I swallowed my last two Oxycodone pills on the flight to Hawaii. Two weeks before the flight, my ankle was under the knife for a skateboarding injury and I didn’t know if I was quite ready to trek around Oahu on a skate mission. But it was happening. Filmmaker Brett Novak was meeting up with Jason Park in Hawaii to make a skate film and I had a feeling this combination of filmmaker, skater, and location was a special one. For the next eight days I photographed their process from the periphery.
Jason and I met in 2011 skating around Honolulu. I was quickly drawn by his unique use of the board. He did things that were difficult to comprehend, and fresh. Up until this trip, I only knew of Brett Novak through his polished, cinematic skate films. After graduating from Full Sail University and working in the visual effects industry for a few years, Brett began to travel the globe making skate films. His destinations of choice are not necessarily known for their skate spots–places like India, Switzerland, or the inside of an art gallery.
A few minutes after shaking hands, Brett and I were sharing a little yellow room in Jason’s parents’ house in Kaneohe. Cameras, Neosporin, and Jason’s high school yearbook were scattered about. Brett flipped to Jason’s senior quote in the yearbook: “If a bunch of nachos are stuck together, it still counts as one nacho.” It’s not always easy to immediately begin an eight-day sleepover with someone you’ve just met, but Brett and I were able to shoot the breeze early, speaking of the love of skateboarding, the lure of travel, and technical camera jargon.
Aquatic marvels and fine sand usually come to mind when people think of Hawaii. Often, we saw the ocean from the car window, but the famous Hawaiian sea was an afterthought on this trip. Our focus was on the side of the road, or at the end of a barely beaten path through head-high grass. Jason led the way. “This is why I thrive on guys like Jason, who grew up in a place like this and his mentality is already here,” says Brett. “We need to skate something different. I want to go to places that make no sense to film skating at and we’re going to figure it out when we’re there. And he’s totally on board; he already had this in his brain way before I came along.”
One day at an elementary school in Kapolei, Jason was in the midst of a technical battle. He imbibed six bottles of water and lay exhausted on the ground before the rain interrupted the session. I sat on the curb with an umbrella and looked up to see the Hawaiian clouds thick with thunder. Brett began doing freestyle tricks undercover, calmly waiting out the downpour. Jason joined him after cooling off and learned some new things on flat, joking the whole time. By the time the rain stopped, the frustration of the first battle had dissipated and Brett began to work with Jason on coming up with a new trick for the spot. But it was more than selecting a trick from a bag of available ones; they actually collaborated on inventing something new altogether. Jason analyzed the spot until he finalized the form of this new maneuver, which can best be described as a half-kick flip to foot-plant to darkstall to half-impossible to manual. This intrigued me–the idea of tricks being shaped and modified based on their specific environment. It was pure adaptation. “You know, people watch and they go, ‘Wow, they do totally different tricks on different obstacles, isn’t that weird.’ Well, that’s not what’s supposed to be weird, right?” says Brett. “It’s like painting, you know, there’s no correct way to do it and that’s why we love it so much.”
Other spots demanded more of a journey. Jason led us up a skinny dirt road to a “moss wallride” when we were stopped by a cow. The cow wasn’t really in the way, but its incessant mooing caused us to stop and hear. It was tied to a tree by a ten-foot rope. We walked closer and closer, kind of fascinated. None of us had heard a cow moo so much before. When the owner of the property came down in a white truck and kicked us off his land, we realized that the cow was some kind of a security guard. A guard cow. It had done its job by alerting its owner further up the road that there were intruders–us–and we had to find an alternate route through the jungle.