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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, June 1, 2006

Hale'iwa sign swap-out befuddles community

By Will Hoover
Advertiser North Shore Writer

Hale'iwa merchant and surfboard shaper Billy Barnfield helped artist Carole Beller install a new marker she created after taking down her old one, which featured a male surfer.

BRUCE ASATO | The Honolulu Advertiser

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A drawing of a new sign design.

Handout photo

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HALE'IWA The ever-changing Hale'iwa sign saga took another twist yesterday when folks here awoke to find a spanking new 5-by-8-foot roadside marker gracing Kamehameha Highway at the Kahuku end of town.

The sign closely resembles Hale'iwa's other well-known welcome icons but arrived with a noticeable difference: The familiar male surfer in the center had been replaced with a female surfer.

The previous sign which had practically taken on a life of its own had been removed without warning Tuesday afternoon by the woman who created the now-famous sign design, artist and sculptor Carole Beller of South Lake Tahoe, Calif.

Beller's action prompted the executive director of the North Shore Chamber of Commerce, which owns the removed sign, to file a theft report with the police.

Beller, who holds the copyright to the unique sign design, said she was only protecting the visual integrity of her work. Further, she said she isn't charging Hale'iwa for the new sign, which she said is worth thousands of dollars.

Plus, Beller is in the process of restoring the previously vandalized sign she took down. She says before tomorrow she'll erect it along the Joseph P. Leong Highway, where its lookalike counterpart was swiped months ago, never to be seen again.

By yesterday the ruffled feathers of Antya Miller, the chamber's executive director, had been somewhat soothed.

"We're happy she's restoring the old sign," said Miller, who thanked Beller for the new sign. "But she had no right to take that other sign down without our permission. Most of the merchants I've talked to thought she overstepped her bounds."

In the meantime, the chamber has commissioned its own design for a sign and plans to erect them.

Miller said the community has had nothing but problems with the signs ever since the chamber paid Beller $15,000 for three of them back in the mid-1990s. The signs, featuring a 3-D wave-riding male surfer in red board shorts, were intended to beckon travelers into Hale'iwa after the 2.3-mile bypass was completed in 1995.

Not only did they succeed in doing that, tourists by the tens of thousands began having their photos snapped next to the red, white, blue and yellow markers, which were located at the beginning, middle and end of the bypass.

But the signs proved too popular for their own good.

From the start the colorful signs were stolen, lost, retrieved, ripped off again, vandalized and, most recently, repaired by a benevolent and deaf Japanese tourist who donated his own time and money re-creating the surfer, which someone had sawed off at the ankles.

Early last December, without a word, visitor Tatsuro Ota, 43, of Shizuoka, Japan, spent three days sculpting a new surfer into the town's only remaining welcome sign. Townsfolk were so touched by Ota's deed that they threw a thank-you celebration for him before he returned to Japan around Christmas.

Ota, who was born deaf, said through an interpreter that he did it as a gift of love to Hale'iwa.

But Beller called Ota "a good vandal," noting that he painted out her copyright notice and signed his own name. When Beller's friend, artist Ken Kasik, repainted Beller's notice on the sign, Kasik said, Ota returned to erase it again.

So, Beller decided to take action of her own.

"I decided to answer art with art," she said. "If they thought Tatsuro's free work was OK with everybody, then I decided I'd just do the same."

Yesterday, vacationers from San Diego to Macedonia to Warrensberg, Mo., stopped to snap photos of Beller's new welcome sign. The new female version was praised by one and all.

"People love these signs," said Hale'iwa merchant and surfboard shaper Billy Barnfield, Beller's "accomplice" in erecting the new sign on Tuesday.

"While we were putting it up dozens of people were honking at us, waving, hooting and yelling, 'Cool!' These signs have become the icons of the North Shore all over the world."

All of which complicates matters for Miller and the members of the board of the North Shore Chamber of Commerce.

Even before Ota's act of kindness last December, Miller said the chamber's board of directors had decided to distance themselves from Beller's signs.

"They're just a liability because they keep getting stolen all the time," said Miller. "So we decided to go with a whole new design."

The new design is the work of local contest winner who wishes to remain anonymous. It has replaced Beller's design on the chamber's Web site. And Miller said the chamber is in the process of getting price quotes so its official design can be made into road signs.

Miller wasn't sure how Beller's new roadside marker and her restored and replaced version will affect the board's decision.

But she took it as a sign that the issue probably wouldn't be settled any day soon.

Reach Will Hoover at whoover@honoluluadvertiser.com.