Archive for November, 2010

Beholden on a Thanksgiving

Thursday, November 25th, 2010


Ah kids. They enter our world, turn it upside down, and at some point we realize that we had it all upside down in the first place.

In my thirties, I had no immediate plans for having children. Managing a growing company, working a morphing athletic career, and looking at a rapidly changing world, inspired no confidence in myself to manage the additional responsibilities of a child. Let alone two.

My wife at the time, Ronnie, had other ideas. So in the course of three years, when what I had assumed were foolproof measures that we were taking to avoid conceiving children, mysteriously failed, we became the parents of two boys, Joshua and Jonathan.

That was a double shock. With a large number of employees, spread across a few companies that I was responsible for, watching my sons be born had about equal cachet to being hit in the head by a baseball bat, when in fact, I had thought I was already sliding across home plate.

I did several things at that point in my life. One of those involved a lot of struggle. Like a rabbit caught in a snare, I flailed against the new responsibility emotionally. I simply did not see it coming. But as I eventually settled in to the task of learning to be a Father, I knew that at some point, I would be leaving my wife over the issue of these two little gifts being conceived.

So as the years passed and I eyed the door in a resolute, yet furtive manner ( I never spoke of it to a soul), I discovered what it meant to be beholden. Where you owe a debt. As the daily struggles played out, I found that the entity I owed the most to was my children, and of course the wife who I felt had betrayed me.

In time as the divorce process played out, and my future ex life partner and best friend sat across from me with a very kind Santa Barbara attorney mediating, I was surprised when the man turned to our boys and asked them: “All right guys, of your parents, who do  you think that you would like to live with?” No matter how much a person thinks that they are ready for this, wants it, is prepared, there always is an element of ummm, instability at times like this.

I was shocked and in the next instant saddened, as I saw Josh and Jon point to me, and almost simultaneously the look in my soon to be ex’s eyes, of realization, regarding the things to come. We all went home, and in a relatively short time after that, Ronnie was alone in a Condo, and I was living in the home we had shared together, with Josh and Jon, and embarking on my newish career in Photography and Cinematography.

So on this Thanksgiving, and indeed every day of my life, I have no choice but to face that I am forever beholden to my ex wife. The catalyst for great work, was the gift she gave me of our two sons. Life is work by the way. What I am telling you is that my world today is the product of the bond and blessing that come from having Joshua and Jonathan in my life. That was a woman’s vision. Not mine. I can never repay that. I divorced her. Smiling I realize that maybe today, she feels that act was payment: being rid of me.



A friend and mentor of mine is Dr Ed Brenegar who I met through Seth Godin’s organization, Triiibes. Ed  is a Leadership coach, and in his long list of attributes, has a site called Say Thanks Every Day. He has hit on something incredibly transformational and creative with this concept. For in realizing that every moment of every day we are beholden for the gift that is our life, well, there is incredible creative power in that. I suggest that you get to know Ed and his work. We each need that kind of power. Here is HIS Thanksgiving message.

Someone sent me something very appropriate this week. I hope that it blesses you this Thanksgiving.

A mother asked this President… ‘Why did my son have to die in Kuwait ?’

Another mother asked this President… ‘Why did my son have to die in Vietnam ?’

Another mother asked this President… ‘Why did my son have to die in Korea ?’

Another mother asked this President… ‘Why did my son have to die on Iwo Jima ?’

Another mother asked a President… ‘Why did my son have to die on a battlefield in France ?’

Yet another mother asked a President… ‘Why did my son have to die at Gettysburg ?’

And yet another mother asked a President … ‘Why did my son have to die on a frozen field near Valley Forge ?’

Then long, long ago, a mother asked..

‘Heavenly Father .. why did my Son have to die on a cross outside of Jerusalem ?’

The answer is always the same… ‘So that others may live and dwell in peace, happiness, and freedom.’

Fighting On

Fighting On

We are all beholden for the gift of our families, communities, and this great Country we have inherited. I hope this Thanksgiving seeds a renewed sense of hope and fresh perspective for you. Even if all around you right now feels like the image below.

