Obama’s Final Hawaii Holiday Vacation

Barack Obama
US President Barack Obama waves at he exits Air Force One In Honolulu.

Friday marked the start and the end of US President Barack Obama’s annual Hawaii vacation.  After eight years of his headlining holiday visits, Hawaii’s favorite son will no longer return to his million-dollar rental home on the east shores of Oahu, at least not as President of the United States.  The ending of his two terms in office also brings an end to this unique time of Hawaii history, where the D.C. limelight merged with the Island’s aloha culture.

Obama vacations brought international attention to many of the islands attractions and restaurants.  He famously body surfed at Sandy’s, dined in some of the City’s hottest restaurants, and walked along the best beaches Hawaii has to offer.  But along with the President came the intense circus of security that surrounds one of the most powerful men in the world. While those who lived near President’s rental home might feel differently, his footprint was relatively small and many locals never realized a world leader was just a few blocks away.  There were unfortunate incidents where his caravan caused gridlock or beach goers were kept away from certain areas, but most locals took his visits with ease as it wasn’t everyday Hawaii had a president sitting on her beaches.

The unique circumstances of Hawaii producing a U.S. President and having his family vacation here every year is likely never to happen again so I’m fortunate to have been a working photographer during this time. From stalking him on the beach to covering his multiple arrivals and departures, I played a role in reporting on his holiday whereabouts. On top of that, I was given the chance to work as a reporter within the secure bubble of the Secret Service and reported on the whereabouts of one of the most important men on the globe.  Although it might seem trivial to witness Obama eating shave ice or making a long putt on the 18th green, his actions made headlines around the globe.

Compared to some colleagues who lost a good part of their lives sitting inside that cramped media bus for the entire holiday season, my role was relatively minor.  Yet I was still was part of the media pack that kept tabs on the president and recorded this unique time in Hawaii history.  My images will be part of a collection that will define Obama’s visual history and I stand proud with my local brothers Hugh, Jamm, Tanner, and Kent.  None of us are full time staffers yet we all sacrificed our holidays for a decade minus a year to record history, as trivial as it may seem, to photograph and report on one of the most popular presidents in modern history.  I grow jealous of my named colleagues who captured more; yet, I salute you, you bastards.

Although many will not miss Obama or his annual visits, his last days on Oahu as President will bring a bittersweet end to nine years can never be repeated.  The Hawaii history books are closing, but I’m glad, along with my colleagues, that someone will be looking at our images for a long, damn, time.

White House Press Passes
White House issued press passes collected during the many Obama visits to Hawaii.



16,000 likes via the New York Times

A surfer falls of the lip of a huge wave at Peahi, Maui. 16,000+ Likes on the New York Times Instagram page!
A surfer falls of the lip of a huge wave at Peahi, Maui. 16,000+ Likes on the New York Times Instagram page!

Its been a great week for work this week as I’ve had two big travel stories on the Big Island and Maui run in the New York Times and the Associated Press released my writing and pictures on a trip to Kalaupapa on Molokai.

But if anyone takes likes as a measure of fulfillment, the shot of the surfer flying off his board at Jaws on Maui got over 16,000 likes on the @nytimestravel instagram page.  Impressive!

But more impressive for myself is my new career of writing.  In college I wanted to be a writer and took a few classes  but didn’t take myself seriously to follow through with any of it.  I doodled in diaries and mailed long love letters during my travels in Latin America and Asia.  But its only been in the last few years that I’ve gotten acknowledged as a writer and published.  Taking pictures has become second nature for me but writing is still the great frontier.

The Molokai story is linked here.

Anyone recognize this hiker?

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Here are the New York Times tears from the last few weeks.

nyt layouts

The Big Island story is here and Maui is here.


Sunrises in Hawaii are phenomenal. A blue blanket of darkness warms to an amber glow slowly filling the sky with a brilliant sea of light. Dark ocean waves become bright blue brilliance. Yes, too poetic but nonetheless, its true. Just ask anyone whose been lucky enough to sit on the beach at sunrise. Its great.

However, sitting on the beach stalking someone for a shot is unnerving! Sea spray sticks to your skin and cameras and the windward side breeze blows sand onto everything. Sand starts sticking to your legs, arms, and hands, getting in your ears, pockets, and mouth. Everything you touch gets sandy.

And its just murder on the cameras. Brutal!!!!!!

But this is what I had to endure to get a shot of Barack Obama. Three days of (legally) stalking presidential hopeful is not fun. Obama arrived in Hawaii for a week long vacation to get away from it all before the campaign starts to heat up and the nominations are set.

I got assigned by the Associated Press to sit and wait on the beach where Obama’s vacation rental house is. I had to sit, wait, and hope for an appearance. Its not a fun job. At first I was keen on being on the beach hoping to catch him swimming or just hanging out on the beach. I knew I couldn’t get too close to him as Secret Service and HPD were all over the place and I surely wasn’t going to hide in the bushes to catch a photo of him. The more upfront and honest I was about myself meant no one would stop or bug me as long as I played by the rules. I mean, this isn’t Paris or Brittany…I think they be more dangerous to photograph as celeb bodyguards are mostly hired meatheads. They don’t know or care for rules or laws hence I’d be in a loosing battle with ’em. A presidential candidate with Secret Service is a different animal. One wrong move and I could end up in prison if not worse.

