Text by Kelli Gratz | Images courtesy of Manukai Handboards & Sarah Anderson
Last year, on her 43rd birthday, Hawai‘i-born artist Sally Lundburg got one of the best gifts yet from her husband—a handboard for bodysurfing made out of a broken surfboard and an old wetsuit. Her husband, Hawaiian surfboard shaper and mixed-media artist Keith Tallett, had been playing with the idea of making something from found materials in his shop, and this present was the first of such trash-to-treasure tinkerings that he gave away. Together, they continued to tweak and test out prototypes, which Tallett handed out to friends along the way.
With these handboards, Tallett found a powerful symbol of mālama ‘āina (caring for the land), a theme that pervades his diverse body of handiwork made over nearly two decades, ranging from public art installations to surfboards. Manukai Handboards, as he calls the brand, reflects his family’s core values of preserving cultural roots, caring for the environment, and cultivating creativity. You could also say the boards are expressions of the places he has lived—the local wood a nod to the old plantations of Hawai‘i, the sleek design an embodiment of the urban edges of San Francisco, and the bright fades a reflection of the waters of Waipi‘o on Hawai‘i Island.
“I had seen images of paipo (small bellyboards) before, but first saw a modern handboard early last year, and I loved the idea that you could catch a wave with whatever material you happened to have on hand,” Lundburg says. “On my first wave on it in Waipi‘o, I got a wave all the way to the beach, and I was hooked.”
As a second-generation surfboard shaper and an artist who earned a Joan Mitchell Foundation grant, Tallett brings expertise to his designs. The bodies of the handboards are made from discarded foam surfboards and finished with a polyester resin to create colorful fades similar to shave-ice hues. Tallett also crafts handboards out of locally gathered, dried, and milled wiliwili and agave woods. “Visually, the boards are dynamic and fresh, and just look homegrown in Hawai‘i,” Lundburg says. “We have people that are curious and want to learn more when they see one. People are really supportive of products that are made with materials that would otherwise go to waste.”
Tallett and Lundburg live and work in Hawai‘i, where they both grew up. But 12 years ago, they were San Francisco Art Institute students fantasizing about where their art could take them. Turns out, it has taken them around the world, from the Santandar Sports Film Festival in Spain to Track 16 Gallery in Los Angeles to Franklin Parrasch Gallery in New York City. In 2003, after eight years in San Francisco, the couple moved back home to Hawai‘i to help with Lundburg’s family homestead and to raise their daughter, Kia‘i, now 12 years old.
“After she was born, I used to take her out into the waves, pretty good size, just clinging onto my back, and then swimming with her when she got larger,” Lundburg says. “We were committed to raising her in the natural environment we grew up in, surrounded by island values of sustainability, balancing independence and interdependence. Manukai Handboards are a reflection of that.”
Manukai Handboards are available in Honolulu at Nā Mea Hawai‘i and Roberta Oaks, and online at manukaihandboards.com.