Jack Johnson Headlines Pupekea/Paumalu Land Trust Auction: Invest in the Aina

On the mauka (inland) side of Kam Highway, the Pupukea-Paumalu plateau covers more than a thousand acres and looks down on a good chunk of the Seven Mile Miracle, from Backyards to Pupukea.

Fifteen years ago, a battle arose between the residents of the North Shore and the Obayashi Corporation of Japan, who bought the land with plans to develop over 500 residential units, swelling the North Shore community by several thousand people and the roads by several hundred cars. And also swelling the several small mountain creeks with runoff that would go straight to the reefs.

A bad idea that never happened through a lot of community action and a challenge that went all the way to the Hawaiian Supreme Court. When the Obayashi Corporation finally threw in the kimono, they put the land up for sale and a small group of North Shore residents formed the North Shore Community Land Trust to raise the money to buy the property, turn it into a park and keep the country country.

The price tag on the Pupukea-Paumalu plateau has been fluctuating at around $8 million, with emissaries traveling all the way to Japan to talk turkey with the owners. The effort to raise that significant amount of money to buy the property was helped by various sources, some of them surprising. The United States Army kicked in a whopping $2.4 million toward the purchase of the property – under the title Department of Defense Army Compatible Use Buffer Program – most likely because they didn't want too much civilization near their Kahuku training ground, and knew that the inevitable lawsuits over helicopter noise would have cost a lot more.

The Pupukea-Paumalu project also received funding from the City and County of Honolulu, the State of Hawaii, NOAA Coastal and Estuarine Land Protection Program, and the National Park Service Land, Water and Conservation Fund. All of that government money in the calabash brought the total up to $7 million, which left it to the North Shore community to raise the remaining million.

The effort to raise that million dollars began in July of 2005, and on December 3, the North Shore Community Land Trust threw a very classy party in Waimea Valley to thank all of those who had kicked in money for the effort, and to raise more.

The co-chairs of the event were Mark Cunningham, Jack Johnson, Pancho Sullivan, Rochelle Ballard and Kelly Slater and they all arrived sooner (or later, Slater) at around 6:00 for a press conference that was televised by the BBC for Kids, Fuel TV, Olelo TV and ESPN.

As the sun was setting and the peacocks were crowing, the co-chairs were introduced by Josh Stanbro of the Trust for Public Land, a nationwide non-profit organization that has been working with the NSCLT for over two years to protect Pupukea-Paumalu. Stanbro accurately described the property as "the cornerstone in keeping the North Shore country" and talked about the unseen hazards of development, like oil runoff from vehicles and pesticides from landscaping.

Stanbro directed the cameras and microphones toward the seated co-chairs and for about an hour, Johnson, Ballard, Slater, Sullivan and Cunningham answered a lot of questions, spoke into a lot of blinding lights and patiently did promos for Fuel TV.

All of the surfers (except Cunningham, grudgingly) pointed out that they were North Shore landowners who valued the quality of life and the quality of surf and wanted to do what they could to protect both.

Rochelle Ballard has a piece of property near the Pupukea-Paumalu plateau that she is developing and Kelly Slater explained that he was a landowner and planned to eventually live full time on the North Shore. Slater talked about his homebreaks in Florida, looking inland and seeing northing but condos. He said one of the things he loved about the North Shore was sitting in the water looking up all those wild valleys: "I would hate to see development wreck my lineups," Slater said.

After the press conference, Jack Johnson talked about working on the score for Curious George with composer Hans Zimmer, and all of the co-chairs autographed two electric guitars donated by Jack Johnson that would be auctioned off later that night.

Meanwhile, a floor below, hundreds of guests in their aloha attire flowed in and massed on grass, drinking free beers and wine, eating puu puus and listening to Hawaiian music as they Coconut Wireless throbbed.

There were a lot of familiar faces down there: Peter Cole and Ricky Grigg were talking story, Randy Rarick was looking harassed in the middle of the Triple Crown, John John Florence was there with his mom (who looks like his older sister). Strider Wasilewski, Rabbit Bartholomew, Rob Machado, Megan Abubo and hundreds of others from the North Shore community and as far away as Japan and Maryland mixed and mingled and listened to Hawaiian noises, mixed with exotic peacock calls.

Scattered around the event were some of the surfboards and other watercraft that would be up for auction after dinner.

On a board was a list of sponsors, with more than a few names familiar to the surfing world. Billabong, Jack and Kim Johnson, Hurley, Quiksilver and Patagonia (in memory of Rell Sunn) were all listed as Pipeline sponsors, which means they were good for $10,000 or more.

The Vans Triple Crown of Surfing was a "Sunset" sponsor throwing in $5,000 or more into the hat. And the names went on from there: Xcel Hawaii, In honor of Ted Deerhurst, Haleiwa Surf and Sea, the Bielman family, Peter and Sally Cole, Howard and Kim Farrant, James and Doric Little, Tom Servais, Shaun Tomson, Tracy and Charlie Walker, North Shore Boardriders, Barry and Leslee Kanaiaupuni, Steve and Jane Wilkings.

Dinner was served and dinner was nice. There were speeches and more speeches. Peter Cole took the stage and thanked Yvon Chouinard, Jack and Kim Johnson, the McIheny family and Rochelle Ballard – who received the Surfing Pro Award for that night: "It was an honor to see all of you grow up into ladies and gentlemen," Cole said. "And Sunset Beach in my opinion is the greatest place in the world."

Blake McIlheny took the microphone and pointed out Matsuo, who has served as he intermediary between the NSCLT and the Obayashi Corporation. McIlheny also thanked Brushfire Records for their $100,000 contribution and asked for a standing ovation for the mysterious Freeman Foundation and their $250,000 check toward the effort. McIlheny then announced that the campaign for Pupukea Paumalu had raised more than $550,000 in six months, and had already added in $10,980 from the donation raffle that night.

McIlheny handed off the microphone to Mark Cunningham who announced that Kelly Slater had kicked in $10,000 plus dedicated whatever he won at the Pipe Masters to the fund. Then Cunningham brought on Skill Johnson – the voice of the North Shore – who asked for a moment of silence to remember Malik Joyeux, a Tahitian surfer who had died surfing Pipeline on December 2. That was the calm before the storm, and then the auction began.

Johnson's auction-calling technique is rather unique, because he was very often doing the bidding for people who had their hands and their heads down, but wound up bidding thousands for things they didn't know they wanted.

At one point there were three World Champions on the stage: Kelly Slater was there and Andy Irons was holding a Duke contest trophy won by Shaun Tomson, and Tomson was also on the stage. The bidding began and Irons was more than a little surprised to find himself in a bidding war with Randy Rarick that went into the thousands. Irons had the trophy in both hands, remember, so he couldn't bid and could just stand there and shoot funny looks at Skill Johnson as the bidding went past the $6000 mark.

Irons won the bidding war, and Slater cracked that he had never been so glad to see the World Title contender walk away with a trophy.

Gordon Merchant bid more than $14,000 for a beautiful, hardwood Dick Brewer gun, and the signed electric guitars went for over $9000 a piece. When the auction was done, North Shore Favorite Son Jack Johnson took the stage for a solo performance, and the party went beyond the witching hour – well past normal bedtime for the North Shore.

The North Shore Community Land Trust threw a very classy, successful, Hawaiian-style party that raised awareness of the need to preserve the North Shore, and who may have gone over the top of that final $1 million investment in keeping the country country.

For more information on the effort to keep the country country, check out NorthShoreLand.org .