The Ride

The Ride

Here is an interesting tribute that someone compiled, to Johnny Cash and his wife June, based on the song “Hurt”, Cash’s last project. Funny thing about Johnny Cash. I can almost see his house from where I sit writing this Thanksgiving note.

You matter. It will all work out. Happy Thanksgiving.


Tuesday, November 23rd, 2010


Vision is one of those multifaceted aspects . It is indirectly related to motivation. When one embraces motivation, and engages it, the word transmutates from noun to verb, as action is required

But what is vision?

Here is a great example.

Often a communicator has a vision for how to motivate people that is not readily apparent, as it is rooted deep within the thought processes and soul of the artist.

I do the vision quest thing a lot. I will follow a thread of interest,  let it develop within me, and when it is ready, a lot like the gestation period in child birthing, it comes out as an image or motion picture segment. The purpose, is to carry the viewer to a place that I would love for them to be.

The image below was one of those conceptual things: It is simply a woman wrapped in sheer on the beach at sunset. If you take a close look at the concepts involved,  you may be encouraged regarding several aspects of change, our culture undergoes on a regular basis. No one told me to make it. In fact, some of my colleagues and friends scoffed when I endeavored to shoot the Angel series. I do not blame them. It was my vision. Over a period of years it has proven itself as a very commercially and artistically successful work.

Cerulean Angel

Cerulean Angel

So that is my vision. That the people who view my work be comforted, encouraged and educated by it. It is not given to anyone. My work has never been about everyone. In fact, I endeavor to keep the truths contained in it hidden from casual view, just as in this  image which is entitled Cerulean Angel. Some will get that. They are the ones who SHOULD get the reward. That is my motivation. To reward seekers. Those are the leaders of tomorrow. They will help people long after my ability to do so evaporates.

The world will always slap you hard with it’s own realities. The artist’s goal should always be to enable the viewer to aspire to hope, and engage the life process empowered, and with a renewed vision and sense of purpose. We all should thrive in seeing our fellows do well.

I think maybe that is one of the reasons I get discouraged when I see someone being abused by a bullying entity. It is antithetical to what is prudent.  But God help us all, if we ever become that thing which we loathe. The fact of the matter is, that it occurs. Things corrupt.

Artists and revolutions are the cure for that.

Seth Godin has this to say about the broad market. His assessment has been my exact experience.

But be aware, that Jesus had perfect vision. He was crucified.

For lack of Vision. People perish. Here is a good study that relates well to business and moral compass headings.

With that in mind, are you ready to ply your Art?

If change were easy…….

But you are not everyone.

Vision, it is why you matter.




Monday, November 15th, 2010
Impossible Panoramic

Impossible Panoramic

I  know who I am. So I recognize those traits that resemble mine, in my colleagues and friends.

This creates a deep affinity with those people who I repeatedly refer to as Savants.

Check the definition below.

savant |saˈvänt; sə-|
a learned person, esp. a distinguished scientist. See also idiot savant .
ORIGIN early 18th cent.: French, literally ‘knowing (person),’ present participle (used as a noun) of savoir.

I was pleased and honored when one of those, a certain Sean Davey, showed up at my door in Ventura, California.

Sean is a Tasmanian born, Hawaii ensconsed photographer whose work has forever impressed me. He arrived on a long standing invitation, to visit and photograph the place I live, which many of us refer to as California’s Gold Coast.

Coincidentally, Scott Aichner, who I regard as the best water action sports shooter in the world, had recently moved  home to Ventura from Hawaii as well. And me being Hawaiian and living in Ventura, well, you get the picture: family reunion.

Then Brian Nevins rang. He would be in California at about the same time. Brian rocks. Pretty much all there is to say about him. His heart is bigger than yours or mine, and it shows in his phenomenal work.

So all of us sort of collided in Ventura California. Learned and talented and passionate and on fire.

What resulted is pretty cool. We re- fueled each other.

The world will suck you dry. Your friends and colleagues know how to reverse that.

Sierra Partridge

Sierra Partridge

Seth Godin has this to say about us.

