Local Guide To Oahu From Artist Jasper Wong

The Hawaiian artist and founder of the POW! WOW! art festival shares his favorite things to do in Oahu.

Above: Mural by Dak1ne from POW! WOW! Hawaii 2017Every February, the POW! WOW! Hawaii art festival takes over Honolulu's Kaka'ako district. The event, founded by artist and curator Jasper Wong, brings together more than one hundred international and local artists to create larger-than-life murals around the city. We caught up with Wong, an Oahu native, to get his take on the festival, plus to find out his favorite local hangouts around the island.Q: How did you come up with the name POW! WOW!?A: The name comes from comic books. When you read comics, POW! is like a punch in the face. That's how I perceive the impact of art — especially large-scale murals — to a viewer. And WOW! is the reaction to that. Together, they form a Native American term that describes a gathering to celebrate culture, music and art. It was perfect for what we were trying to do.

Oahu artist Jasper Wong
Oahu artist Jasper Wong | Zach Stovall

Q: What inspired you to create this event?
A: The purpose of founding POW! WOW! was to bring people together, to beautify neighborhoods and to educate. In addition to creating the murals, we started an art school and a music school for kids — we want to be a resource for them, and show it's possible to pursue creative fields. We support indigenous people and art, as well.

Q: How has the festival evolved over the years?
A: The very first POW! WOW! was in Hong Kong, and we had five artists with no murals. The second one was in Hawaii and there were about 12 artists. Then, it grew to around 100 artists doing about 70 murals over the period of a week. Now the festival has expanded to countries all over the world, including Taiwan, New Zealand and Germany.

Mural by Ouizi
Mural by Ouizi from POW! WOW! Hawaii 2017 | Brandon Shigeta

Q: Where is the best place to find traditional Hawaiian food on Oahu?
A: On Oahu, my go-to spot for traditional Hawaiian food is Helena's. You have to order the Pipikala Short Ribs, and other traditional Hawaiian food — Laulau Kalua Pork, Lomi Salmon, Poi, and Poke for sure.

Q: Which Oahu beaches do locals like to visit?
A: I grew up going to Sherwood Beach in Waimanalo. It's a secluded, local beach. A lot of locals like to go to Ala Moana Beach Park and grew up going to all-day barbecues there. There are no waves. There are other smaller beaches that are kind of flat, which are great for children — beaches like Kaimana, or Sans Souci, which is what we call it here. It's a really small beach right on the edge of Waikiki, right by Kapiolani Park. It's really tiny and doesn't have a lot of tourists.

Q: What's an authentic souvenir that visitors can buy on Oahu?
A: For a souvenir that's related to native Hawaiian culture, I recommend going to a store called Namea. It's run by a group of native Hawaiians. They have a lot of cultural products — things like massage sticks, books, and jewelry — and it's all made by local islanders.

The POW! WOW! Hawaii festival takes place February 10-18, 2018.

Things to do in Oahu: Sherwood Beach in Waimanalo
Sherwood Beach in Waimanalo is a secluded beach that locals frequent. | Shutterstock

More Art-Viewing Opportunities on Oahu
Visit the Honolulu Museum of Art to view fine art and visiting exhibits, as well as artifacts from Old Hawaii.

Big Bad Wolf is a store with art-inspired products, like shirts, kids' clothing, and fun knickknacks, plus it serves as POW! WOW!'s pop-up shop during the annual event.

Get a Feel For Old Hawaii
Each spring, the weeklong Merrie Monarch Festival celebrates traditional Hawaiian arts and culture, the highlight of which is an internationally acclaimed hula competition.