Photographer Kaimana Pinto – Interview and Photos
I first met Kaimana Pinto when I traveled to Oahu, Hawaii like five years ago. He was shy, laid-back and smooth and stylish on his skateboard. I featured him in a Check Out in Skate Slate Longboarding Magazine a few months later. Now he’s all that and some.
He’s excelled at the craft of downhill skating and is sponsored by RAD and Caliber. But, now his photographic work also catches my eye. For the latest Photo Annual, we featured a Kaimana photo of Byron Essert that was primo. I caught up with Kaimana on the phone last month to get to know him even better and to ask him to share more of his excellent photos with us all. He obliged. Enjoy!
Were you born and raised in Hawaii?
Yeah, born and raised on the east side of Oahu.
Do you have a lineage with a strong connection to Hawaii?
My mom’s family is from Ileili on Maui and my dad’s family is from Puna on the Big Island. They’ve been around for awhile. My family is very cultural. My mom and both of my sisters have a degree in Hawaiian Studies. My brother is double majoring in Hawaiian Language and Hawaiian Studies. They are all about it.
Yeah, that sounds really involved in the culture and sounds like your family is preserving the culture.
Also, my sister has three kids who all are fluent in Hawaiian, because they went to a Hawaiian immersion program.
Are you fluent in Hawaiian?
Nah, I speak it here and there but I’m not fluent.
Do you speak pidgin?
[laughs] I don’t speak much pidgin but I can understand both it and Hawaiian.
That’s cool. Then, how long have you been skateboarding?
I’ve been skateboarding for like twelve years and then downhill for ten years.
Had you surfed before that?
Yeah, I’ve been surfing my whole life.
So what’s your story with finding skateboarding?
I started going to the skatepark in elementary school because this cute girl used to invite me there all the time. Doing that led me to meet the boys and then I started skating and really enjoyed it. I started bombing hills because I actually lived at the top of this pretty sweet neighborhood run. At the bottom of the hill is the skatepark, so I ended up getting pretty good at it. K.J. and I had a group of friends whom we started with then we met some other people that bombed hills better than we did. They had gloves and everything. So we hung out with them and they taught us everything about bombing. That was Jeff Khau and the Makiki Boys.
I started going to the skatepark in elementary school because this cute girl used to invite me there all the time.
So doing stand up slides or what?
Just carving up the whole road. The steeper the hill, the deeper the carve.
Did you have a crew name?
Ha! We did. It was called the Hammah crew. It was super funny. That was way back in the day.
What was your thing? Why was it called the Hammah crew?
I don’t know, we were just a crew full of hammahs [Urban dictionary says this refers to one who flirts constantly while still being oblivious to any flirtation back at him.] Yeah, we were actually a bunch of nerds, but we thought it was ironic because it insinuated that we were hard.
Right on. How long have you been interested in taking photos and video?
I started doing that when I was fifteen years old. I recorded my first trip to Maui and made a video called, “On Par with the Clouds on Haleakala.” I’ve been doing it ever since then.
So you work for Co Creative Studios. What is the company and what do you do there?
Co Creatives Studios is a production company on the west side of Oahu that does a lot of work for Kamehameha Schools and other Hawaiian companies. They do a lot of work with environmental issues, which is one of the things I always like to work on. I’m a video editor right now. I also work with the RED camera as a camera assistant and camera operator.
That sounds cool. How long have you been doing that?
I first got picked up two years ago. I volunteered with them for a few days on this documentary called I Am Haloa about food sustainability and eating a traditional Hawaiian diet. After voluntering for them, they needed to bring me on for an editing project and since then I’ve been on staff for them.
Ok, so that’s full time?
It’s varies. Feast or famine in that industry.
And had you gone to college at all?
I got my associates degree in Liberal Arts at Maui CC. Don’t use it much though..
That’s interesting. Basically, I haven’t used my four year Bachelor of Arts degree to get a job, but the experience has definitely helped me. That’s cool that you are in a creative position, where you want to be right now.
Thanks man. All my experience came from making skate videos.
What other passions do you have?
I surf a lot and I’m all into creative media in addition to photography and videography, I make a lot music from time to time. I like to spear fish every now and again. I really like to go dirtbiking or hiking. Always outdoors.
What kind of music do you make?
Hmm, I would say it’s bluesy jazzy kind of music. I play with all former reggae musicians. So, there’s always some blues and jazz infused into reggae. We are pretty open ended.
You are in a band right now?
I play with three other guys pretty consistently. I wouldn’t really call us a band, though.
Man, jamming out can be some of the funnest stuff, huh? It’s living in the moment of communicating with the other musicians.
Yeah, exactly. It’s a different way of speaking. It requires all of your focus if you’re gonna do it well. So, it becomes a meditation. It’s really great to get your mind off of stuff.
Do you sing as well?
Cool. Do you cook? I’m curious.
[laughs] Yeah. I cook really well. I do love it.
