story by Lena Katz
photo by Dana Edmunds
The name Chinatown Boardroom might conjure up images of a conference table, gray walls, men in suits. But the nondescript door on Nu‘uanu Avenue opens to a psychedelic wonderland: A kaleidoscopic Chinese dragon greets you, plumes of flame curling from its nose, its wings shimmering with iridescent color. Its “canvas” is a sleek 9-foot longboard. Another board features classic ’50s hot rod styling done in metallic flake lamination: Green flames fan from the nose as though it were the hood of Greased Lightnin’.
A marriage of street art and board shaping, surfboard art is an obvious medium for urban Hawai‘i artists, but it had no gallery presence until 2006, when Eric and Jackie Walden moved from California and opened the Boardroom. An apprentice of legendary shaper Ben Aipa, Eric is co-owner of a small California-based custom board shop, 12th Floor; he shaped many of the boards on display. Each finished piece is unique: “We’re fans of custom culture—we don’t like plain, everyday, normal stuff,” says Eric. “Everything’s got paneling or pin-striping—or maybe one of our friends will just come in and doodle.”
One of those doodling friends is East Coast skateboard artist Manny Pangilinan. “The Boardroom works with a lot of people who are big in the skateboard graphics and graffiti scene,” he says. “Those influences all converge in the board art you find here.”
Some of the boards are specially commissioned, like the one-of-a-kind dragon board, which was painted by monks from Bhutan. While visiting Hawai‘i last year to accompany the Honolulu Academy of Arts’ exhibit of Bhutanese art, some of the monks took up surfing. And, being artistically inclined, they painted traditional Buddhist imagery on decidedly untraditional media, to wit: a surfboard owned by the academy’s Asia painting conservator, Ephraim Jose. “When Eric saw Ephraim’s board, he suggested that the monks could paint a couple art boards and sell them to raise money,” says Jackie. Surfing never had better karma: Proceeds from the sale of the boards will go to support monasteries in Bhutan.
Although the Chinatown Boardroom’s pieces are aesthetically stunning with unique stories, they’re always intended for function as well as form.
“Some people buy them as art, and it’s neat to see that,” says Eric. “But we don’t believe in wall-hangers. It’s a surfboard. Wax it up, get out there and have fun.” HH