The Surfjack: A Community Canvas

An overhead view of the pool at the Surfjack Hotel & Swim Club

An overhead view of the pool at the Surfjack Hotel & Swim Club

According to the Surfjack Hotel & Swim Club’s general manager Lynette Eastman, business for the new 112-room property — which opened March 31 — already is thriving.

“We’re really humbled that everyone seems to have embraced the Surfjack in our opening days,” Eastman says. “We’ve been welcoming guests from all over the world.”

That’s not exactly surprising for a Waikiki hotel. But what perhaps is surprising is that it’s also been attracting a cadre of local creatives — artists, fashion designers, DJs, musicians. In the several weeks since it’s opened, the Surfjack is already becoming a hub for the creative community — as both a hotspot for live music, fashion shows and other events, as well as a canvas of sorts: Works from local artists comprise the décor of the property.

It seems like the Surfjack has been popping up everywhere lately. It’s hosted a slew of events in recent weeks, and it’s received ample buzz — which started months before it even opened

its doors — locally, as well as nationally. (The wide reach of its attention-grabbing is impressive: write-ups in the Los Angeles Times and Travel Weekly, a spot in Travel + Leisure‘s recent The Hottest Hotel Openings This Spring list and even a feature in The New York Times.)

The pool's typography was created by Matthew Tapia

The pool’s typography was created by Matthew Tapia PHOTO COURTESY OF THE SURFJACK HOTEL & SWIM CLUB

To find out what all the hype is about, we took a closer look. Here’s what we learned about this new hotspot.


The Surfjack is managed by Aqua-Aston Hospitality and occupies the space that formerly was Hokele Suites (at 412 Lewers St.).

But other than the basic layout, it’s unrecognizable. The rooms have been completely gutted and renovated, now evoking the feeling of an elevated beach hut. (The smallest room option, about 500 square feet, is called the bungalow; then there are one and two-bedroom suites with separate living rooms that can be adjoined with a bungalow for larger groups).


The pool’s typography was created by Matthew Tapia PHOTO COURTESY OF THE SURFJACK HOTEL & SWIM CLUB


Yet the extensive renovations do very much take into account the history of the building — it was constructed in the 1960s, and the overall aesthetic reflects that. Many details throughout the property are a callback to the era.

The guest rooms, for instance, have framed postcards — real ones, some featuring actual messages — that date back to the ‘60s. The headboards were constructed from vintage Tori Richard prints. The guest information packets were made to look like they were composed on a typewriter.

The lobby area, designed by local interior design firm The Vanguard Theory, also was made to exude a vintage feel. “The décor blends vintage textiles with vibrant, contemporary art and finishes,” explains The Vanguard Theory’s co-founder and design director Michelle Jaime. “The public spaces are intended to pay homage to the era when the hotel was built, but layered with inspiration from the bones of the building’s structure, and modern elements.”


To bring that look together, the hotel enlisted local artists to contribute pieces exclusively for the Surfjack.

“The Surfjack’s goal is to give artists, visionaries, creatives and authentic Hawaii voices a space to share their work, and to provide a place where guests may come and talk story,” Eastman says. “Many folks from our community had a hand in creating this vision.”

The entire property is adorned with pieces by local artists. The “Wish You Were Here” pool tiling was done by lettering and graphics artist Matthew Tapia. There are framed pieces by Kris Goto — a resident artist at the Chinatown Artist Lofts best known for her surrealist surf-inspired illustrations — in the guest rooms. Near the elevators, there’s a huge painting by husband-and-wife muralists Matt and Roxy Ortiz, better known as Wooden Wave, depicting one of their signature eco-friendly treehouses. There’s also custom wallpaper by Andrew Mau, beach photography by Mark Kushimi, hand-crafted ceramic bowls by Hawaii Potters’ Guild at Ed Kenney’s on-property restaurant Mahina & Sun’s and lamps by Mark Chai. The list goes on.

A number of the participating artists were recruited by The Vanguard Theory. “We wanted to share with visitors an authentic contemporary Hawaiian experience, and that story was not just our own to share,” Jaime says, “so we invited our friends to collaborate with us on this project.

“Our belief is to start local and tap into the talent that is in our backyard,” Jaime adds. “We are proud to include so many locals and to share with our visitors a different story, a story about Honolulu.”


During her days running former Kakaako exhibition venue and events center CoXist Studio, Surfjack director of experience Casea Collins-Wright got a first-hand look at Honolulu’s creative community.

“There is so much going on here, and there are a lot of amazing things that are happening,” Collins-Wright says.

Yet, she says, when it comes to the national or international travel scene, Hawaii’s creative sensibilities tend to get overlooked.

The Surfjack hopes that by bringing these notable local artists into Waikiki, it can help showcase them on a broader stage, while connecting guests to the broader community.

“The vision of the hotel is really that it should be a place not only for our guests that are visiting from out of town, but also for local people,” adds Aqua-Aston Hospitality director of public relations and promotions Theresa van Greunen. “That is why there has been so much collaboration … we wanted to support the local community.”

The on-property artwork is just one piece of this. The Surfjack also already has been hosting a number of community events. There’s live music twice a week, including all-vinyl party Soul Time in Waikiki run by record label Aloha Got Soul (aka former Metro music columnist Roger Bong), every second Saturday. Earlier this month, clothing designer Kahana Kalama of Aloha Beach Club teamed up with on-site boutique Olive & Oliver to host Interisland Trading Post, a trade show featuring various local fashion brands. And as this issue was going to press, the Surfjack was set to host a fashion show debuting a new collaboration by Chinatown shops Roberta Oaks and Barrio Vintage.

That localized ethos extends, too, to the guest experience. In addition to its on-site events, the Surfjack is in the process of creating opportunities for guests that will tap into the community in other ways — featuring “stuff that is not really in the guidebook,” van Greunen says. Potential activities may include, for example, surf lessons courtesy of a surf historian, walking tours with architects, flower crown making, or visits to farms where Mahina & Sun’s sources its ingredients. It’s an effort they say is aimed at supporting entrepreneurs throughout the island.

“We just wanted to create a fresh perspective … and have an opportunity to show off what we might call real Honolulu — what we experience in Honolulu, the people that we know,” van Greunen says.

It’s exactly that sentiment that seems to be what attracted so many high-caliber artists to contribute to the venue in the first place.

“Honolulu is definitely rich in talent when it comes to the creative scene,” says Roxy of Wooden Wave. “We have really talented DJs and visual artists and designers — but I think sometimes it gets lost in what is marketed to tourists. They see it as a beach destination, which is great, but we also are a great city that has this rich creative culture that I don’t think a lot of visitors necessarily know about.”

For more information about the Surfjack Hotel & Swim Club, visit