Are you able to get food locally?
Yeah, I’m all about local food. I buy all my food at one of the various farmers markets we have on O’ahu. One of my favorite hobbies is to ku’i ai, which is to pound poi. I buy really affordable Kalo (taro root) from the farmers in Kahalu’u. I steam it and pound it.
One of my favorite hobbies is to ku’i ai, which is to pound poi. I buy really affordable Kalo (taro root) from the farmers in Kahalu’u. I steam it and pound it.
Yeah, it’s pretty good. You gotta try it next time you come over.
Lot’s of poke [fish salad].
Poke, Okay. So you’ve been traveling a bit recently, going to New Zealand and Maui?
Yeah, I went to Maui about six times last year between work and skateboarding. I spent three weeks in New Zealand. I’ve also been bouncing over to the Big Island for work. I spent another three weeks on Maui and Kauai this winter with Byron [Essert] as well. The majority of my photos I’m sharing for this interview were from that last trip. I spent two weeks on Maui and a week on Kauai.
So Byron did the same trip as well?
Yeah, I flew in the day before and then picked him up from the airport. K.J. Nakanelua was with us for the majority of the Maui trip. Then Byron and I went to Kauai and hitch-hiked around the island for a week.
We did the infamous Kalalau trail while we were there on Kauai, which was pretty brutal. I got some sick photos of Byron on the trail.
So what was that trip like?
That was probably one of the better trips I’ve been on. It was super simple and laid back, no pressure to get footage or anything. I’ve love traveling with K.J. We’ve always had super similar interests, so it’s always easy to go out with him. Spliff, skate, surf everyday. Byron pretty much fit in that program perfectly. It was just us traveling, camping, and surfing. I caught some of the better waves of my life. I saw Byron pull a monster closeout on a surfboard.
Damn, that’s epic, the best of your life?
Bouncy, perfect point breaks almost every day.
Spliff, skate, surf everyday
Word. That all sounds really awesome. You got some really great skate photos while on Maui. What’s your process for making photos? You’re also a skateboarder and so I’m sure there is sometimes the dilemma of what to do, skate or shoot photos?
My process is that I always have my camera equipment on me. I kinda just hop into a session and wait for the good light. If we are sessioning a corner or bombing some hills, I’ll just be skating the whole time and waiting for something to catch my eye. When I’m looking for a shot at Lavender Farms, for example, a road with hairpin after hairpin and many features, I try to just pick something that makes the road look appealing. If I can throw in one of the gorgeous scenes in the background that makes the situation ideal. From Haleakala, you can see a lot. The ocean, the valley, and the mountains on the other side of the island. I try to line up a section of the road where the skater is coming through, place something floating around the foreground, and have another section of the road floating in the background. It shows that the road has depth and that they are going somewhere exciting. If I can put in a nice blue sky, a mountain, or the ocean, that’s the ideal photo I’m looking for. And then other times when I’m skating around and I don’t need to put my hand down or I’m feeling really comfortable, i’ll just carry the camera with me. I’ll throw a wide-angle on and try to keep them in the three to five foot range. I’ll stay with them as we flow through corners. I get close and try to put the yellow line on the right side of me, then just fire away.
Yeah, it’s such a coordinated effort to accomplish on board photos, imagining what the camera sees. As far as framing, is that hit or miss for you? How do you do that?
There’s definitely a few things I try to keep in mind. Before we get to the corner, I’ll always take like four test shots just to make sure the histogram on point. After I get the exposure right, I try to guess how far they are going to be and set my focus at that distance. I’ve been shooting on a Sigma 10-20mm my whole life. It like was my first lens, recommended to me by Ha’ole of the Year (HOTY) Matt Kienzle. I’ve a pretty good idea what 16 mm is going to look like. And so when I’m actually going into the corner, I try to put them at a distance where they take up one nice third of the frame. Then, do my best to get the yellow line going across the frame. That’s what I feel like makes a good photo. Usually the line makes or breaks the photo.
Mmm hmm. And so do you shoot at 1/500th second to be safe?
No, actually, I really like the motion blur if I’m skating with the camera. I usually shoot at about 1/100th second and try to match my speed with the rider as we are going through the corner. I really like it when everything is blurry, except for the rider. 1/100th second is pretty difficult to get right. 1/250th second is the fastest I’ll shoot while on board.
Nice. When I’m shooting wide angle from the side of the road, those are about the same shutter speeds I use, in combination with the flash.
I’d really like to try it with a flash. My favorite element of ride along shots is the motion blur in contrast with the sharp skater and a flash would really excentuate that element. I need a flash. HOTY Matt K. was on me. He’s like, “You gotta go to like 1/320th or 1/500th second or nothing is gonna come out good.” I try my best to keep it at 1/100th and match the speed of the riders.
Yeah, even 1/60th works when you wanna get crazy. Get the blurry edges looking like glass. Have you had any close calls while shooting photos on board.
