Surfer's Path

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Kokua Festival 2008

Kokua Festival 2008

Highlights from the Kokua Festival 2008 press conference, featuring Jack Johnson, Tim Reynolds and Dave Matthews, courtesy Guy Ragosta.

Now Reading:

Kokua Festival 2008

Kokua Festival 2008

The Pirates Land in Hawai’i

Words and photos by: Guy Ragosta

After a whirlwind of planetary touring across land and atmosphere, Jack Johnson arrived home to the island of O’ahu in the deep space of the Pacific Ocean to remind us surfers about love for each other, and love for the planet. ”A lot of times people feel like, if they don’t have all the answers, then they don’t have the right to speak up,” commented Jack Johnson at the Kokua Festival’s kickoff press conference. “I think the main thing that kids, or any surfer, can do is get involved with Surfrider Foundation, which is a real easy start, because they are in almost every community that has surfing. Supporting renewable energy in general as a human being, such as wave energy is something kids could learn a lot about.”

Crewman Jack Johnson tells the story at Kokua

“You have to excuse me, I’m a past teacher,” explained Kim Johnson, sitting beside her husband. “So when I get up in front of people, sometimes, my teacher qualities come out.” She went on to describe the long list of ways the event had greened itself, from potato starch knives and forks to clear cornstarch cups. Kim and Jack take center stage before each of these April gatherings as part of their effort to raise awareness and funds for Kokua Hawai’i Foundation. Their nonprofit supports environmental education in the schools and communities of Hawai’i, providing students with exciting and interactive encounters that enhance their appreciation for and understanding of their environment. Hopefully this is an important step on their way to becoming lifelong stewards of the Earth. And what could excite kids to save the planet more than a combined international and local group of musicians, playing together on their behalf?

“Young people are really where the hopes of the future lie,” said Dave Matthews, playing in Hawai’i for the first time, the native South African noted that, “the older generations in a lot of ways are lost, but the children are the ones that can change the future, because they essentially are the future.”

”Well, I love trees, so I don’t cut them down,” offered Paula Fuga, a Hawaiian musician in her second Kokua Festival in three years. “I collect corks, and don’t throw them away. I don’t drink beer, but I recycle other people’s beer bottles. If I see trash on the beach, I pick it up, throw it away where it belongs. Hopefully, I inspire people to fall in love with nature and be kind to the Earth, because the Earth is a single organism, and we are all connected to it.”

Hawaiian-born Mason Jennings, recently signed Johnson’s Brushfire Records, brought his revolutionary style solo music to Kokua Festival’s interactive scene. “I was just down in Patagonia making a new movie with Emmett Malloy,” he told us. Referring to the concept of limited resources, he said, “I’m just trying to learn as much as I can, and then from there, try to do a better job to make a smaller footprint.”

Greg Nielsen, at the press conference representing eco-conscious Simple Shoes, a strong sponsor of Kokua, alluded to a fact of life for most manufacturers: “What we do, is really make garbage. Now, we’ve rethought everything, and started using recycled products like car tires, bike tires, and inner tubes, and also natural products like organic cottons and hemps.”

Counterpoint cam via Tim Reynolds (I did’t hear him utter another word all weekend): “I like to recycle my thoughts, and the ones that are no good, I get rid of them. And I like to wear a lot of green and spend most of my time in outer space using nothing.”

“I know there is a great magazine out of the UK called The Surfer’s Path,” opined Jack Johnson.

“I represent The Surfer’s Path!” responded Steve Bogle, father and instructor of former pro surfer Jason Nalu Bogle (who claimed his dad owned Backdoor in the day).

“Oh you do?” smiled Jack. “How ironic. He’s asking a question from The Surfer’s Path,” he explained to the media core. “I had no idea. I was actually going to say this compliment before I realized. I wish other surf magazines would follow in the footsteps of Surfer’s Path and have more articles besides the celebrity aspects of pro surfers, but that talk about things like wave energy and water quality. Every time I pick up Surfer’s Path magazine, it makes me feel proud to be a surfer again. Whereas, sometimes I can get a little bit discouraged about the surfing community and how little some of the companies do to give back to the green personality that the surfing community has. We are represented that way, and I feel that sometimes not enough is given back to preserve that.”