Snapped off my by Blackberry Curve!

Here I am laying on the beach with my 400mm camera lens hidden under a raincoat. Secret Service had already made me and twice came up to me and asked me who I worked for and what I did. I kept my gear out of sight for several reasons, one for a bit of secrecy but mainly to keep all the elements off the electronics.

I don’t want to claim I am or do paparazzi work because I never have nor do I wish to. I don’t care to sit on the beach or stalk around town for some silly celeb of the moment. It just doesn’t appeal to me. Sure the money might be nice but I have to live with myself afterwards.

Obama had already been photographed on the beach once several years back and he wasn’t pleased. I mean it wasn’t a bad photograph. He looked in good shape and gave the appearance of youth. Not some straggly old man struggling in the rough sea. He almost looked Kennedyesque.

So…Obama didn’t want to be caught on the beach. He wants to ensure his image is strong and powerful, not one who vacations and slacks off on the beach. As I sat on the beach waiting for him, I knew I was going to have a struggle and sure enough, a long wait.

But I had to make sure I followed all rules and not do anything to piss off the Secret Service. Polite, respectful, and out of their way is the standard rule. No aiming lenses over bushes, through windows or anything you see on TV. You don’t stand in front of his motorcade surrounding Obama’s car and snap away. That kinda stuff with get you a flight to Guantanamo Bay.

For two days, I arrived at the beach no later than sunrise, set up camp on the beach and waited. Almost immediately, I was spotted by Secret Service and/or HPD. As I’d set up camp, security would slowly saunter up and check me out. Its a bit scary to know Secret Service know has my name, they have my number! SO you don’t mess around with this level of security. You play by the rules.

First day…sat on the beach. Talked to lots of beach walkers and gawkers who think I am some friendly guy and want to talk about photography and tip them off to Obama. If you are one of the gawkers reading this blog, please, don’t talk to photographers when they are working! Its hard enough let alone want to be asked about our camera lenses and compare your point-and-shoot to what I have. We don’t care!

The sun started to rise and get hot. Someone mentioned being on the beach is like sitting in the desert. Water everywhere and not a drop to dip in. Its hot, windy, yet cool. Its nice sitting on the beach but its no fun when you are trying to get a job done. And the most worrisome part of it all is you are never sure if you are gonna get the shot.

So after the first day, I got one Obama sighting. He quickly peaked over the bushes to meet someone coming on the property and was visible for about four seconds. Its not enough time to aim, compose and snap. Besides, Sonny from KITV was chatting my ear off so I lost concentration on the task at hand. I finally got info Obama had left the house and it wasn’t a minute too soon. Being on the beach at 6AM until 1PM isn’t fun. I was tired, sweaty, a bit sunburned and generally worn out. I was dreading my failure and predicament of having to return the next day.

Second day equaled more of the same. I was a bit more prepared by wearing jeans and a long sleeve shirt. The sand became more bearable and I wasn’t covered with grit within three minutes of my arrival. I got to the beach much earlier as I had been tipped Obama had taken a swim on the beach at 5:30 before the sun rose. I got to my spot earlier but found even if he had been on the beach, a shot would have been nearly impossible as it was way too dark.

Nothing happened again. Just security around the house and the same gawkers asking silly questions. Again, Obama peered out of the house for a few seconds but nothing. It was another fruitless day.

The third day proved to be magical. I knew I couldn’t just arrive and sit on the beach for an entire day so I ended up arriving after six, made camp and read a book. It wasn’t much more than a pretty day on the sand. Again long pants and long sleeve shirts, floppy hat, sunglasses, water, sunblock, and a snack of dried mangoes to make the day go smooth. I was getting used to the waiting and in all honesty, sitting on the beach isn’t all that bad. I mean, hell, its Hawaii!

I started to doubt he’d come out and I also realized he and his staff knew I was out there on the beach waiting. I doubt he’d come out anyway so I decided to just leave and come back a bit later in the day.

Sure enough, when I came back, Obama and his daughters were just walking out the house for a nice walk on the beach. I, being a consummate, readied my camera in an unhurried manner, set exposures, and fired away. I kept a respectable distance and also introduced myself to Secret Service who also kept their distance. I shot with my 400mm 2.8 lens and really took control of the situation. Nothing could have been better as everything just lined up perfectly. The slow walk with his daughters in the surf, hand holding and just general coziness with his kids. It was almost planned but I know it wasn’t.

After following him with lots of respect and care, he finally seemed to notice me but I wasn’t sure if he got irritated. He met people, shook hands, and signed autographs. He was cordial and polite to everyone as he is running for president of the United States.

At one point he raised his sandals towards me and muttered something but couldn’t hear if it was at me or at people behind me. I was the only pro on the beach (EXCLUSIVES!) so I knew he was aware I snapped photos. I started to feel funny and realized this is why I don’t do paparazzi work. I knew I had enough and left him in peace.

