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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, March 2, 2006

Tiki dreams become reality for California man

By John Balzar
Los Angeles Times


While Honolulans can still get their tiki fix at Don Tiki shows and at Sand Island's La Mariana, with its puffer-fish lamps hanging over the bar, elsewhere people go to other sources.

  • Tiki Central, at www.tikiroom.com: With more than 200,000 posts in 10 categories, this is the daily lu'au for those who have caught the bug. Here is the latest on collecting, events, sightings, sounds, food and drink.

  • "The Book of Tiki" (Taschen, 2000): Sven Kirsten's history of all things tiki has inspired many. The author is highly regarded by experts for his research and sober enthusiasm. A small-format edition is out under the title "Tiki Style." A sequel, "Tiki Modern," is forthcoming.

  • Taboo! Tiki Index, at www.konakai.com: An array of tiki links from tattoo artists to some of the world's tiki lounges, and much more.

  • Tiki Magazine: San Diego school teacher Nick Camara launched this glossy start-up a year ago. Camara covers a broad tropical waterfront from music to a who's who of tiki. His advertisers hint at just how widely tiki is spreading. "Everything today is so hectic, so expensive. Tiki basically takes you away from all that, at least for a while," says Camara. www.tikimag.net.

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    Sometimes tiki rises up entirely apart from style trends. And it's not just a coastal thing, either.

    In the dry-brush lands of El Cajon, Calif., disaster gave birth to the tropical tiki dreams of Sam Kuoha. His property was in the path of the 2003 fires that raged around San Diego. His yard was burned over and his rancher-style house damaged.

    Hawai'i-born, Kuoha kicked through the ashes and decided he was homesick.

    "People would come over and say, 'You're Hawaiian.' But they would see a Spanish-style house ... (with) a yard of grass, weeds and fruit trees," Kuoha recalls. "I didn't want that anymore."

    Rather than leave California, he repaired and replanted with the aim of bringing the Islands here.

    It is a re-creation of the tropics both mild and wild.

    Inside, the Kuoha family settled on calm Hawaiiana decor. Carved koa wood contrasts with off-white paint. A traditional tapa cloth wall hanging framed in bamboo contrasts with dainty orchids. Subdued floral-print furniture coverings are paired with pineapple lamps.

    Outside, Kuoha's sprawling yard has been transformed into a mythical Polynesian playground a lush, equatorial garden with 40 varieties of exotic palms, 30 hand-carved tikis, each of them expressing symbols of island life and geography. Twisting trails of faux lava flows begin on the high ground in back of the house with the theme continuing into the front yard, ending in a fortress wall of lava.

    A trio of thatch palapas rise in the yard, one of them offering a sunset view of the rolling lowlands to the west, with two more of the open-air huts in the works. A stream flows alongside the house with waterfalls. An outdoor kitchen will serve for lu'au, along with a fire pit and stone benches.

    "I wanted people to come and feel they're in Hawai'i," says Kuoha, an actor and owner of a chain of martial-arts schools. "I wanted to walk out here and say, 'This is my island.' "

    As workers finish up the last of the project, Kuoha walks the stairway that winds from his patio up a grade to his lu'au kitchen and then to his pool, where mosaic tile turtles and fish appear to swim in the water and where the diving board has been replaced with an overhanging waterfall.

    "I'm home now," he says.