The story behind one man, two legends and a 150 foot wall

Walking down South King Street on the island of Oʻahu is a daily commute for many locals. Shops, restaurants and bars of all kinds inhabit this stretch of road, and now two of Hawaii’s Olympians do the same. Ten-story tall Carissa Moore – who was recently Hawaii’s first surfer to win a gold medal in surfing at the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics – and man no longer introduced, Duke Kahanamoku, were perfectly painted on the wall of a building at the corner of Pensacola and South King street. And that’s thanks to the very capable hands of local Hawaiian artist Kamea Hadar and his talented team.

“It’s like planning a renovation for your house,” says Hadar, who was born in Jereasulim before moving to Hawaiʻi at age four and a half with his local mother and Israeli father. “You have to line up the crew, because physically you don’t want to be alone, and from a safety point of view you want at least one other guy to help you. You need to plan for supplies, we used a lot of Nova Color, which is a specialty wall paint from the mainland, so you need to order it in advance. You have to talk to the owner of the building, and to the company that manages the building, which is not always the same. Then we need to access the elevator from the next building.

Hadar with another of his murals depicting former President Barack Obama. Photo: Courtesy of Andrew Tran of Redefined Media

It takes a lot of work – obviously – to paint a 150ft mural, however, Hadar is one of the best mural artists in the country. After helping start Pow! wow! Hawaiʻi in 2011 with his friend Jasper Wong, Hadar began to learn more and more about the mural as the event grew. Already come from a strong artistic background – “all the kids doodle and draw, and I haven’t stopped,” says Hadar, who has been enrolling in art classes and tutoring since a young age before continuing his artistic training by studying painting abroad. —Hadar found the mural’s scale and hard blue-collar work appealing.

“The scale is challenging and fun and it really has an effect on the viewer,” says Hadar. “People who may not care too much about art can walk past a canvas without really noticing or caring. But when they walk past a mural, they can still appreciate its size and amount of labor and skill required to create art on such a large scale.

With murals like Carissa Moore and Duke Kahanamoku’s piece, Hadar also had to make sure everything was perfectly aligned and ready to use before the paint hit the wall. “It’s drawn, sketched, and measured to a T. When you do murals at that scale, it’s like doing construction,” says Hadar, who has painted dozens of large-scale murals in the state and abroad. “You have plans, you make sure they work in advance, and then you execute them. Unless you want to stay up there for a year spending ten times the time, effort and money, you should have a really solid plan. It’s just too big to mess around with.

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The Carissa Moore and Duke Kahanamoku mural seen from street level.
Photo: Aaron K. Yoshino

Along with making sure everything is planned and according to plan, Hadar also makes sure to get prior approval from those he will be portraying in the mural before proceeding with the piece. “Regardless of legality, I like to be respectful because I want people to celebrate my murals and not feel taken advantage of,” Hadar says. Speaking to Carissa Moore ahead of time and showing her what the final mural should look like, he got her stamp of approval, and people portraying the Duke’s likeness also signed the artwork. “It doesn’t matter whether people put pressure on me or not, I put it on myself because it’s an honor to represent them both, so it becomes my responsibility to do them justice.”

And justice has been served. For Honolulu residents, the mural is a highlight, something to look forward to, on a fairly uneventful ride. And mural artists like Kamea Hadar make downtown Oʻahu more pleasing to the eye with every piece of art that goes up on walls, big or small.

To learn more about Kamea Hadar’s work, visit his website kameahadar.com or follow him on Instagram @kameahadar.

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