I was always told by those “In the know”, that as an artist and a photographer,  you need to specialize in one thing.


Scott Aichner, Sean Davey, Brian Nevins and myself are better than that.

Aichner, Davey, Pu'u

Aichner, Davey, Pu'u


We think that YOU should see and experience what we do. All of it. A perfect example is below.

Prickett Films has produced an amazing piece on the Irons Family, which documents the Memorial paddle out on Kauai for Andy Irons. They take you someplace incredible. Go there. It is a complete and generous gift.

Because you matter.

So we shoot.

It is very obvious when one looks around, to see who is authentic and who a clone.

This video is a very cool little piece that Robb Havassey did in honor of Kelly Slater winning his tenth title. Check the first song in the video. It is No Substitute. Written and performed by my son Josh. Josh gets it. So does Robb. See how it works?

Savantism is contagious.

The following gallery is a teensy cross section of what I have shot lately. If I were in an Arts or Photography school I would get an F for basically not parking between the lines. But in the real world: you win. Come with us, check THIS out. You need to try it. Feel it. Taste it. Do it.

None of us is fond of those straight white things.


Tuesday, November 9th, 2010
Deniece: Rosses Cove. Gratitude

Deniece: Rosses Cove. Gratitude

We don’t get seasons here in California in the classic sense, where each turn of the page has a huge and definite tone, as in latitudes further North or South. But in spite of a more balmy and temperate nature, we have certain aspects that Californians come to expect, each Fall.

As the artist Robb Havassy and I sat with long time waterman, fisherman, and surfboard industry icon Reynolds Yater recently, I thought to ask Rennie about this Fall and whether he had ever seen anything like it? His answer? “Never” That said a lot to me.

Maverick's: Big Winter Swell, in Fall

Maverick's: Big Winter Swell, in Fall

Weather is one of those things that most surfers are very in tune with. Rennie is actually an historic template for how we all are, having lived his life and been successful by virtue of his ability to read weather. I am no exception. What I learned as a surfer enables me to continually be in the right place and time to meet the collision of good weather conditions, tides and swell which make for that rare thing for surfers: The Perfect Day.

It is now a perpetual source of glee for me that I can carry a camera in my work, and when special moments occur, I am able to bring back more that just a great surf story. I recount critical junctions of time where unique things occur at the hand of nature, and when some one is right there in the midst, being a part of the vista, even better. We need that in a culture that seems to have become quite removed from our place in Creation. It is a reset button of sorts.

Bald Eagle: Unlikely Place and Season.

Bald Eagle: Unlikely Place and Season.

We have seen massive shifts in weather this year, no doubt due in large part to some cataclysmic Volcanic activity. Meteorologists had taken note of a La Nina Weather pattern which is indicative of cooler Equatorial water temperatures and the fact that this typically means a dry season for us here in California.

Two Trees Fire Storm

Two Trees Fire Storm

But instead, this Fall has offered a procession of majestic storms, weird weather phenomenons, all following the coldest Summer in recent History. The Fall wound up giving us heavy rainfall, wild swinging weather which went from scorching heat back to winter like conditions, and for Surfers and water folk, a real sensation of delight from time to time as things were, well, perfect.

This season so far, I have experienced an incredibly alive ocean. A massive swell at Mavericks, and multiple perfect days, all inter spliced between dramatic bouts of weather.

Jentry Huntington: Fall Dance

Jentry Huntington: Fall Dance

So here is the evidence. These are a few of the images from Fall 2010. All captured on the Canon 5D Mark 2 system. Small samples of a massive amount of motion and stills work produced in harmony with one remarkably unique Fall.

Nathaniel Curran

Nathaniel Curran

Go get some. It’s free! So are you.


Saturday, November 6th, 2010
 Transcendent Realism

Transcendent Realism

idealism |īˈdē(ə)ˌlizəm|
1 the practice of forming or pursuing ideals, esp. unrealistically : the idealism of youth. Compare with realism .
• (in art or literature) the representation of things in ideal or idealized form. Often contrasted with realism (sense 2).

We all judge everything and everybody. We really do. It is in our nature as independent beings which, due to our manifest destiny, were created to be able to function autonomously.

