ALOHA K DESIGNS TURNS SURFBOARDS INTO ART
BY VICKIE MCINTYRE | PHOTOS BY RITTERBECK PHOTOGRAPHY
For newlyweds Kate and Dan Brown of Bluffton, the familiar adage: “Love what you do, do what you love” is more than aspiration — it’s the foundation of their partnership. Their relationship, as well as their free time and extra incomes, stem from a blissful obsession with surfing.
Kate, a high school academic and college advisor who hails from New Jersey, discovered her love of surfing at 10, when her family traveled to Hawaii.
Dan, an athletic trainer and part owner of Hilton Head Cabana & Beach Services, spent most of his youth skateboarding and snowboarding around Richmond.
Their worlds collided thanks to a dating app.
Both adventurous, they met at Coligny Plaza for their first date, where Kate donned pink roller skates and Dan glided beside her on his skateboard.
“We skated around by Al’s Aloha Kitchen and got Poke bowls,” Kate said. “Which is now where my boards are.”
The boards — salvaged vintage surfboards, restored and primed by Dan — are her canvases. Each is hand-painted with floral designs and sold through Aloha K Designs, her web and Instagram-based company.
“I’ve been a painter my whole life,” says Kate, pointing to various ocean-themed paintings hanging on the walls of their new home. “It brings me great joy.”
Painting surfboards began last May when Kate took a broken board and inscribed “forever & all waves” on it as ceremonial décor for their intimate wedding at a waterfront home on Folly Beach.
“We love Hawaiian culture and painting boards is very popular there,” says Kate, explaining where the idea came from.
Following their beach-hopping honeymoon on Puerto Rico, Kate wanted to paint more boards. Dan, who spent years perfecting the process of restoring surfboards for customers and businesses, suggested she use his home workspace, even donating three used boards he had purchased from sites like Craigslist to get her started.
It was like catching the perfect wave.
Every evening they retreated to Dan’s workspace. While Dan cleaned, stripped, sanded, and primed boards with spray paint, Kate sketched and painted new designs.
In September, she posted her creations on Instagram and talked with Al’s Aloha Kitchen about displaying her work.
“That’s where it started,” she says. “The boards that are up right now are more about alerting people to the business. People look at them and think, ‘I have this old board in my garage or basement that I’m not using,’ and they decide they’d like a custom piece for their house.”
As requests for commission work ensued, Kate expanded her display outlets to places like Quiet Storm Surf Shop in Coligny Center, Coastal Exchange in Bluffton, and Frankie and June Surf Shop in Savannah.
“It’s been a community building experience and a really fun way to get back into painting,” she says.
It’s also inspired new ideas. By summer, Kate hopes to add a line of jewelry to her business that will fuse sleek metal designs with colorful sea glass that she collected while on her honeymoon. She also hopes to do mural work, possibly on shipping containers.
Whether it’s lending a hand or suggesting a surfing trip for inspiration, Dan will be by her side.
He grins, gives a thumbs up, and declares, “We’re all in on the beach life.”