Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum is launching a new interactive surfing exhibit just in time to mark the countdown to the first-ever Olympic surfing events, slated to take place this summer in Japan.
The exhibit, called “Mai Kinohi Mai: Surfing in Hawaii,” opens Dec. 14 and runs through May 3. It comes as local surfer Carissa Moore, who became the World Surf League champion for the fourth time Monday morning at Honolua Bay, Maui, takes her spot on the U.S. women’s Olympic surfing team and possibly other Hawaii surfers follow.
It’s all part of the museum’s push to stay relevant as it works to increase visitation and meet new tourism goals designed to shore up one of the state’s threatened treasures. It’s also a linchpin in efforts by Hawaii tourism officials and state Sen. Glenn Wakai to ensure Hawaii is poised to continue capitalizing on the surfing momentum surrounding the summer Olympics, which kick off July 24 and run through Aug. 9.
“We’ve got the 2019 Vans Triple Crown of Surfing now, and we’ll host a Hawaiian ceremony at the opening and closing of Pipeline Masters later this month. But we’ve got to create some momentum beyond December,” said Wakai,who formed a surfing advisory committee and has been working for a couple of years to ensure that Hawaii’s position as the birthplace of surfing isn’t obscured by competitors.
Wakai is pinning hope on publicity surrounding the surfing exhibit, which Hawaii Tourism Authority and its global marketing teams will promote. Wakai also is trying to get the U.S. Olympic team to train in Hawaii and to get local schools to embrace surfing as an official sport, something he said even New Jersey has done.
Wakai said Hawaii can’t let other destinations like Brazil, California and Australia, who are better at monetizing surfing, steal its thunder.
“We didn’t realize how valuable a gift surfing was, but we’ve got a pivotal opportunity to change that in 2020. We have to ride this wave or we’ll be in the backwater,” he said.
Chris Tatum, Hawaii Tourism Authority president and CEO, said the agency plans to market the surfing exhibit and up its own surfing branding.
“We’d love to see more people educated about the history of Hawaii, and there’s no better place than the Bishop Museum,” Tatum said. “Increased interest in surfing won’t necessarily drive more tourists to Hawaii, but it does give them another experience while they are here. It appeals to visitors that are interested in culture and have a tendency to be more focused on the environment and to potentially spend more money on other areas outside of hotels.”
The well-timed exhibit lets the museum inch closer to its long-term goal of increasing annual attendance from roughly 200,000 locals and tourists to at least 800,000. And, it also provides an elevated opportunity for the museum to use surfing to draw attention to Hawaii’s climate change challenges.
Melanie Ide, Bishop Museum president and CEO, said, “With this exhibition, we’ll be connecting our local and international audiences, celebrating surfing’s deep roots in Hawaiian culture, and bringing attention to the urgent need to protect our ocean’s health in the face of climate change and the pollutants that are affecting our environment and lives.”
Dylan Ching, vice president of operations for TS Restaurants on Oahu and Kauai, said the sustainability aspect and the fact that the company’s Duke’s restaurants honor the legacy of Duke Kahanamoku were critical to the company’s decision to become a major exhibit sponsor.
“This was one of the larger contributions that we’ve done,” said Ching, whose mother is pro surfer Laura Blears and who is a Bishop Museum Community Association volunteer. “We want more people to understand that Hawaii is the birthplace of surfing. Also, we want to promote sustainability. If we don’t take care of our oceans, then we can’t surf.”
Ching appreciates that the exhibit is a fusion of science, history and Hawaiian culture. On display are surfboards from legends like Duke Kahanamoku, who was an Olympic medalist in water events and is considered the father of modern surfing; and Rell Sunn, the “Queen of Makaha,” who in 1982 was ranked No. 1 in the world on longboard.
Boards belonging to Moore and to John John Florence, the 2016 and 2017 men’s world champion, also will be on display. They’ve even got Princess Ka‘iulani’s surfboard — an extremely thin board which exhibit designer Michael Wilson said was indicative of superior water skills as riding it would have been like “driving a car with a high-performance engine.”
“It’s the best representation of the oldest and most significant surfboards in the state,” said DeSoto Brown, Bishop Museum historian and exhibit curator.
There’s also a real-time element to the exhibit that offers intimate accounts from professional and amateur surfers about the sport and their favorite surf spots. A visit to surfboard maker Pohaku Stone’s workshop shows how traditional-style boards are made.
A high-tech surfing video wall lends a hip modern vibe to the exhibit, which also offers interactive touch screens to provide insight into the science behind catching the perfect swell. There’s even a simulated surfing experience called the “Surf-O-Lator,” which allows participants to ride a digital wave.
GOING TO THE EXHIBIT
>> Bishop Museum members may attend a preview of the “Mai Kinohi Mai: Surfing in Hawaii” exhibit on Dec. 13 from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Members need to RSVP at 808ne.ws/2Rgvnsq.
>> The exhibit opens for everyone else Dec. 14 and runs through May 3.
>> Location: Castle Memorial Building at the Bishop Museum, 1525 Bernice St.
>> Hours: Open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily
>> General admission fees:
Seniors (65+): $21.95
Youth (4-17): $16.95
Children (3 and under): Free
Children age 16 and younger must be accompanied by an adult.
>> Discounts are available to ID-carrying Hawaii residents, Hawaii college students and military members.