Interview by Glenn Sakamoto
Based in Kailua on the Hawaiian Island of Oahu, Pete Cabrinha is a surfer/artist who combines his love for art and the power and flow of surfing. Inspired by the many artists in his family, he creates kinetic collages filled to the brim with energy and color. We spoke with Pete to learn more.
What was your childhood like?
I grew up near the beach in Kailua, Hawaii in the sixties and seventies (I’ve been in Maui ever since). The east side of Hawaii had a nice flow back then. It was a great place to be a kid. The surf on that side of the island is really affected by the Tradewinds so it breeds a different kind of surfer. Someone who is willing to be more creative and open to all types of waves. I like to think that the east sides of all Hawaiian Islands produce versatile surfers with an open mindset. It definitely expanded my idea of what I considered "good surf."
What inspired you to begin creating art?
There were artists in my family. My mom was a painter and my brother dabbled in art as well. Like most kids I was really into illustration and sketching at first. Then I picked up a camera as a means to document my travels on the windsurfing tour. As I began to collect images I started to collage them together with archival images of Hawaii. I liked how you could make a contemporary piece of art by layering the two genres. This led to an exploration in other types of mixed media including the use of paint, block printing and carved wood.
What do you hope to create in the mind of the person viewing your art?
My hope is that they experience the same set of feelings I do when I see an interesting piece of art. I want them to be thrown off balance a bit and to spark their curiosity. I want the work to be provocative enough that it makes the viewer want to engage with the piece and start an internal dialog about what it means to them. Ultimately though, I hope that they find beauty and a connection to the subject(s).
I want the work to be provocative enough that it makes the viewer want to engage with the piece and start an internal dialog about what it means to them.
Who/what inspires your art?
In terms of artist inspiration, Robert Rauschenberg has made a strong impression on me. There’s also a significant graphic design influence from David Carson. And I like the work of Lee McKenna. On a daily basis however, it’s usually the people and places near me that provide the best inspiration. Hawaii has a wealth of culture and visual elements to stimulate my creativity. Between surfing and the lifestyle here to the rugged texture of the islands themselves, I'll never run out of inspiration.
What meaning does surfing hold for you and how does it influence your life?
Surfing has been at the core of my life since I was 5 years old. It’s to the point now where it’s difficult to simply call it a sport, activity, pastime or whatever. Surfing is so integrated into my life that it’s difficult to distinguish it apart from the rest of my routine. I’ve been incredibly fortunate to make surfing part of my livelihood for the last 40 years. Even more so, I’m extremely grateful that it still provides me with a certain kind of joy that I don’t get anywhere else. I’d never be able to overstate the entirely of what surfing has given to me or the amount of influence it’s had on my life.
Of all the places you have traveled to, what place in particular stands out? And why?
I’ve been impressed with a few places but for very different reasons. My first big travel impressions had little to do with surfing. Places like Egypt, Eastern Europe, Asia were really interesting because they were about as different as you can get from my home town of Kailua. In the end however, some of my surf trips have been my most memorable travels. French Polynesia, Micronesia, and Sumatra are the standouts because on all of those trips I sailed through on boats. The incredible surf, the remote villages, and the people are the reasons they are standouts. But the common thread in all of these trips is how remote they all were. I think everyone needs to get away from it all at least one time in their life.
What brings you the most happiness in the world?
I’m feeling my best when my family is also happy. Freedom and the possibility to travel is one of the key factors in my happiness. But the ability to design and create is also a central part of my well being. Any one of those things will trigger happiness and then the good times follow.
What “Golden Rule” do you live by?
Try to understand what the other person is thinking, feeling. That…. and to get in the ocean as much as possible.
What is your favorite board? Your favorite surf spot?
My go-to board is a 5’8" quad fin that I made for myself. My bread and butter surf spot is Hookipa and another spot on the east side of Maui. But my favorite wave so far is a place in the Tuamotus. I love reef passes and this unnamed spot is incredible.
Who are some of the people you feel are shaping the path for surfing today?
Here on Maui there is a new crew of surfers who are really pushing surfing’s limits in all directions. Kai Lenny is arguably the best surfer on the planet right now. He is a modern ambassador for what’s possible in surfing. Albee Layer, Matt Meola, and a handful of others are inspiring an even younger band of kids. I’m talking about a whole crew of 8-14 year olds here that are exposed to everything from barrels at Honolulu to bombs at Peahi. From windy air sessions at Hookipa to kitesurfing to foil boarding. These kids are growing up here with all of it happening in a small place and they are down for it all.
What's your favorite meal? What’s on your music playlist lately?
If I had to eat one thing for the rest of my life it would be a bowl of rice, veggies and fresh fish. My wife Lisa makes the best because she also adds her secret spice to it. My music taste is all across the map. I listen to (and play my drums to) the Black Keys, Led Zeppellin, Guns ‘N Roses, Offspring, Green Day, White Stripes, Neil Young, Foo Fighters, Chili Peppers. But then when it comes to time to chill I listen to (or play my uke to) Gabi Pahinui, Cecilio and Kapono, Anuhea, Paula Fuga, Mishka, Mike Love and Jack Johnson.
What are you most grateful for?
I’m most grateful for having the opportunity to have the life and career that I have. To be born into such an incredible place by amazing parents. To have my wife (Lisa) and daughter (Tahiti). The list goes on forever. I am truly grateful.
What’s next for Pete Cabrinha?
I plan to keep expanding on the path that I’m on. I don’t want to stop experimenting, exploring, or learning. Art is playing a larger part in the bigger picture and I’m happy for that.
To learn more about Pete Cabrinha and his art, click here.