Jack laid down a rocksteady punch of songs for the Kokua Festival crowd at the Waikiki Shell, ranging in lyrical direction from funny to sad to revolutionary. Yet behind the mellow musician’s eyes an inspired fire influenced children through positive, simple music about reducing, reusing, and recycling. And Jack’s friends shined on, too.

Paula Fuga sung with a voice that reverberated like Iz, reincarnated as a woman inspired by Jah. Dave Matthews’ acoustic sets with Tim Reynolds magically highlighted the show, especially the tenacity and skill with which Tim ripped up the guitar on 4.20, far exceeding the instrumental skills of any other musician on space … I mean, on stage. Meanwhile, Jack infiltrated a global audience of tilted adult brain waves with melancholy predictions about the future, as he mixed his own compositions with covers.

Tim Reynolds and Dave Matthews, tandem at Kokua

Towards the end of the night, Dave Matthews and Tim Reynolds joined Jack for Jimmy Buffet’s song, ‘A Pirate Looks At Forty’, singing:

Mother, mother ocean, I have heard you call, Wanted to sail upon your waters since I was three feet tall. You’ve seen it all, you’ve seen it all … I’ve done a bit of smugglin’ I’ve run my share of weed.[sic.] I made enough money to buy Miami, But I pissed it away so fast …

Upon finishing the cover, Jack swiftly reminded the audience: “Now we’d like to really change the vibe from that last Jimmy Buffet song about smokin’ herb and gettin drunk’. We’d like to remind everyone that this is for environmental education in the schools. This is a song called reduce, reuse, recycle.” The festival artists converged onstage, before a vog-hazed (courtesy Big Island eruptions) crowd that waved in and out of the 4.20 bliss, to end the night with the song kids love, ‘The 3 R’s’.

Watershed Partnerships

With these insights from Jack in my mind, after postponing four trips in a row due to bad weather, on the following Tuesday I flew by helicopter to the clear and full-moon-lit summits of the Ko’olau Range, so near yet so far away from human habitation.

Soon, I was scaling small waterfalls to collect soil and water samples from relatively native forest, using the Surfrider Foundation’s water- and soil-quality monitoring gear. The goal is to improve our knowledge of coastal water-quality indicators from summit to sea in Hawai’i.

Back at sea level, I contacted Marvin Heskett, co-chair of Surfrider’s O’ahu chapter, to see if he wanted to collaborate with a Hawaiian-based local surfing charity that I run (Surfing Medicine International) to place floating rafts of native Akuli’kuli plants into the Ala Wai canal, where their roots will absorb pollutants and keep the downstream water clean at Waikiki surf spots.

”We agreed at this year’s budget-planning meeting to get the rolling again on cleaning up the Ala Wai,” Marvin told me. “Akuli’kuli, EM, watershed restoration, storm-drain filters/diverters, and a lot of other yet unfounded ideas will need to be pulled together to make it work. The first big thing will be to get enough interest from the public to get the needed momentum. The Waikiki neighborhood board, DBET, and others should get involved. Let’s make this thing happen!”

So as I recycle my thoughts to conclude this article, I throw out the bad ideas. Even as revolutions spark riots in Haiti, South America, and around the world because forests tumble to grow crops for industry and biofuel and not crops for food for people, I give thanks to Tim Reynolds, as I happily follow suit and begin spending more time in outer space using nothing.

But sometimes my teacher qualities come out when I write, so I trek down to the Ala Wai canal in my new Simple sandals, making smaller footprints down to one of the most polluted bodies of water in the Hawaiian Islands – just downstream from the Kokua Festival concert grounds, as a matter of fact, and upstream from Waikiki Beach. There, between the music and the waves, I close my eyes to imagine a clean Waikiki by thinking globally, while acting locally.

“Surfers can help by researching wave energy and getting involved with any non-profit group in their area …” Jack Johnson’s words resonate somewhere from the Nalu sent deep from the abyss of outer space, as the Earth spins on the surfer’s path towards a melancholy future desperately seeking change, signaling me to check in with the Godfather of Hawaiian watershed partnerships to see what pirates looks like at forty.

”Support your local watershed partnerships,” says the Godfather.

Watch the footage of the festival here!

Guy Ragosta is a surfer, Field Crew Supervisor of Ko’olau Mountains Watershed Partnership, writer, and president of the nonprofit Surfing Medicine International organization, which fosters and creates international cooperation between traditional healers and surfers to develop sustainable medicinal plant systems for coastal communities.