videos kept the scene going until APB’s second full length video, “The Struggle” (2008) , which premiered in a now debunked theater on Bethel, ushering that era of team riders and raising the bar for local videos. Local burnout, Eric Shin, recalls the video.
“I remember seeing Jordy Clot hitting untapped spots in Makiki, and pulling Nollie Tre’s on the sweetspot at the park. Little Danny and baby Kaikea were doing NBD’s at the courthouse and Voicestream. Brian “Arizona Can” Wyland and Aaron “Sunshine” Lee pulling bangers on sandy six and Punahou, John Oliveira was silently destroying everything from rails to ditches, and Jarold Webb’s slow mo ender section gave me sweet dreams. It was fricking amazing. I was blown away to see this new era of rippers continuing that age old tradition of pissing people off and turning the city into a playground. “
These three videos made an impact on a young crew of skaters in Makiki, lead by the wonderful whiff of burning foliage, known as Treevisions. Conor McGivern began filming with his VX1000 and uploading these little HI Skating gems onto his website, Treevisions.tv. Taking note, Chad hired this stoner sweetheart at the skateshop, and enlisted him and Darin Lee to make “Uppercase” (2012), an hour and fifteen minute long register of the Hawaii skate scene, in true fashion of the O.G. hawaii skate videos. It’s loose, has an incredible soundtrack, hits the streets and parks equally, and recognizes the O.G.’s and the new G’s respectively. Following this video, is “A Visual Arboretum” (2013), McGivern’s first solo full length video for APB Skateshop. A solid crew of new bucks, mostly in a weird transitional phase of their life, but nonetheless ripping and also enjoying their time on the plank. Watch this video and you’re in the session.
Our neighbor’s on Maui were also surveying their terrain with videos from Mokelife’s Kale Kaaikala, introducing rippers Sam “Samsquatch” Fitzsimmons, Nate Guest, Miles Hanson, Ryan Spencer (PRO!!) and more fakaz shredding in boardshorts in “Fo Da Boyz” (2013).
Sean “Bedpan” Reilly continued to cover the hi-jinx and hardcore raw skating of Hawai’i that can be described as “outsider art” for you art critics out there, with classic full length videos such as “Fixed Queers” (2010) “You Wanna Wallie My Pole Jam (2012)” (my personal favorite), “Fakie Keiki” (2013), “Only This and Nothing More (2016)”, and others. His videos focus on 808 Skate’s talented team riders with notable legends Bernardo Bernard (R.I.P.), Taurean Mederious, Brock Kono, Cypress Blanco, Sean Payne, Mikey Albert, and many more.
APB’s video, “Lolo” (2014) raised the bar again. Kale teamed up with Conor and produced this classic. Shota Kubo chops off his dreads, Maui boys are ripping, and a huge chunk of local and visiting rippers have tricks in the vid. I’ve always loved how Conor has this knack for showcasing Hawai’i skateboarding as a whole, and not this clique skate team vs your skate team aesthetic. “Poi-Dog” (2015) is the second installment of Mokelife and Treevision’s collaboration for APB skateshop, bringing together Mini-DV and Hi-Def footage in this Rap Reiplinger referenced full length skate video. Kaikea Kimura carries the weight with footage peppered in throughout, and it also introduces new bucks JC3 and Jon Gagliano. “Tree Pointer” (2016) follows through and welcomes two more Bastards to the squad, Michael Sheidt and Kelly Ishihara. Mokelife’s “Homegrowns” (2017) premieres and brings that relaxed Maui vibe to the screen with heavy footage from “...the Hawaiian grown boyz that left the islands.”
What, Why, Bodda You? (2017) from APB Skateshop infused the ethos of current Hawai’i skateboarding with the title, which is this rarity of being able to skate the streets without being kicked out by people who completely misunderstand us. For the most part, if we are skating private property, it’s a commercial zone or at a time frame where we would bother the least amount of people possible. I think APB team rider Travis Hancock put it best, and I’m going to paraphrase it here; “we are interpreting urban architecture.” We understand most people are doing their jobs when they kick us out, and hey, that’s part of the game, but when people get aggressive with us, over a piece of stolen land that’s built purely out of commodity and capitalism, it really brings to the table this question of why the hell are we doing this? Are they frustrated to see adults having fun? Do they really believe we will sue them? This divide in ethos is brought to fruition when we encounter people who don’t mind what we do. Who give us a couple more tries. Who see a person challenging themselves physically and mentally to overcome an obstacle for the hell of it. The city is built for the people, and skateboarders are no exception.
The photographs and video captured in these expeditions can also be looked at in a historical context. Who else is showcasing on a weekly basis, this island that is being transformed? Through these 30+ years, you can see things that change, and things that stay the same. Looking through the trained eye of a skater, you will notice details often overlooked. We cherish these streets, and bring to our personal lives what we learn when we try our tricks.
There is something incredible about skate videos, and it’s that the testament of time can age them like a fine wine. The newest video doesn’t necessarily “take out” an older video, and these videos can be accessed as a source of inspiration and stoke, especially in this age of rapid fire instagram footage. Luckily, we have a library of Hawaii skateboarding videos from people like Conor McGivern, Kale Kaaikala, Darin Lee, Sean Reilly, Chad Hiyakumoto, and perhaps future generations of videographers and photographers. Overtime, these images can be accessed like a relief print of the landscape, with lost spots, changing fashions, and time-tested weirdos.
The tradition of photographing and capturing skateboarding continues on with the Honolulu Museum of Art’s 6th annual HISK8 Film Festival this year.
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