Freesurf Magazine: He'e Nalu's Latest Chapter via Mark Cunningham

He'e Nalu's Latest Chapter as told by Mark Cunningham

Photos by Cole Yamane // Published in FreeSurf Magazine May 2015 

Relics of the ocean floor have surfaced and have now come to hang on the usually naked walls of Town Restaurant on Waialae Avenue. These are vestiges of the latest chapter of the story of he’e nalu, the chapter that has been written without our knowing, the chapter of what has been lost and forgotten amidst clouds of sand that rise and settle. Legendary waterman, Mark R. Cunningham, one of the greatest bodysurfers of the modern era, has watched first hand as this story unfolded over the past 40 years. He presented this narrative at his third art show titled, “Mother Earth, Mother Ocean” in early April. Initially as a Waikiki Beachboy and lifeguard, Mark not only came to the rescue of what floated on the surface, tourists, surfers, lost floaties but he put on a mask and snorkel which opened his eyes to what the rest of us thought we had lost. “All the guys look for treasures, gold, dollar bills, swim fins, something. But all these other things had value to me somehow,” he said referring to the fins hanging on the wall. The objects that Mark had found revealed a new way to understand the passing of time as told by the sea, Mother Ocean. 


The chapter of the story of He’e Nalu that we all know and love is the ride, the feeling, dancing with Poseidon, we’re part of something larger than ourselves, engendering a connection to the very source of what makes many of us who we are. Mark knows this well as he’s aged with O’ahu, nearing the age of 60 soon, as he now puts on his mask and snorkel he is pushed and pulled by another current, engaging in another ride as he delves down into channels and gullies to find what we don’t want found. Through Mark’s art he is bringing to our attention the quiet, subtle disconnect that has arisen between humanity and nature. We indulge in Mother Ocean’s gift but what we simply “lose” she has to appropriate, to swallow, because she has to. “We think of surfing as so clean and so pure, yet look at how much stuff we leave behind here. All the fins up there, where did that fin come from? Was it from Andy’s board? Was it on Kelly’s board? Was it some kook or was it one of the best surfer’s in the world? It ends up on the bottom of the ocean and I always wonder how long it’s been sitting there,” Mark questioned. 

If we want to continue to be in awe of the infinite shades of blue, to see right down to the reefs that surround our island home on cloudless days we need to rethink our connection to our planet, which is a place all of us call “home”. It begins with all of us coming together and for this show Mark collaborated with photographer Zak Noyle, featuring a three-shot sequence titled, “Wave of Change”. Though what’s being presented at Town is indeed art, Zak points out that we must remember where all these pieces came from, that they are and were essentially washed up, forgotten, what we usually think of as “trash”. “Maybe we should start carrying around our own forks and knives. No one thinks it’s gonna be them, but it’s gotta start somewhere,” he said. Because we live in Hawaii, a place with finite resources and beauty worth preserving for future generations to come, we don’t want to be telling our grandchildren about the days when the water was clear, when we could still surf in Waikiki, when the beaches were filled with nothing but sand. 

Yet what we take away from this chapter and what we contribute to this ongoing larger narrative of wave-riding it should be this. “We are all gonna run out of time. We often times get too busy, should I do this, should I do that? We all get so distracted with this busy, modern life of ours where there’s so much stimulus, option, opportunity, and information going through the air. The message is to go surf now, when in doubt, paddle out because you may not always have the health or the opportunity to enjoy it so much,” Mark said. So fellow wave-riders, it’s up to us to write the end of this chapter with each session and each action taken towards preserving the surf zone because we love it, because it is our home.