Skip to Content
Contrast Magazine
Wooden Wave + Olukai

wooden wave + Olukai
Words / Daniel Ikaika Ito
Photography / Mark Kushimi

The ahupua‘a system is not a new concept, but the ancient Hawaiians’ method of land division is especially poignant today as the whole world strives for sustainability. Prior to western contact, the indigenous people of Hawai‘i used freshwater bodies of water as boundaries to divide pieces of land from one another. Ahupua‘a were literally stone altars with a pig’s head on it that marked these land divisions to let someone know when they entered or exited a particular parcel. The ahupua‘a system itself stretched from the top of the mountain all the way down to the ocean, and each one of these ahupua‘a contained all of the resources necessary for a village to survive without needing to take from another’s ‘aina (land). Everything from freshwater and food to building materials and artistic mediums could be found in one’s ahupua‘a so these resources were cherished, maintained and allowed to replenish by the inhabitants. It was an efficient system of sustainability that allowed the Native Hawaiians to thrive to the point of approximately 686,000 when Captain James Cook first made contact in 1778.

The ancient brilliance of the ahupua‘a system of having everything necessary for survival within your neighborhood is an underlying theme to the artwork of Wooden Wave. This duo of Native Hawaiian artists, comprised of husband and wife, Matt and Roxy Ortiz, illustrate this indigenous wisdom in modern forms through fantasy dwellings that have everything a skateboarder and/or surfer would need to sustain a life of radness.


wooden wave + olukai

For more about Wooden Wave and Olukai:
“We are especially drawn to the idea of creating self-sustaining communities because they represent a modern manifestation of the ahupua‘a concept,” says Matt Ortiz from Wooden Wave’s creative space in the Lana Lane Studios in Kaka‘ako. “We place these communities up in the trees as an expression of our desire to connect with the nostalgic sense of possibility and innovation that is associated with treehouses. But beyond the romanticism of a rad clubhouse built in the canopy, the addition of solar panels, water catchment systems and aquaponics, make each composition relevant to the environmental issues of today.”

Their murals of these X-Games meets “Swiss Family Robinson” homes can be seen on various walls around Honolulu. Wooden Wave is a core contributor the annual Hawaiian mural festival, POW! WOW! Hawai‘i. In addition, they create commissioned pieces for spaces like the Surfjack Hotel in Waikiki. Most recently, Wooden Wave collaborated on a capsule collection with Olukai around the theme, “Mauka to Makai,” with a portion of the sales directly benefitting Lana Lane Studios. The Native Hawaiian artists created the artwork and concept to guide the creative direction of the project that features men’s and women’s styles of shoes and slippers, and to perpetuate Aloha for the ahupua‘a system and its indigenous knowledge.

“At its core, this image is about balancing elements. In addition to the Mauka (mountain) and Makai (shoreline) regions we also included elements of Lani (sky), and Moana (ocean). To emphasize the notion of unity we tried to create a composition that reflected the interconnected nature of these elements,” explains Matt. “The lei forms that weave through the waves are there to symbolize the importance of Aloha. As an underpinning element of Hawai‘i’s cultural ideology, Aloha is crucial to maintaining both social and environmental balance. Without the ahupua‘a functioning properly you lose the essence of Hawai‘i as a place, and without true Aloha there can be no ‘Hawaiian experience.’”

The Wooden Wave + Olukai Collection can be purchased by visiting Olukai’s Website