Big Island's Alfred Cababag Turns Back Time

From the jungles of the Big Island, Alfred Cababag creates historic images that transcend time to past eras when perfect waves existed with a timeless culture.

Cababag, 45, was born and raised on the North Shore of Oahu and Waipio Valley, Big Island. Surfer, artifact caretaker and artist.

The interview was conducted on the beachside deck overlooking Pipeline at the O’Brien residence. Mahalo and thank you to them. — SAV hear you never left the Hawaiian Islands. Tell us about your connection with Hawaiian culture?

Alfred: I’ve never left Hawaii in my entire life and my art and a lot of my work is donated to the preservation of and continuation of Hawaiian culture. Sometimes when you are working in a taro field or building a rock wall you may come across certain Hawaiian items. The proper thing to do is to know that most of the times you don’t move these items, but sometimes, under certain circumstances, we have to remove them. And as my Kapuna once told me, my teacher explained, that when things show themselves to you, then that means it was meant to be; when you try to seek ‘um, you’ll never get these things. I’ve become the caretaker of certain artifacts and implements over the last 15 years. At least every year or two, I go back and make sure these items are safe and no one has stolen these objects. And where are these objects located?

Alfred: Waipio Valley, on the Big Island. Once that valley was a thriving community, wasn’t it?

Alfred: Yes. Yes it was. Waipio is the largest, I mean most spiritual, piece of land in all of Hawaii. Waipio is called "Valley of the Kings." We had the first royal mosulim, or Palace, that was built in 1575. It is the final resting place and residence of King Liloa, who was Father to King Umi, and King Haka — ten generations later we had the Kamehamehas. Whenever we are surfing down there, the surfers become very spiritually conscious and aware about our connection to the current environment, and what was there before us. So there are good waves at Waipio?

Alfred: Yes, it breaks like Pipe. Wow…

Alfred: Waipio can break really well on the north, north-westerly swell. I’ve seen it, umm … old-school 40 feet. Wow, so that place is pretty dangerous when it gets that big.

Alfred: Oh, yeah, the whole valley closes out. But on easterlies we have some waves, a lot of pointbreaks along the coast. Waipio likes the northwesterly and it is the only place that I say feels like you're sitting at Pipe or Waimea shorebreak. O.K., who would think.

Alfred: Black sand … beautiful. You were surfing regularly with the local crew, and you were injured surfing out there. Tell us about that?

Alfred: Yes. Yes, when I got hurt, some people say, "It’s meant to be." Now I tend to go to Waipio during the summers to do a lot of research because I’m doing some work with the State Foundation on Culture and Arts on both islands. Catch some easterly swells and get into the Hawaiiana. The boys that I met there were so spiritual that I put together this organization called “Na Kahu," "The Keepers" … Infinite Love, everything else is an illusion. It’s a group that believes you got to love what you do and love the people you're with. At times I can seem like a real asshole to some people, 'cause I’m strict. I’ve been told I have an old way about me. The old morals and values. So you use that to teach the younger surfers, to keep some guys in line …

Alfred: Some kids are really hard-headed, especially the kids that are gang-banging and stuff. One summer I brought up these guys that were part of a gang, and two of their gang members died. One was stabbed right here on the North Shore. Oh, bad stuff…

Alfred: Yeah, I brought them out there and straightened their lives up. Also showed them where their roots is from and showed them how to accept people from anywhere in the world, as long as they bring respect. So don’t judge too soon by the color …

Alfred: We are all of the same color. Speaking of colors, I’ve looked at your art before. I’ve noticed it is not just oils, or just airbrush, but a mix of many mediums.

Alfred: Some are heavy combinations. Some have what I call spray-back, or spray-backs — it comes from doing graffiti art. I got lazy and people really wanted these vibrant backgrounds, so I just spray-back them and then I do a mixture of acrylics, really watered down; it’s a really articulate way of doing things. I really like detail: to me, everything has to be like … perfect. You have been painting top surfers and others into your paintings and then giving them the paintings. Name some of those people.

Alfred: Start with Jamie [O’Brien]; first one I did was for Bosko [Burns]; Pancho [Sullivan]; Brucey [Irons]; John John [Florence]. Sometimes I paint the modern surfers as Hawaiians, like I did Kelly [Slater], one were he is a Hawaiian chief back in time. So a little fantasy in there …

Alfred: Yeah, Sunny's [Garcia] one, he is a Hawaiian on the beach at this secret place where we like to go. Sunny has a deep understanding of the Hawaiian situation, all the boys actually do, and Jamie [O’Brien] is one particular person that always makes sure there are correct Hawaiian plants in his paintings. Currently you are working on pieces that don’t have surfing, but show Hawaii in times of antiquity.

Alfred: Yes. These almost look like photos from back then. Only a little brighter and a little clearer than if we were sitting right there back then. Are these paintings going to be sold?

Alfred: Yes…about two years ago, Jamie told me some things — I owe him for that. I grew up with all these guys, so I gave them art, they are all family, Pancho, Myles [Padacca], Elijah [Young], everyone has my art, Eddie Rothman, Makua, I’ve been doing the Hui’s art, I do XM’s art, and Jamie’s new art for his Local Motion boards, but Jamie has so much faith in me, he has really helped me through some heavy times, for such the young guy that he is. So are you guys starting a business?

Alfred: We have been collaborating, and I’ll tell you what we are up to: I’m doing the North Shore spots as it looked a thousand years ago and I’m putting all the boys I know into these surf villages. So, you can see updates on our progress by going to my Web site or Jamie’s site – .

Editor’s Note: All surfers receiving paintings from Alfred this season won big. Sunny, Pancho, Jamie. — SB