My perspective on life is very Ocean Centric. It is in my DNA,  in the ancestry from which I descended, and is a part of the heritage I leave the world through my work.

We live in a fascinating time, where information is abundantly available and connection between other autonomous beings occurs at light speed.

There are up sides, and down sides to that. For me, the up side is that you can see in very short order when you are being inspired and coaxed on to greater things, or being conned or lied to.  So this new light is bringing into cultural fashion a modern idealism that may not be founded on much else, aside from the author’s point of view. It brings us to someplace special: the crossroad of choice. And it does so with greater rapidity than ever before in human history.

The following piece was sent to me in response to the prior blog on Ethics. It was written by my cousin and describes the affect of our Grandfather, John Kalani Puu, and our last Queen, Liliuokalani on our Ohana. In this document, is the historic perspective from which I speak.

It explains the Hawaiian vista on life, love and the seas. It is my perspective as a Native, who chose to be an American. My Grandfather and I share that choice. We all choose to be here.

We are guaranteed choice as Americans. It is the tenet of Liberty which allows for that. What is yours? Do you have a cause or sabre that you rattle?

Hawaiians do. We belong to our land and Ocean. It is who we are.

Do you know who you are?

Want to?

Meet the Ocean.

Here is a prime example of how we think, in a story about Duane Desoto and Na Kama Kai.

Princess Pake

Princess Pake

Idealists and Realists

By Gayle Puu

Long after my grandfather died, a nephew recorded memories of earlier generations that he read to the “tribe” at a family reunion in August 1979.  I did not attend this reunion, but I remember hearing at the time that my grandmother didn’t agree with all of Harry Kim’s family history.  Another twenty-five years past before I actually read his words after taking custody of old newspaper clippings, photographs and assorted family papers my mother had saved over the years.  For my grandfather, he had written:

“Then came Uncle Puu, known as John Kalani Puu, ‘the maestro of music, an entertainer, actor, producer, artist, dancer, and above all idealistic and kind-hearted.’”

I knew my grandfather as a musician, entertainer and artist and as a kind-hearted man, but I had never before thought of him as idealistic.  And I couldn’t help but wonder why Harry Kim bracketed most of his description of my grandfather with quotation marks: Had someone other than this nephew noticed Grandpa’s idealistic tendencies?  Who was this person?  What did he or she mean?  Did Harry Kim mean the same thing? Was this description of Grandpa in the family history something that Grandma didn’t agree with?

I’ll never know the answers to these questions, but I can reflect on another important question: Why was I surprised by the association of the word “idealistic” with my grandfather?  To me, and a dictionary, an idealistic man forms his ideals and lives his life accordingly; or, he is a man who tends to see things as they should be, not as they really are.  Either way, an idealistic man pursues something that exists only in his mind, something imaginary, something lacking practicality.  Does this describe my grandfather?  To me, he is a practical man  who loved his family, God, his native islands and the Good Ol’ US of A.  And there is nothing unusual, or imaginary, or out of touch with reality in this list of Grandpa’s main attributes.

In all fairness, my grandfather’s life needs context as well as dictionary meaning.   A native Hawaiian, he was four years old when American annexationists, intent on protecting their business interests in the Kingdom of Hawaii, overthrew the monarchy to establish their own provisional government and, ultimately, annexation to the United States of America.  Grandpa was too young at the time to know that Queen Lili’uokalani surrendered her sovereignty to the United States, not the revolutionaries, believing that American justice would eventually restore her throne.  In her mind, once the real facts were known in Washington D.C., the United States government would align with her position and restore her power.  Her surrender of sovereignty was tactical, made under protest, and intended to save both her kingdom and the lives of her people.  The Queen knew she couldn’t out gun the Americans with military presence in her harbor, but she believed in American ideals and in American and international law.  She knew she could prove that the majority of native Hawaiians didn’t want to be annexed by the United States, and the consent of her people was prerequisite to annexation.

