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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, March 26, 2010

'Opihi buckle much too '70s


By Lee Cataluna

There he was, walking around Ala Moana Center like he had his own theme song. Hair greased back into a ducktail, undershirt as overshirt and, have mercy, an 'opihi shell belt buckle holding it all together the biggest 'opihi shell you ever saw in your life, as big as an islet off Windward O'ahu. You could hide a family of six under that 'opihi shell during a rainstorm. You could turn it upside down and float from here to Moloka'i. You could throw meat and vegetables inside and make stew for a party. That was a big, big 'opihi.

And, oh, that 'opihi took me back.

In the bottom drawer of the jewelry box is an 'opihi necklace I'll never wear but never throw out. It catches on the top of the drawer every time I'm digging around for a spare earring back. It's a polished and varnished shell, the remnants of a tasty party, shining for all it's worth in browns and golds. It has an era associated with it, like Jordache jeans in the early '80s or Angels Flight pants in the late '70s. 'Opihi shell pendants say summer of 1974.

But more than a time period, 'opihi shell jewelry has a certain back story attached to it. An uncle or a grandpa who liked to work with his hands and couldn't see anything, not even the discarded shells after last night's pā'ina, go to waste. Somebody with the time and patience to sand down the rough, grooved shell into something beautiful. Someone with the steady hand to drill a hole for an O-ring to make a pendant or dangly earring.

Or a belt buckle. Oh, those monster 'opihi shell belt buckles. They go good with maroon corduroy pants and ankle boots, brah. Takes a certain kind of man to pull off that look. Takes a certain kind of man to take that look out of the nighttime dive bar darkness out into the daylight of Ala Moana Center.

Every so often you see a surfer girl with 'opihi shell earrings dangling over her North Shore tan. With a twisted black silk cord, an 'opihi pendant looks kind of South Seas chic rather than Spouting Horn retro.

But other than that, it is a dated look.

'Opihi is hard to find these days, though you can still find the discarded shells around picnic tables and old campfires at beach parks. (Undersize! Brah! No can!) But who has the patience anymore to sit with various grades of sandpaper working on an old shell? You can buy an imported facsimile for a couple of dollars at the swap meet.