Daniel Ikaika Ito
Journalist. Surfer. Boyfriend. Brother. Son. Colleague. Stoked on life.
My name is Daniel Ikaika Ito. I was born at Kapiʻolani Medical Center but my family moved to Hilo when I was three so I grew up there. I always like to say that I moved out of my parents house when I was 11 to attend Kamehameha Schools Kapālama Campus. I’ve been a surfer since eight after I rode my first wave at Bellows and was a body boarder up until eight grade. When I graduated in 1999, it was a really controversial time to be at Kamehameha because it was during the Broken Trust Series when they were being really critical of the trustees. Seeing the power of the media and how they can affect change is what really made me want to be a journalist. I’m so excited to be 31 in Hawaii now because it is far better than I ever thought it was going to be. I’m really thankful for young people who are showing an interest in it because really that’s what it’s about. My dad told me that he didn’t want me to be like him and wanted me to be better than him. I hope that the younger generation behind me will be better than myself because that just means Hawaii will grow to be a cosmopolitan that still has rural sections and will be that formula and how to live a sustainable life. The island mentality is something that can be shared with the world because it recognizes that there is only a limited number of resources and that we’re all in this life together.
Art is creative expression and it really doesn’t matter what medium it’s in.
An important type of art form: Graphic design
In the media, there is always the question of whether graphic design is art. And I totally think it is; it is just a different medium. To me, graphic design is up there painting and fine art. My favorite artists are usually the ones that can blend both because it’s like writing. There’s two types of writing; there’s standard news writing where you’re trying to document something and telling a story and there’s creative writing where you’re telling a story but you’re not worried about a word count. I’d say the same thing between graphic design and fine art. Graphic design is an art form but usually used in a commercial sense and used in a way to translate fine art or a concept into a commercial project. Ten years ago, “selling out” was such a dirty word. But its fine to sell out once in a while on a project because when you do, your allowing your message or story to told within your art to a broader audience. I enjoy seeing one of the homies finally get their due and recognition from a brand like Hurley. And also what people need to realize is, brah, there can’t be starving artists because then the scene itself doesn’t grow.
On building a career:
I moved to San Diego in the the fall of 2001 because the surf media is still really centralized in Orange County. While attending a junior college, I started doing an internship at Surfing Magazine where I got to meet some of my mentors like Evan Slater, Matt Walker, and Nathan Meyers. After getting a DUI, I couldn’t afford to stay in San Diego so I moved home and got my first job as a journalist as the online editor of Nalu Magazine. In May 2005, I started as an associated editor at Free Surf and then got offered a job to be the editor of Free Surf. As an editor, I really cut my teeth as a journalist because there was a lot more responsibility than I was used to. I really found out how to use tact in your voice because before that, my writing was really aggressive and critical of the brands and the companies that I thought were selling out Hawaiians or surfing. A lot of it came from my anger towards how I thought “The Man” was shaping the image of surfing. Being an editor of a magazine, you can’t be so gung-ho about stuff like that and you need a lot more balance that is more showing than telling.
Between 2008 and 2010, I was working three different jobs at the time with the Triple Crown, ESPN, the Star Advertiser, finishing up my last semester with a Hawaiian language and math course at the University of Hawaii Mānoa, barely making ends meet, freaking out all the time because Contrast was still going on. But it really taught me that I can handle anything. I’m glad I went back to school and I think a lot of people for a lot of people the value of school isn’t necessarily what you learn but the time you commit to something and see it through.
Now I’m the editor of Contrast Magazine and am still freelancing, contributing to Mana Magazine, Honolulu Magazine, and Surfer Journal. I am a stringer for ESPN and I also maintain the Raynor surf blog. I have another business that I partnered up with two of my classmates from Kamehameha called Paiʻea Projects where we make basketball jerseys and work with Fitted on projects. I took a day job as a content coordinator in the communications department at HMSA because I really wanted health insurance. I was really tired of not having health insurance. I’m really happy because it allowed me to not have to chase a story or a new freelance gig all the time and allowed me to focus more on Contrast magazine. I love the people that I work with and it helped extend my network beyond Chinatown’s art and music scene but to the business class of downtown. Plus, I enjoy wearing an Aloha shirt to work everyday.
On Contrast Magazine:
In late 2007, I had the idea for Contrast, which I originally thought was going to be a TV show. The idea was to showcase what the youth of Hawaii was interested in an avant garde way because I always felt like a lot of publications softened up their content to appeal to an older generation. I wanted to work with Jason Shibata, Lance Arinaga, and Zen Yoshifuku and they got Mark Kushimi involved. Mark’s help was the biggest blessing because he is such a genius when it comes to design. The guy is so thoughtful with everything he does and there’s always a grand intention behind it, as opposed to someone who is just doing something just to push someone’s buttons or for shock value. The five of us formed the business in February 2008 and we were lucky because one of our partners, Scott Saito, who is a business development manager got involved. He was real smart about not having us have a corporate credit card, filling out our loan information, and just kept us real honest on our finances. The last person that came on was our publisher Ray Skelton. He had an advertising background and I worked with him while I was freelancing. Mark had the foresight to make sure that our website was up and running, made blogging a priority, and basically what you saw from February 2008 to February 2009 was us building the website, creating the content for the website, which became the content for the first issue of Contrast. We had the intention of starting with 00 because we always wanted to be the bridge between the west coast of the United States and Japan and so in Asian cultures, they start counting from zero as opposed to counting from one in western cultures. We’ve been doing it ever since. Our business survived during the worst recession in the country’s history and we survived when people said print was dying and dead.
