As told to Darrell's daughter; Summer Wong for a school project…
So Daddy... we know you grew up in Hawaii, but what else can you tell us about yourself? Well... I was born 4 years before Statehood. I'm from Kapahulu, a neighborhood at the foot of Diamond Head. There were dirt roads and chicken farms back then.... hard to believe, huh? I grew up surfing Waikiki... I know everyone says that, but your Uncle Benny and I would literally drag our 50 lb. surfboards down the road to surf “The Wall” in Waikiki. I loved to read and I did well in school and graduated from Kaimuki High, but college didn't interest me... “All I wanted to do was surf”. I moved to the North Shore, worked the night shift at Aloha Airlines and tried to photograph surfing during the day, but it didn't work out very well because all I did was surf. Then in the early 1980's I moved back to Town to shoot windsurfing at Diamond Head. I met Robby Naish, Pete Cabrinha, and the pioneers of wave sailing... and as they say, the rest is history.
How did you get into photography? I got it from your Grandpa who was an amateur photographer. He was always taking pictures of our family and charities he belonged to; like the Lions Club. I never thought anything of it until I found old photos of our family in front of the “imu” at the old Queen's Surf restaurant in Waikiki... that classic building is long gone, but here it was still in this photo... and I thought,
“This is cool!”.
And what exactly do you do? Don't you just hang out at the beach all day? Good question... since your Grandma wasn't really sure what I did. Basically, I photograph windsurfers and surfers for advertising. I'm not your whimsical artsy kind of photographer. I consider myself a commercial photographer. You can't control the ocean and nature, so all I do is record what I see... while trying to focus on the clients' product. 90% of what I do is just being there. And I do get to hang out at the beach, but now I mostly hang out in my office editing photos on this Mac... it was much easier shooting slide film.
And you make a living from this? I try my best... my clients seem to like what I do.
Why do you think they keep coming back? I try to be nice and respect what they are trying to do. Think about it… they've just invested thousands of dollars for two weeks in Hawaii with no guarantees of how the weather will be. You have to be a bit sympathetic and respectful of their situation. I remember taking a business class (easy credits) in high school... no MBA lessons, just your basic laws of supply and demand kind of stuff. My teacher was a nice Hawaiian lady who basically taught us to respect everyone and be nice. This lesson would probably not apply in today's world of Bernie Maddoffs.
Who's Bernie Maddoff? Google him and find out.
Is your "mantra" to just be nice? Well… “You gotta show up on time, do your best, and be nice.” Or, one word... “Aloha”... I know it sounds like a cliché, but "Aloha" means showing respect and basic decency towards other people.
I heard they hire you because you bring Spam Musubis to your photo shoots... Yeah… I do bring Spam Musubis, candy bars, and Gatorade to the job because I learned you gotta keep the "talent" in one place during breaks or they start to wander off. Just like kids, they get “pilikia” (bothered) and “huhu” (angry) if they aren't fed regularly.
I love your “speed blur” photos… what's that all about? It's just a basic photographic technique of blurring the background of an action photo.
I experimented with this technique from the very beginning. The influence came from my interest in auto racing and looking at racing pictures from the 60's.
I applied it to windsurfing and surfing, and I'm proud of being able to do this consistently in-camera.
What else are you most proud of? Our family... Your Mom came from Germany and worked incredibly hard to become a medical physician in two specialties, opened her own practice, and became an American citizen... now, that's impressive! You and your sister always impress me with your athleticism, knowledge, manners, and kindness. Your Grandpa, Grandma, Aunty and Uncles have all done well with their lives. And even our not so immediate family... my cousin co-founded "Alu Like"; a well-known charity that benefits The Hawaiian people. I'm proud of our family, my heritage, and where I'm from. It's great that people appreciate my work, and I know they like to look at my photos, but in the end... “It's just surfing”. Oh yeah... and I'm especially proud of my wins at SCCA Autocross! I beat a lot of modern sports cars with my old 1973 Porsche 914!
Speaking of auto racing, people don't know that you used to race your old Porsche... I loved racing my Porsche. It's a great feeling to threshold brake into a corner, blip the throttle to downshift, hit the corner apex, and accelerate out perfectly. When you get it right, it's so cool... it's like taking off on a wave and doing a hard bottom turn, into a clean carve off the lip!
Summer… I know you miss that Porsche and one day we'll find another one for you and your sister.
What's on your playlist? Huh?
You know... what's on your iPod? Oh... hmm... well, I don't have an iPod, but I do listen to the following a lot... Marvin Gaye: “What's Going On”... still relevant.
Rap Reiplinger: “Poi Dog With Crabs” & “The Best Of Rap”... Google him and find out. Van Morrison: “Avalon Sunset”... one of your Mom's favorite. Keola & Kapono Beamer: “Honolulu City Lights”... surf music. Everything by The Beatles, Pearl Jam, Led Zeppelin, and Neil Young... and for some reason, I've been a fan of Stone Temple Pilots.
What's something your friends don't know about you? I used to surf and bodysurf uncrowded Pipeline a lot when I lived on the North Shore... nothing too big, but enough to scare you sometimes... and I have a Waikiki beach boy nickname.
Anything you want to say before we wrap this up? To quote a good friend of mine... “I have a wonderful family and I work with fantastic people on really amazing jobs in one of the most incredibly beautiful places on earth”...