A Master Shares His Skill, Secrets

Ron Mizutani
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Wednesday - July 14, 2010
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Manny Mattos with a redwood plank he’s planning to shape into a surfboard

Few of us get the chance to learn from a master, so when opportunity knocks, our kuleana is to answer the door.

Opportunity has knocked. Master carver Manny Mattos spent decades researching ancient Hawaiian lua weapons. He honed his carving skills while working with Hawaiian hardwood, eventually earning a reputation as one of the finest wood carvers in the world, producing museum-quality work.

“It’s humbling because even though I was born and raised here, I’m Portuguese, I’m not Hawaiian,” explains Mattos. “I try to make everything as authentic as possible. I appreciate the culture.”

It’s that appreciation that led him to his latest project. Call it uncharted waters. The man known for his unique work producing Hawaiian weapons is shaping his first surfboard.


“I’ve never made a surf-board before, maybe a paipo board when I was 12 and used to hang out at Waikiki,” he says with a laugh. “This will be a learning experience for me, so that’s why I invite surfboard shapers to come down to help me along.”

Mattos will showcase his masterful talent Saturday when he looks to finish an old-style Alaia surfboard at the Prince Lot Hula Festival at Moanalua Gardens. Mattos is shaping a redwood plank given to him by a friend from Santa Cruz, Calif.

“I told him they used to make redwood surfboards long ago,” says an excited Mattos. “He donated two slabs, and it’s special because the area this redwood came from is the same area the original redwood came from in the 1880s and was used in Hawaii to make surfboards.”

The redwood is a prized wood similar to our koa. A 14-foot-long plank that is 2-feet wide and 100 pounds can cost up to $7,000.

The board started taking shape earlier this week. The public display at Moanalua Gardens will give surfers and others in the community the opportunity to see a master at work.

Mattos is hoping the exposure will inspire others. He believes it is his kuleana to pass along his knowledge.

“I think education and getting back to your roots and being proud of who you are is very important,” says Mattos. “Even when I make Hawaiian war weapons, I think the native Hawaiians cut these trees down with a stone adze and here I am struggling with a chainsaw. Native Hawaiians were so skilled in every aspect of their culture.”

Mattos also has made a personal commitment to the environment. His nonprofit foundation E Malama I Na Wa’o Lama promotes the preservation of Hawaii’s endangered dry-land hard-wood forests and trees.

Mattos is one of several “masters” who will share their craft and expertise at the 33rd annual Prince Lot Hula Festival. The day-long festival is the largest non-competitive hula event in Hawaii in honor of Prince Lot Kapuaiwa, who later reigned as King Kamehameha V.

“I feel really blessed they’re allowing me to do this,” he says. “We’re responsible for teaching the next generation.”

The festival is free and open to the public, and is presented by Moanalua Gardens Foundation. For more information, visit the foundation’s Web site at moanaluagardensfoundation.org.

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