Story by Sheila Sarhangi
Photos by Dana Edmunds
Maybe it’s because it’s in Waikiki. Or maybe it’s because it’s in a hotel in Waikiki. Or maybe it’s because it’s inside of a Jimmy Buffett restaurant inside of a hotel in Waikiki. For any of these reasons, you’d think this’d be just another surf-themed Waikiki bar: boards on the walls, ‘ukulele, hula girl lamps.
But what you see in the Honolulu Surfing Museum—the longboard used by Robert Duvall in Apocalypse Now, the nine-foot redwood plank that Duke Kahanamoku reputedly loaned to Hollywood star George O’Brien in 1931, the one-of-a-kind Yater Olo … all of it—is totally authentic and totally unique.
While on a surf trip to California, Buffett, the musician/longboarder, visited the Santa Barbara Surfing Museum. He was so impressed with owner Jim O’Mahoney’s collection that he offered to buy a portion of it to display in the Waikiki restaurant he was then building, Jimmy Buffett’s at the Beachcomber. “So Jimmy thought, ‘We’re going to be across the street from such fertile surfing grounds, why don’t we bring a surf museum to the area … one that also has a bar?’” explains museum curator Mark Fragale.
O’Mahoney happily agreed, and both the museum and restaurant opened in the Ohana Waikiki Beachcomber Hotel in February 2009.
The museum has nearly two dozen boards: from a lightweight 1920s alaia model to a 1967 foam-and-fiberglass board shaped by Phil Edwards, the guy who has been credited as the first to surf Pipeline. Major turning points in the evolution of surfboards are also on view, such as two 1930s Tom Blake wooden hollow-core boards (because the boards would leak, their decks are fitted with brass plugs for draining). At the end of the bar, there’s a board signed by Kathy Kohner Zuckerman, a.k.a. the real Gidget. (She’s been to the museum three times.) It’s not all boards, however: The museum has a ring worn by Capt. James Cook when he visited Hawai‘i and a small collection of ‘ukes and guitars related to Island music and culture.
Fragale, an encyclopedia of surf esoterica, offers free tours twice a week. And although it isn’t mandatory, you’d be a lousy Parrothead if you didn’t stick around for a margarita.