In a central courtyard, the Surfjack's swimming pool makes a splashy statement. // © 2016 Mariko Reed.
Feature image (above): Rooms at the Surfjack sport a laid-back, Hawaii beach bungalow vibe. // © 2016 Surfjack Hotel & Swim Club
Surfjack Hotel & Swim Club sits more than a half-mile inland from Waikiki Beach, but when clients step inside, they might just hear the sound of the waves.
OK, not literally, but the cozy property does exude a casual 1960s surf vibe that makes guests want to kick off their shoes as soon as they check in.
Surfjack, a complete redo of the former Hokele Suites, opened in May 2016. It’s currently one of Waikiki’s newest moderately priced visitor accommodations.
During my stay, playfulness defined the experience. The hotel’s hub — an open-air courtyard and swimming pool — sets a cheerful tone in the public areas. As I settled in, I was drawn to Surfjack’s creative decor, which blends the nostalgic and the new. Sleek surfboards of different ages and styles hang from the rafters. Next to the front desk, a lounge called Tutu’s (Grandma’s) Living Room looks like a Hawaii throwback with its old magazines, board games and keepsakes.
Eclectic artwork with a touch of island kitsch enlivens the hotel. By the entrance is an eye-catching copper Surfjack sign by Honolulu-based jewelry designer Jason Dow. The living room features images of the north and south shores by Oahu photographer Mark Kushimi. Local artist Matthew Tapia made a statement at the bottom of the pool with big white letters that read “Wish You Were Here.” Even the lobby-level restrooms sport a sense of place with custom bird-of-paradise wallpaper by Nico Made, a local brand.
Like all of Surfjack’s 112 guest accommodations, my digs recalled vintage Hawaii with surf photos, framed mid-20th-century postcards and a hanging light made out of bottles. An oversize couch, reed ceilings and batten walls added to the bungalow mood.
A major selling point of Surfjack is its restaurant, Mahina & Sun’s, a breezy eatery flanking one side of the pool courtyard. It lured me in with quirky design elements such as wallpaper with “shaka” signs (Hawaii’s “hang loose” symbol) and hand-painted picnic tables, an alternative to its more traditional seating. Mahina & Sun’s is the brainchild of respected Honolulu-born chef Ed Kenney, who emphasizes sustainable, fresh island ingredients. Try the rigatoni with Hawaiian wild boar ragu, and you’ll see what I mean.
Casea Collins-Wright, director of experience for Surfjack, told me that the hotel is focusing on linking visitors with local businesses through special events. Recently, for instance, guests gathered to learn about tropical flower arrangements and sip botanical cocktails. The hotel also has hosted a poolside fashion show and a movie screening under the stars.
“We’re making an authentic connection through our curated guest activities, like talk-story sessions, farm tours and intimate surfing lessons away from Waikiki’s hustle and bustle,” Collins-Wright said. “We’re targeting the type of travelers who are looking for specialty experiences that help them get to know the destination — people who aren’t afraid to go off the beaten track.”
At the end of each day, clients can swap stories in the poolside cabana area while listening to live, local entertainment.
With its boutique size and Hawaii beach culture, the Surfjack felt like my home away from home in the heart of Waikiki. That’s precisely the goal of the hotel, according to Collins-Wright.
“We want you to leave feeling like you’ve made a friend in Hawaii,” she said.