Wave energy

Summit + OluKai

Text Will Caron
Art Mark Kushimi

OluKai produces quality leather shoes, sandals and boots; footwear with style, comfort and craftsmanship inspired by the vibrant Hawaiʻi lifestyle.

Twisting, curling, entwining black lines of different weights layered against white capture the contours of a fluid, tumultuous, powerful ocean. Wave crests are poised at the brink of collapse, ready to convert potential into kinetic energy, spray blown back off their tops as they roll ever onward. But the spray is comprised of branches, the waves are roots, and the texture of this ocean is decidedly wooden. Not only is this line drawing the first professional collaboration between husband and wife art duo Matt and Roxy Ortiz, it's also the piece that inspired the name of their now decade-old artistic partnership, Wooden Wave.

“We wanted our name to be indicative of our lifestyle and our inspirations,” says Matt. “We really wanted something that represented our connection to nature, especially the ocean. There's not always a surf theme to our work these days, but there's always some homage to the ocean and to nature and to the love we have for it.”

“Wooden references the handcrafted nature of our work, the forests that grow on the mountains, the trees we generally house our surreal structures within; and then feeding into the kind of surf and skate lifestyle, a wooden wave is like the halfpipes we generally include somewhere in our murals,” adds Roxy.

The original Wooden Wave drawing, created by Roxy and Matt Ortiz

A consistent member of the annual Honolulu Pow! Wow! street art festival, Wooden Wave's murals balance realistic architectural notes drawn in careful perspective with the fantastic elements of vert ramps and halfpipes imbedded within tree trunks, of hovering houseboats sailing through desert landscapes, and of structures featuring completely green architecture like solar panels and green roofs in unusual shapes, like Darth Vader's helmet, for example.

“That mixture stems from our individual interests in being surfers and skaters; from always being outside as children; from growing up in Hawaiʻi—because we live in such a beautiful environment that is such a big part of our lives,” says Roxy.

“We're also really inspired by that sense of adventure you have as a kid, and we really want to nurture that feeling of curiosity; of endless possibilities; the idea that you can build anything you want when you're a kid,” adds Matt. “But we're also conscious of the reality of living on an island with limited resources. So we try to inject a little bit of that consciousness into this otherwise very whimsical work. Our joke is that our work is like what would have happened if Peter Pan grew up and became a lead architect. He's like, ‘All right, I have to be responsible now, so I better add in some sustainable architecture... but I still gotta have the halfpipe.’”

The result is a playfully surreal quality that makes Wooden Wave work instantly recognizable and entirely captivating. This is what initially drew community-conscious lifestyle brand OluKai to the Ortiz's work, resulting in a collaboration that has generated a new men's and women's shoe line featuring Wooden Wave designs that will be sold exclusively in Hawaiʻi and online beginning in February of 2016. But for OluKai, the connection to Wooden Wave went beyond just the art.

Matt and Roxy at Lana Lane Studios, where they have been a tenant since the collective was first formed in 2012

“It was really Matt and Roxy themselves, and how genuine and caring they are,” says Kerry Konrady, the director of marketing for OluKai, about the company’s decision to enlist the duo. “That's really important to us. We also wanted to make sure this collaboration resulted in art that was fun and exciting and really draws from the spirit of living in Hawaiʻi and the island lifestyle. So Wooden Wave was a natural fit.”

“They're very conscious about having a positive influence in their community—both Hawaiʻi and globally,” says Matt about OluKai. “It ties in with the idea of their Anywhere Aloha campaign, which is that, while 'aloha' is a word that originates in the Hawaiian language, the concept of aloha is not endemic to Hawaiʻi. The concept is something you can take anywhere and that is found everywhere. What other company can you think of that has that as one of their grounding principles?”

“Another thing about OluKai that resonated with us was the idea of giving back. We don't want our work to be just about an aesthetic that's nice to look at. We want to create art that has a deeper meaning or message to it, which is where our sustainable architecture elements come in,” says Roxy. “With OluKai, through the different programs they run and events they hold—the give-back element is very strong with them.”

“We recognize that Hawaiʻi has a very deep and rich cultural history. Out of this, a newer, contemporary Hawaiian culture has arisen that pays respect to that history, but doesn't limit itself to the past; it also creates and defines the future. And that's something that we really want to celebrate through our brand and do our part to support,” says Konrady.

One way OluKai has decided to support Hawaiʻi's cultural scene is through artist collaborations centered around the company's products. The idea started with the culturally relevant notion of “mauka to makai,” which means “from the mountains to the sea.” In the Hawaiian archipelago, this is not only a useful way to georeference oneself, it's also a metaphor for the completeness of nature. For OluKai, the theme manifests itself in the Makai series of footwear, built to be worn for the ocean lifestyle, and the Mauka series, influenced by the rugged upcountry and the burgeoning creative lifestyle in town.

“I think what's great about OluKai is that they're very open to different ideas, and putting things together in interesting ways,” says Roxy. “Our collaboration began with several conversations about what they would want the collaboration to encompass, and it centered around mauka to makai.”

First, the duo created concept artwork from which ideas, motifs and patterns could be extrapolated and put on the shoes.

“We incorporated the ocean, the mountains, stars for navigation, and the lei, which is one of the main elements we wanted to use because it has such significance in local culture,” says Roxy.

“Lei is iconic in Hawaiian culture, but it's also a utilitarian object: any occasion in which you have something to be grateful for, you bring a lei,” explains Matt. “Then we took those elements and incorporated them into the imagery on some of the women's shoes. Lei are not exclusively for women, though, so we also used some of that imagery on the men's shoes, albeit with toned back color schemes that look more masculine.”

“We had to make sure that the designs would work for a product that will sell, but beyond a few technical things here and there, we really tried to let them loose with their artistic style,” says Konrady.

“We've always had a very line-based style. We pay a lot of attention to line weight, and our line work has a lot of different variations to its weight. Even though our usual work features these sustainable tree houses, the line-work in the OluKai project is still very much in the Wooden Wave style,” says Matt.

And that's certainly true examining the numerous iterations of conceptual footwear drawn in sketchbooks that the couple has stacked in their Lana Lane studio in Kaka‘ako. Whether it's designs on a shoe, their trademark tree house murals and drawings, or yet-to-be-discovered artistic avenues, Matt and Roxy approach their work with the same end goal in mind.

Roxy sums it up: “When we're designing an image, or sketching something out, the core question we come back to is, 'Will this bring joy to someone?'”

“We want people to realize that caring for the planet doesn't have to be this doom and gloom kind of thing; it can be something that's fun and that reaches a broad audience. And in that way we can hopefully inspire the next generation,” adds Matt. “We get stoked when kids love our art and we'd love it if, one day, some kid who likes our work becomes, like, an architect or an engineer and actually figures out a way to make some of our ideas a reality. Living in a fully sustainable treehouse, complete with halfpipe, somewhere in Hawaiʻi? Sign us up!”

And we couldn’t agree more.

Visit olukai.com/artistcollab to shop the product.


Summit is Hawaii's magazine of ideas and style for the global citizen. We're named for Queen Kapiolani's motto, "kulia i ka nuu," strive for the summit. Summit is available on fine newsstands throughout North America and the Asia-Pacific region.

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Honolulu, Hawaii 96826
Ikaika Hussey
Creative Director
Mae Ariola
Will Caron
Copy Editor
Karen Shishido
Assistant Editor
James Charisma