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.



Live by the club, die by the iron.

Live by the club, die by the iron.

2014 started with a bang, rather a swish of a golf club.  Hawaii is golf central in January.  Everyone from Barack to Vijay come to the Islands to hit our beautiful links.  My first two weeks of the year are filled with the smell of grass, the pain of walking 18 holes plus an additional 18 holes, and the sound of…well…nothing as pro golfers are too sensitive to the sound of the camera shutter or the sound of anything else.  An NBA player or Premiere League footballer can be screamed at during a free throw/kick…but a golfer?  Well, silence is the only way to oppose this noble and elite sport.


My week spent at the Kapalua course for the Tour of Champions in Maui was hell.  The hilly greens could easily be a ski resort and hiking is the only way to really describe covering the action on this course.  The outstanding views of Molokai are touchable from many of the holes and all considering the current weather pattern on the mainland (Jan 2014) there is no better place to be…just don’t ask my knees, thighs or calves the next day.  What a pain!  Hoisting 400mm f2.8 up hill is no fun.

My next assignment is the relatively flat Waialae Country Club course for the Sony Open staring Wednesday.  Its warmer, not as scenic but there are no hills.  However, there are many more golfers to cover and be sensitive about ensuring an errant camera shutter disrupt their concentration.

Mr. Obama, above, started my year on the first at Mid Pacific Country Club.  The club is one of the few Mr. Obama can play at where the public can actually catch a glimpse of him.  Most of the courses he now plays in Hawaii are secluded and difficult to get to but Mid Pac’s 18th hole sits on a public street across from a popular hiking trail.  Obama, hat askew, hit off the fairway onto the green and made a long putt that would make any golfer proud.  All considering he’s played about 12 rounds of golf during his 15 day Hawaiian vacation, he should be able to make all his putts!


A dip in the Obama pool

A dip in the Obama pool

I won’t start ringing the bells just yet and start selling off the cameras but my professional writing career is taking off.  We should take my statements lightly as  I’m not sure if my authorship can cut the mustard, let alone pay the mortgage; however, we have liftoff.  With the first published article on Nimitz in the Star Advertiser to two major bylines worldwide with the Associated Press, I am off to a good start…a GREAT start and end to 2013.  I am soooo grateful to Associated Press news editor who happens to share my last name as he put his trust in me to report on the big news.  And that big news was following Obama and la famila around during their annual Xmas vacation in Oahu.  I also have to thank Audrey-san and cuz Jen as they might have been the ones who put my Nimitz article in front of hermano Garcia which convinced  him I was the right hombre for the job.   Señor Garcia (no relation at all) assigned me to cover POTUS and my reporting seemed to do very well and was sent ’round the world.

My assignment placed me inside the media circus that follows the President around.  Permanent staffers from all the major media are assigned to cover the President wherever and whenever he travels or just stay put.  The coverage, sometimes affectionately referred to as death watch, needs to ensure every minute of the President is accounted for.  It is one of the most taxing assignments any journalist is assigned as you have to be ready to capture that moment.  Sadly, you have to sacrifice your life as you live for POTUS.  Vigilance through the lens or the pen is crucial to this job as anything can happen at any point in time.  A slip in concentration could mean missing the assassin’s bullet or the angry Iraqi’s shoe.  No telling when that slip will occur or when the aliens comeback to reclaim their property.  The truth is you never know when you’ll have the Zapruder film or classic bloopers from the Bush years.

Sadly Obama strongly disregards the professional media and his administration would rather use social media than independent media to get his message out.  He routinely uses hand outs from his personal photographer and fiercely guards his image from the press yet; as he keeps back the pros, regular citizens and paparazzi get much better access.  The Obama Administration is one of the most unfriendly administration in history towards the media and clearly lacks the transparency he campaigned on.


My above video shows the view the media bus gets of Obama and it really never gets any better. Some might argue that the President owes the media nothing; however, the media is needed to ensure the government stays honest.  If you allow the government to police itself, there will be very few arrest.