Close calls? Honestly, no. I feel like I’m pretty cautious. I’ll only get close to someone that I have a lot of faith in. So, I feel like I’ve really prevented any potential mixups. I feel like I’m pretty comfortable skating close to people. I haven’t had any close calls, no! I lied. I had a really close call on Maui with HOTY on Haleakala, you’re on the edge of traction on the corners and it’s a pretty fast hill. He thought it would be cool to ride down his little board. It was something like an eighteen inch wheelbase or something ridiculous and regular 169mm Paris trucks. We were going for a right hand corner and I was probably like two feet behind him. He just started scrub wobbling. His board was flexy so it would wobble and flex into a slide and then grip up and then he would do it again and again. That was really scary. HOTY is a boss. He handled it, no problem, but I was in the back terrified watching him wobble slide wobble slide wobble slide.
Did the photos come out?
No. That was the only run where none of the photos came out. All of them were terrible. After that sketchy corner, I was over it so I didn’t really shoot any more on that run.
Do you have camera insurance?
No, I don’t have any insurance. It’s pretty silly actually. I’m sure I’d get way closer and worry less if I had insurance on it.
Yeah, it’s something to consider. So was the New Zealand trip a RAD trip?
Yeah, I was traveling with James Kelly, Jimmy Riha, and Tony Graves. It was a super fun crew to travel with and it went super well. We started in Auckland, meeting up with Daniel Hawes he showed us around Mangawhai and into the testicle facility. Then we traveled south and hit all the roads on the way to Mount Ruapehu. Then I broke my collarbone at Ruapehu. I had made it to the semifinals and was just having a really good time. We had some drinks at the resort on the top of the hill. I was on a stout binge that trip and Liam and J-Boss showed up right after the race with a bunch of coffee brews. The bar was at the bottom of the hill. I just didn’t make it to the bottom of the hill. I ended up launching a hulimaka flip into a ditch. Big Dave drove me like six hours to the hospital. He did a great job of keeping my mind off the pain. They ended up hooking me up with a free surgery and put seven screws and a plate to reset my collar bone. My trip got set to cruise control at Hazey Haze’s house for the final few days of the trip.
The bar was at the bottom of the hill. I just didn’t make it to the bottom of the hill. I ended up launching a hulimaka flip into a ditch.
What other awesome experiences did you have in New Zealand?
The hills were insane. I saw probably some of the best surf. Hazey took me over to Raglan to watch the surf. I guess some crazy hurricane showed up, so we saw some great surf. That was really cool to watch.
Do you have any plans for 2016?
I’m gonna travel to Fiji to go surf. I also want to do a lot of inter-island traveling for skateboarding. Probably California if the weather gets good.
Well, I think that pretty much sums up what I wanted to ask you. Do you have any shout outs?
Yeah, totally. Shout out to K.J. Nakanelua for sticking with me through the Hammah crew days all the way up to the G days. It’s been a long time and we’ve gotten hurt many a time. I remember K.J. hit my parked car once… [laughs] some girl parked it on the outside of the fastest corner on Tantalus. Who else? Darryl Freeman for pretty much bringing downhill to Hawaii. Ethan Lau, Ben Field, MacKenzie Yoshida, Kenny Bergstrom, and Nikko Kamanuwai for being the generation in front of mine that taught us everything. Shout out to the guys I started out with like Jeff Khau, Rhys Morishima, Justin Louie, and Dong Kim. They pretty much started everything for me in that regard. Anybody else who helped me travel, like Big Dave and James Kelly. James Kelly helped me out big time. I think I paid rent just by selling weed to him and letting him sample my truck. He was my in with RAD as well. Big D was my in with Caliber, so those guys are the best. Matt K. too, for always coming to Hawaii, he brings new tricks to every year (as well as takes some home). Andrew at Aloha Skateshop on Maui. He’s done so much for the scene over there. He’s the only reason there are skateparks on Maui and he’s lobbying for more skateparks on Maui. The Pukalani skatepark just got approved for $1.2 million The first skatepark on Maui was him in his van driving around with ramps for an after school thing for kids. Shoutout to any company who has helped out with the Hawaiian Downhill Series. All of my skate gear came from those races. Also, Brody Santiago. We used to skate every day on Maui. He would come skate the hills with me that nobody else wanted to skate. Dakota Camp and Zach Newman for keeping the scene alive on Maui…Sorry, this is going to be the longest shoutout section. But, this should be the longest section right?
Indeed. Thanks for the interview.
No, thank you for doing this. I’ve been subscribed to your magazine ever since my first trip to Danger Bay in 2010. I got my subscription and then you came to Hawaii and I met you guys, I was like this is so cool. I was never really interested in Concrete Wave magazine. I thought it sucked, but then Skate[Slate] came out and I was like, “Yes!” I’ve had my subscription ever since then.
I’m honored my friend. Seems like a good time to mention our new subscription website:
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