She was right.  The Blount Commission said she was right, and recommended restoration of her sovereignty.  President Cleveland said she was right, and recommended restoration of her sovereignty.  The Provisional Government in Honolulu, however, refused to honor either recommendation.  The U.S. Congress backed the annexationists: the Spanish American War made Hawaii’s strategic military location in the Pacific Ocean far too attractive for laws or ideals to stand in the way of American expansion.  Hawaii became a Republic, then a U.S. Territory.

President Grover Cleveland’s message to Congress delivered on December 18, 1893 made it clear that he was “ashamed of the whole affair.”  Queen Liliuokalani never stopped believing that sovereignty, illegally seized from her and her people, would eventually be restored.  They were idealists.

Nonetheless, my native Hawaiian grandfather was a proud American.  He was also talented and adventurous, traveling as a Hawaiian entertainer in Asia and continental United States during the early decades of the twentieth century.  He married a Kansan, in Kansas, and raised his family in Hawaii.  He sent his three oldest sons to fight for their country in World War II, and his youngest to the Korean conflict.  He worked hard.  He lived frugally.  He was law abiding and church going.  He was politically active.  He was a forward thinker.  Progressive.  And he wanted his children and grandchildren to live the American dream.

In the eyes of his Hawaiian extended family, did this make him idealistic?  Perhaps.  Several of his relatives had signed the anti-annexation petitions that were delivered to the U.S Congress, and they might have passed on their resistance to annexation, something that didn’t stick to Grandpa.  Perhaps his family didn’t like the path he chose as a young man and his desire to assimilate into American culture.  Perhaps they were annoyed with his choice of wife, a woman born on the American mainland, someone unlike themselves in race and upbringing.  Perhaps they resented my grandfather’s creative talents that endeared him to both native and adopted cultures.  Perhaps they misunderstood his connection to the present without abandoning his past.  Perhaps change was more of a struggle for them than for him.

But is it fair to characterize my grandfather as idealistic for choosing to be the best American a Hawaiian born native could be after annexation?  Not to me.  Grandpa knew what he wanted and how to achieve his goals.  He was able to find common ground, dig in his heels and hold his place in the world.  The word “realistic” more accurately describes the grandfather I know.  Given dictionary meaning, a realistic man is someone with the disposition to face facts and to deal with them practically.  And in context, a realistic man is someone who lives his life in the present.  Indeed, my grandfather was a realist.

Hawaiian Cultural Theory

Hawaiian Cultural Theory

Here is a performance of the Kumilipo, the Hawaiian Creation Chant translated by Queen Liliuokalani which is referred to in my cousin’s story, and in the prior blog. It was filmed at Anahouli Bay on the Big Island. The chanter is from the Waikoloa Halau, and is Chadwick Yap-Lim. This was the ancestral home of my family, so getting to  witness this was a great example for myself and crew of how in Hawaii, our ancestors are still with us in ways that modern culture does not get to experience often.

This performance of Aloha Oe is special, as my Grandmother was a Caucasian hula dancer. My Grandfather,  Hawaiian. You can see the difference. But they complement each other as the song and life passes. Strange finding this analogous piece.

Andy Irons just passed. A Caucasian man. Andy is as Hawaiian as it gets. This story says a lot. I will miss him. Aloha Oe, a hui ho my brother. Many mahalos. Tears fall for you and your family. But you know that.

A white man, Hawaiian? He made that choice when he married the ocean and the tenets of the tribe and Hawaiian people. That is how one becomes a part of any Nation. (It does go both ways.) So maybe not by blood, but by salt water. Funny how similar those two substances are.

Lydia Puu

John Kalani Puu

So consider that all of this heritage and history exists, in a culture of Ocean stewards who take great exception to a disconnected entity deciding what our right to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness should look like. We were there ages before you. This is our home. We let you take it, while trusting in the preeminent rule by law of the United States. We share it and our traditions. Aloha is more than a word. It is a spiritual concept.

Leave our ocean alone. We will defend her, and our rights, which cost Hawaii so much to acquire. We share it. Not vice- versa.

Here is a very Hawaii centic film I did awhile ago. Liquid Psalms.

© 2009 David Pu'u. All rights reserved.