Words and Photography by Kelton Woodburn
There are twelve letters in the alphabet. There are rainbows on the license plates. There is no place surrounded by as much water as the Hawaiian islands, yet somehow they produce some of the rawest skate talent I’ve witnessed through my viewfinder.
A few years ago I met Lionel DeGuzman and Jason Park on the same trip to Oahu. Like the different sides of the island they come from – Lionel from Wahiawa and Jason from Kaneohe – their styles of skating couldn’t be more polarized. Since that first Honolulu introduction, it’s been a beautiful mess of last-minute travel, nighttime road trips and weaving across oceans to meet up somewhere in the triangle of Hawaii, the Pacific Northwest, and Southern California for skate sessions, jam sessions, or both.
I perceive Jason Park to be an artist, an innovative mind, a limit-pusher. You can probably see that from his hometown part he released for Thrasher earlier this week. His tech wizardry can be summed up in five words: back three kickflip blunt fakie. But it’s nearly impossible to have a legit Jason Park skate session without indulging an intense N64 battle of Super Smash Bros at his place in LA. That, or a garage poker game at his mom’s house in Kaneohe where the tension escalates to all players possessing Pokemon action figures acting as tradable slaves, inevitably leading to the question, ‘Guys, guys, what’s your opinion on slavery?’ Which, taken out of context, sounds bad. And it did. And wild laughter ensued.
The strange thing about being in Hawaii with skaters is the lack of interest in the ocean. Occasionally we would beach it in the evening, but we were more likely to be at an elementary school in Haleiwa, or at a Costco parking lot, watching Lionel DeGuzman blast half cabs over a beige wall. Lionel is the kind of friend that intimidates you a little at first, because of the neck tattoos and the gangster back heels, but then you get to know him and you think this guy would make a fantastic best man at my wedding.
Contrastingly coupled with his stylish skate destruction is a soft side of musical talent. He goes seamlessly from perfectly pronounced, ‘Wahiawa-bred pidgin Hoh, you like scrap, brah?’ to the expressively sung words, ‘Don’t worry, my dear, I can drive you home from here. Dry those teary eyes, my love, I can take you where you’ve been dreaming of.’ His voice falls with ease into the pockets of space left between the verses sung by his girlfriend Casey Liu, my other delightful Hawaiian best friend who, always and without trying, directs me toward righteous paths. Together, they are “Tigers in the Sky”, a musical duo from the island.
I have jumbled memories of Hawaii, clear, but not chronological. I remember waking up in Wahiawa at 4AM to go watch the forty-foot swell break at Waimea Bay. I remember getting caught in a rain storm on top of that mountain that’s always in the background of the TV program LOST. I remember countless midnight trips to Zippy’s, and morning trips to A’ala, listening to Lionel’s spot-on impressions of King Krule’s wailing vocals. I remember the poke from foodland, the wonder bars from Wailua Bakery, the manapuas from Libby’s…drool. I would live in Hawaii if just for the eats. But the Hawaiians are here now, here in our Californian lives. And they seem to be here to skate.