Some of you might recall my so called paparazzi encounter with then Presidential candidate Barack Obama in August of 2008 when I parked myself on Kailua Beach waiting for the future POTUS to make an exit and walk down the shore.  For three straight days, Obama stayed away and I figured his security detail just kept him informed of my existence.  So I took a gamble and left the beach and snuck around to a different beach access point opposite his hoping he’d think I abandoned my assignment.  Sure enough, as I walked from the opposite direction, Senator Obama and his two kids left the house and strolled down the beach, hand in hand, with nary a though to where I stood.

Obama, Sasha, Malia,


I took some of the most intimate pictures of the Senator with his daughters which I feel defined him as a father and made him human.  So many times, candidates fake their photo ops and try to pretend they are just like us.  They roll up their flannel shirts and help wash dishes, serve food at a homeless shelter, eat at McDonalds like the rest of us.  I’ve NEVER believed these people really were who they are.  It was fake.  Always fake…Romney and Kerry with their millions, Bush with his dynasty.  Obama, on the other hand, was caught off guard, and it shows.  I caught him being human.

When the Senator actually realized he was being photographed, he got pissed.  He waved his sandals at me and yelled at me to leave.  Sorry, Senator, its a public beach and you’re a public figure.   Secret Service said nothing.  I stood next to them and showed everyone respect and dignity.  The future President might have been really upset but he signed up for the whole public image thing.  In my view, a politician is owned by the public.  We demand to see him.  His kids are off limits but whenever the parents are out and about, they are fair game.

As far as the writing assignment went, it was beyond boring.  It was a tedious exercise in hours of playing Candy Crush, being pestered and pestering others on the media bus, not to mention snacking on really bad vanilla creme cookies and other terribly unhealthy things Michelle surely wouldn’t approve.  Obama kept the media completely away, as in many ways, he should as his vacation is somewhat private but we are not there to paparazzi him but to ensure we cover his every move in the inevitable…well lets leave it at that.

I’m extremely thrilled to have more writing under my belt.  I’m aiming to continue to add more bylines and stories to my every growing career.

Another Photo EtC

Another Photo EtC

The APEC Summit has come and gone.  To me, and to probably loads of other photographers, APEC was just Another Photo, EtC…

What a pain!  3AM call times so Secret Service could sweep you and your gear, the suspicious stares from foreign security guards, the endless traffic congestion due to heighten security and dignitaries’ motorcades, the endless waiting for someone to make an appearance.  It just goes on and on.

Yet, I’ve gotten to photograph the three most powerful men in the world…Medvedev, Obama, and Hu Jintao.  No to mention Hillary Clinton, just about every APEC nation’s leaders landing at the airport.  I was no further than a very short stone’s throw from two of the most powerful men whose mere presence can shake the course of history.  Do I exaggerate?  Anyone who holds the US debt plus possibly the EU’s?  No.  I don’t exaggerate.

Yet, its all just Another Photo, EtC.  Really.  Images to catalog, to burn on a disc, and to file away. After its all over, all you have left is the lingering rush and adrenaline still pumping from the job.

The Associated Press was happy as I got a “Thanks for the good work” email from Tom Stathis…and that means a lot.  I got to be a part of something important although I was just on the outside.

Here are a few of the selects from the APEC hell week.

Above you see Mr. Obama through the bullet proof glass of his pimped out Caddy.  As he drove up to the tarmac and I spotted him in the rear seat, I couldn’t help to be struck by the fact that he’s the US President.

The toughest part of the week was being stuck on arrival duty and having to be cleared to enter Joint Base Pearl Harbor/Hickam at 4am on Friday and 3am on Saturday.  Those days were tough yet I got to see the smiling Dimitry Medvedev exiting his crappy Russian state plane.  The Sultan of Brunei had the BIG PIMPIN’ 747 ride that was just as big as Air Force One, or so it seems.  Hu Jintao was rumored to hit Honolulu’s Chinatown but since I live a few blocks away, I would have probably been alerted to the super security that would have surrounded the Chinese presidents’ present, no?  He, Medvedev and and Obama had full on security detail meaning they could shut down the city when they rolled.  I saw no such action in Ctown the week they were here.