Besides, I did rattle off a fair share of images.

But after a long three day stake out, all suffering is put to rest when you get a special moment like this. Obama and his kids made great art and I am glad I suffered like I did. I am sure his people will like the images as it portrays him as a caring fatherly figure. I kind gentle man who spends times with his young kids. I think the images are defining and surely do not harm his image.

Beckham and Co.


This week Hawaii was blessed with futbol…yes…futbol, football, or what Americans call soccer. I prefer futbol as it brings back warm memories of flipping through tv as a kid and landing on a Spanish network broadcasting a match taking place down south in Mexico or some other Latin nation. The passion of the announcer, taunts of the fans, the tackles, passes, headers, and the dives from the players, the long locks of hair bouncing off the shoulders of a far away star. And yes, the cries of “gooooooooooooooooooooo1!” sent shivers down my spine!

But those days pushed the curiosity into a passion and now I follow football regularly. I have been known to stay up late nights obsessed with the World Cup action and now that we have the Fox Soccer Channel, Saturday and Sunday mornings are filled with Torres and Ronaldo smoothing their way down the pitch for Liverpool and Manchester United.

You can only image the joy when I learned David Beckham would play soccer in our dumpy Aloha Stadium. Becks, along with the Los Angeles Galaxy, the Houston Dynamos, Sydney FC, and Gamba Osaka played in the Pan Pacific Championship, a two day international tournament held here in Honolulu.

As I am a terribly addicted football nut, I couldn’t help but to be excited about having someone like Beckham play here…and me being the photographer extrodinare, I couldn’t wait to work the tournament.

The Associated Press had me on for the entire Beckham week and it started with great fan fair with Becks and the Galaxy arriving at the airport. The PR guys for the MLS set up the media just outside the terminal giving us full access to Beckham arriving and getting the traditional Hawaiian flower lei.

From there the soccer circus had several community events including a kid skills camp with Becks and other playing around with the kids. So many kids got the treat of their life as they got to kick the ball around with him…it makes me wonder if any of those young soccer players really knew who Beckham is or what history he created.

I think so many Americans only think of him as Mr. Posh Spice.

The tourney itself was not something I would call amazing soccer but play was decent and games spotted with great action. As Beckham is not close to retiring from international play, his role in the MLS is interesting if not controversial. His departure from the top leagues in European football to the MLS slightly mars his image as the MLS isn’t known for their amazing players or teams. Many critics stated Beckham was done and would not make another international for England and worse, he might start seeing play as a substitute for his then club Real Madrid. As any athlete knows, youth will always replace age.

The top MLS teams might only rank in 2nd or 3rd tiers of England and Europe. Yet there are great players and some games are quiet amazing. Sadly, many feel the MLS is the retirement league for European and Latin American stars.

Beckham’s play stood quiet still at times as he was not played the ball much and when he did get his foot on the ball it was only for his specialized crosses and set pieces. Sure, that is his specialty yet his lack of full on action made me wonder if either the Galaxy is a bad team and doesn’t know how to utilize him or the organzation keeps him safe from bad form players and injury. The Galaxy wouldn’t fare well if their multi-million dollar baby was done in with a knee injury or a Eduardo-style ankle break. Brutal that injury the poor Brazillian suffered the wee start of Aresnal’s game against Birmingham.

Watching Becks through my 400mm allowed me secret access to moods, emotions, frustrations, and quirkiness. I viewed him quiet frustrated as his beautiful curved kicks sailed to strikers who in my opinion, lacked the skills of a Rooney, Owen, or Lampard. Yet his decisions to move to the MLS seems more a decision based on a new Hollywood lifestyle he and his wife embraced rather than a man willing to play at the top leagues. I do imagine that $50 million a year contract does smooth things over yet watching him play in this lower tiered tournament brings frustration to me and obviously to him. I am certain many people who watched him in the glory days probably have similar feelings.

The tournament played out well and the star of the tournament was Gamba Osaka’s Bare. His four goal game against Houston in the final hopefully put him in the minds of the European leagues. The J-league is great but what great striker wouldn’t take a chance to play in the big leagues. Hopefully Gamba will reap a big windfall if Bare is taken by another team.

As far as Galaxy’s final game, Becks was full of emotions. Many smiles and frowns along with better play from him and his team. They defeated Sydney FC 2-1 and both goals came off of Beckham assists. It was a good time by all…maybe not as good as the Manchester United games he once played but good times.

After all, sports are an evolved form of entertainment. Sure Beckham was a bit of show as screams echoed throughout the stadium anytime he touched the ball…but what fan wouldn’t scream when The Edge plays a rift, or Bono hits a high note.

Its all just fun.

Gamba Osaka won the tournament whipping the Houston Dynamos 6-1. Bare was a bear. He was great to see…pure top form.

One of the funny highlights of the end of the Galaxy games was Becks pulling off his top and strutting around the field, tattoos and all. His presence is rock star like.

I will not hold my breath for another full on pro soccer tournament but maybe this will push me to travel and shoot a game or two elsewhere.