Words and images by Shawn “Speedy” Lopes
As high noon strikes on Oahu’s North Shore, it’s clear there’s nowhere to hide on the bright concrete terrain of Banzai Skate Park. Each year in these parts, it seems, the sun shows its fiery round face ever earlier, warning locals of the impending accession of its scorching rays. Tomorrow’s sunburn is a given.
Today, the nine and 10-year-olds are first to invade the park, charging its slopes and contours, their guardians presumably on the lot somewhere, watching from afar. Some, even younger, seem far too qualified on a skateboard for the comfort of onlookers.
There are several young women skating, too, most of whom look like they’re still growing into their boards and finding their style, though in a sport which encourages independence and lauds attitude, they could give two fucks what the tired, old boys’ club thinks of their progress. Shredding on concrete takes practice, same as playing guitar or drums.
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Board riding and music, Jon Shirley will tell you, are age-old companions. This shindig, dubbed “Shred Fest”, is his concept, merging an all-ages day out at the skate park with a half-dozen or so fast, loud — sometimes extremely loud — bands.
A popular community figure, he’s never hard to spot, even in a crowded skate park. Look for the guy with the horseshoe moustache and shoulder-length blond hair tucked behind his ears, shaking hands, popping ollies and noseriding around the park. As head of fledgling skate brand Centaur Hawaii, he passes out his stickers like Christmas candy. Many will likely wind up affixed to various schoolbooks, street signs and lampposts up and down the North Shore in the coming days. “I really want kids to pursue music and art and skating and surfing, healthy activities,” reveals Shirley. “We’re trying to do it the organic, grassroots way by building a following and having a team. An ohana, really, is what it is.”
A lifeguard most days, Shirley recounts the time he noticed a guy with a portable turntable while tending the beach one afternoon. “He was just filming himself and I could tell this dude was just getting after it,” he recalls. It was DJ Wish, a nimble-fingered turntablist and gifted networker, who in under six months, has acquired nearly 2,000 Instagram followers. Shirley promptly offered Wish a spot on the Shred Fest lineup. Teaming with homie DJ Blam, the pair worked to keep heads bobbing between acts with a seamless selection of old school classics, dancefloor jams and mashups.
It was one o’clock when Ron Artis II & the Truth, that bluesy, funky North Shore-based combo, claimed the stage. In rare moments, they can conjure Sly Stone or Hendrix’s Band of Gypsys. Their secret weapon is another Artis sibling, pulled from the audience, who can play a transcendent harmonica and rap. From the crowd, a bulky kid in board shorts and slippers takes on the role of hype man. “North Shore,” he hollers to no one in particular. As the music commences, he paces the stage’s perimeter, nodding confidently before stripping off his shirt. “North Shore!”
Perhaps the perfect foil to the whole testosterone-driven affair is Rotten Blossom, a band made up of three teenaged girls and a post-punk guitar whiz. Utterly defiant and just technical enough in all the right places, their playing is fervid and their abbreviated songs boil over with petulance and exasperation. “Now, that’s punk rock,” yells one attendee, as the final chord of their parting song begins to wane.
For the unseasoned ear, Cvltists might politely be described as “advanced listening”. They are manic. One moment they might trudge through a deranged Sabbath-on-inhalants groove before breaking into a blast of screams and machine gun beats. Similarly, Nesta wastes no time erecting a wall of sound with rabid growls and guitar riffs that sound like a live electrocution.
Word soon spreads that Fat Mike of NoFX and Fat Wreck Chords is in attendance. The other featured bands like Superfuct and Anti-Matter, both more traditional representations on the ever-widening spectrum of Hawaiian punk rock, might be more his speed, one might imagine.
Regardless of musical preferences, at day’s end, it’s clear to all in attendance that from the encouraging turnout to the lack of obstacles and issues, to the smiles on the faces of kids and adults alike, Shred Fest was successful on several fronts. “The thing about skateboarding and music, man, it’s timeless,” says Shirley, summarizing his thoughts on the day’s festivities. “I like the cross of different backgrounds and music and age brackets. That’s what it’s about. Good vibes, man.”