One rumor I read was the Russian delegation demanded the bars at the Modern Waikiki (hotel) remain open 24 hours a day.  Stoli on the rocks at any time, no?

The Hu Jintao photo op was mired in constant “meiyou meiyou” and suspicious glares.  The Chinese security forces around the President clearly were doing their job but seemed awfully unorganized and never believed anything the American handlers would tell them.  Constant badgering, criticism, and attitude.  Constant confrontation and getting into people’s faces.  Not aggressive like Westerners but like Chinese…a mildly aggressive badgering.  Bad haircuts and bad suits.  At the end, we were hosed by the State Run media which got the better pictures and we got sidelined for cheaper and faster images.  And when I say State Run, I refer to China, not our government media complex.

Speaking of bad suits,  we had a run in with Russian security.  As we were waiting in media line to enter Hickam for the arrivals on Friday, three guys in cheap suits got in line with us and tried to enter the base.  They drove a black US sedan (which you knew stunk of Russian cigarettes and vodka and probably had a dissident tied and bloodied in the trunk) and got out of the car eyeing all of us suspiciously while sauntering over to the military police to get onto base. Medvedev was arriving and they had a job to do.  They were young and didn’t look all the menacing but you knew if you screwed with them, you’d end up in the trunk with that dissident.  I looked for bloody knuckles and blood smears on their jackets to no avail.  The Cold War lives on.

Security was insane…but who can blame them.  Imagine the fool who could get close enough to knock off a world leader.  Their names would line the history books!  I remember when I worked as an assistant and being left alone in a studio with Bill Gates for like 15 minutes.  Boy did my mind drift to those c stands in the corner and how I could use it as a bat. We all know who assassinated Lincoln, Lennon, Kennedy, and Reagan, no?*  Gates?  Well, it didn’t happen.  Your kid won’t learn about me in the history books and they’ll still have to deal with Windows crashing.

*Booth, Chapman, Oswald, Hinckley.

And for my last image, all I have to say is the 60’s live on.  Most of those protesters, God bless ’em, who demonstrated in anti-APEC protests across town and in the country do have a point.  Banks, politicians, media, etc…are in need for reform.  I myself can’t help but to wonder how members of Congress are able to dance around insider trading laws, how millionaires like Michael Fat Boy Moore and P Diddy can hob nob with the protesters, and how the Democrats claim to support the peoples when they are the 1%.  Obama didn’t fund raise at Disney’s Aluani with the homeless out living on the Waianae Coast.  He charged $1000 per head and pix with the Commander in Chief were $5000.  I wish AP paid me what those donors paid for a simple snap with Barack.  I’d be big pimpin’ with da Sultan in no time.

Again, back to the pits…the harry hippies of yesteryear haven’t disappeared.  Their indelible stain on society protrudes on our lovely siren holding a most important bed sheet while splashing around Waikiki’s warm waters.  Yet might it be the marketing and the romance of the hippie culture which sells the image of revolution?  No doubt the younger generations have copycatted the protest movements, clothing, music and chants of those stinking masses of yesteryear.  The chants of “Hey Hey Ho Ho (add your chic cause here) has got to go!” are no different than those chanted by those who spit on my uniformed father when he returned from ‘Nam.  The attraction of free love and free living along with being free of all society’s constraints is just too great.   And to think those sandal wearing pot smokers went on to sell their wares in the capitalists markets.  Now you can find hippie attire and culture all neatly packaged at Urban Outfitters or other such chain stores.  And lets not skimp on the irony that its made by our comrades in China.

The scarfed, tent dwelling, cardboard waving  sandalnista is no more than a carbon copy of old grainy film stock images of 60’s hippies.  Except they use the the 1%ers Twitter, Facebook and web devices to carry on the message.

The message is correct to some degree but 1969 has come and gone.  Vote them out I say.  We elected the hope and change and got nothing.  Vote them out.  That vote weighs more than some scrawled message on an old cardboard box.  But if we are not careful, we might not even have a vote.  Then we’re gonna need to do something much more than occupying a city park and smoking dope.