On Hawaii’s culture and its reflection in the local art scene:
I always looked at Hawaii and have always been amazed how many backgrounds, interests, and people can come and live together in paradise and create something totally unique. Hawaii is the beach and the homeless people at the beach as much as it is the skaters at Aʻala park and the farmers on the Westside. I think of Hawaii as being a formula for the rest of the world as a way for the rest of the world to get along. To be honest, people here are straight up racist. But the racism is fun and can be malicious but because it’s so pervasive, I don’t think people are as sensitive to as they would be on the mainland. And it’s also one of those things like brah, I can laugh about a Hawaiian joke as much as I can laugh about a Podagee joke because if I’m going to be able to laugh at someone else, I should be able to laugh at myself too.
What I see in the art scene in Hawaii is that we went from classical fine artists like Peggy Hopper and Herb Kane and now we’re seeing a transition to artists like Kamea Hadar, Kuhao Zane, and Solomon Enos. The art that you’re looking at in Hawaii today that is contemporary and reflective of the culture and is not done by someone who grew up outside our culture that depicts romanticized sunsets, dolphins, or the “warrior” that is actually wearing a kahuna helmet and probably was not actually that ripped. It’s real cool to see the artists coming up and translating what it means to be local and also sharing that with other street artists with contemporary artists around the world. I think Pow Wow is a great example of that because international artists come in and we’re able to share what it means to be local here. They get it, they love it, and they’re taking it back to wherever they’re from and are telling people how Hawaii is more than Waikiki and resorts.
Sig Zane is from Hilo, comes from a surfer-fisherman-hula dancer background, and is a practitoner of a culture and an artist at the same time. The way he gets the detail on his designs is he by using an X-acto knife cutting out the designs into amberlith. It’s a really classical way of doing design. Sig’s art has been really influential on me because what it showed me is that you can take cultural concepts and translate it to a design that becomes a vehicle to share the culture. A favorite piece of mine would be the Uluwehi Keaukaa print. It’s been my favorite aloha shirt print since I saw it at Kick’s HI when Sig Zane did a collaboration with Converse and put the design on a pair of shoes and a Fitted hat. My favorite things to buy are surf board shoes and hats and so when I saw it, it was the first time that I saw a classic aloha print design executed in a contemporary way.
Herb wasn’t just a fine artist. He was a practitioner of culture and also a sailor, a boat maker, a skilled fisherman, and a nautical engineer. He is regarded as the forefather of Hawaiian voyaging because it was his vision in the 70s to reinvent the waʻa and bring back star navigation. I learn more and more about Herb Kane the older I get and the more I’m pressed about how much of an instrumental figure he was in the Hawaiian Renaissance. A lot of who I am and what I try to represent came from Herb Kane’s art. I’m so grateful about everything he contributed to Hawaiian culture. I don’t think I would’ve taken Hawaiian language if it wasnʻt for the Hawaiian Renaissance. The first piece that I remember as a Herb Kane piece was “Battle at Nuuanu Pali” in front of the Midkiff Learning Center at the Kamehameha Library. I would always walk by it and stare at it and notice new details. When I think about how things happened in ancient Hawaii, the animation that plays out in my head has the figures from Herb Kane’s art in it.
I always thought that Paula was the perfect medium between traditional Hawaiian music and roots reggae without being Jahawaiian. I think she’s a fine ambassador of young Hawaiian culture. What I love about Paula’s music is that her song writing is very insightful almost like a country singer and songwriter and at the same time too there are undertones of roots reggae and her voice. The only thing I can say her voice is close to his young Israel Kamakawiwoʻole’s. She is knowledgable with ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi and the stories and when I see her perform, I get chicken skin. Every time she’s singing about something, there is something going on in my own life that makes whatever lyric or note she’s singing resonate. She’s so cool to hang out with because she’s such a personable person. A lot of times, when you meet somebody that you look up to because of their work, you realize that that person you saw on TV or heard on a record is more human when you meet them but I think Paula does a good job of being exactly who she is on stage and off. That authenticity is why she has such a a diverse following of people across America.
The last person who has played a role as an artist and as an instrumental part of my life is Mark Kushimi, the creative director and editor-in-chief of Contrast Magazine. Mark is in charge of Contrastʻs overall look and feel and he is the horse pulling the cart. He puts in the hardest, longest hours and is so thoughtful in the way that he approaches design and working with people. What I really respect about his art is that he operates in a way that is always contemporary, edgy, but using fundamentals that you learned in school. He loves to shoot film and is an amazing photographer and great graphic designer. When I started out with Contrast, I was still coming from that classic newsroom mentality where the whatever the editor says goes and the editor can change whatever he feels like in a writer’s text to reflect how he thinks it should sound. But with working with Mark, Mark made me more aware of the writer’s feelings and the importance of trying to preserve the writer’s voice in order to have that contrasting opinion inside the magazine. Every project that I’ve worked with Mark on has been a home run and is always inspiring me because I look at his work and see it consistently get better, whether it be the cover for a magazine, the flyer for an event, an ad he shoots for APB, or just the way he lays out a story. Because it gets better every time, it inspires me to be better every time. Mark and I don’t always have a chance to go out together and report on a story but the stories that I have worked on with him are still on my clip file as the best stories that I have that I would show a potential employer. I think that’s because working with him, seeing his process, makes you want to be better at what you do.
Interviewing Ian Walsh: Lehia Apana
Officiating a Podagee Horseshoe game at the Pow Wow 2013 luau: Pow Wow Hawaii