Tim Delavega is a multi-talented man.
To say the least.
Home builder and designer, who bought the land and built a home for his parents.
Author of several books, including five on the history of surfing.
National award winner for his cultural documentation work.
His work has been published in magazines and been part of exhibits.
After Hurricane Iniki hit, he helped rebuild Kamaukani church that was badly damaged and was a chief building inspector on Kauai for FEMA afterward.
Today, he works at Pacific Missile Range Facility and runs high-speed cameras.
And he’s a pretty darn good surfer.
“You live on an island, you learn how to be multi-talented,” he said. “That’s what I always say. You’ll never make it on Kauai if you don’t learn how to jump through hoops. That’s just part of the thing.”
Delavega was born in Connecticut. His family traveled, as his father was a diplomat for the United States. His work took him to Central and South America, a good-will ambassador, if you will.
That sense of responsibility, spirit of adventure and commitment to excellence rubbed on on his son.
Delavega is not a dabbler who does a lot of things, but none well. He does them all well. Whatever he takes on, whatever he does, excellence is involved.
One of his passions is photography.
The U.S. Postal Service noticed.
It recently commemorated the issuance of a Forever stamp depicting Kauai’s iconic Napali Coast at a special event on Thursday at the Hanalei post office.
The stamp, which features a sunset image of crashing waves against the Napali coastline, is part of the “O Beautiful” sheet of 20 Forever stamps.
These stamps showcase the country’s extraordinary natural beauty through images that visually represent one of the nation’s most beloved songs, “America the Beautiful.”
The dedication event featured remarks by Delavega, the Hanapepe photographer who shot the stamp image. While a previous USPS stamp featured a Kauai image — Mount Waialeale — this was the first time that a stamp dedication event has been held on the island.
Each of the “O Beautiful” stamps features a photograph that helps illustrate one of five phrases from the song’s famous first verse: “Spacious Skies,” “Waves of Grain,” “Mountain Majesties,” “The Fruited Plain,” and “Sea to Shining Sea.” The Napali stamp appears, along with three other U.S. coastline images, on the line captioned “From Sea to Shining Sea.”
What did you think when the Postal Service told you your photograph would be used on a stamp?
I can’t tell you how honored I am. That whole thing with the wave, Napali, it’s pretty cool.
Is this among your career highlights?
Yes. But what means so much to me about it was my grandmother, who partially raised me, was this incredible collector. She had things from pre-Revolutionary War. She loved stamps. She was the kind who would write notes on everything she had and where she found it. She never had money. We were all farmers. Yet, she built this incredible collection of stuff.
Watching her collect stuff and watching her with stamps, I still have a lot of her stuff. To me, more than anything, that just hits home.
What’s the connection between your photography and surfing?
The funny thing is, when I went to Colorado (for the stamp unveiling) it dawned on me, surfing a wave is what brought me here and now, I’m being honored for (an image of) Kauai on a stamp, and it’s a wave. To me, that’s kind of cool and it’s the Napali Coast. I just love the Napali Coast.
When did you start taking pictures?
When I was a kid, about 14. Once I got into cameras, I was hooked. My first camera was a Yashica 2 1/4. I went right into 4x5s, which I still use today.
How many pictures do you have the Napali Coast?
I’ve done a lot of work of Napali through the years. Thousands of images. In the early ’90s, Carol Lovell, who used to be the director of the Kauai Museum, we were talking about much I loved to document. Who doesn’t love the Napali Coast?
You’re a home builder, too, right?
I’ve built about 35 custom homes. Everything I’ve built, I’ve designed. I love to carry everything all the way through.
Can you talk about when you led the church rebuilding project after Iniki?
They were going to give up on it and I said I would take a look at it. I thought it could be saved. Not everyone agreed but we got it done.
How was it, leading a volunteer effort like that and trying to organize things?
Running a volunteer project is insane. You think you’re doing something good, and people come up almost every day and they’ll thank you for letting them give back.
How did your picture come to be on a stamp?
I’ve been documenting that wave at Ke‘e forever. There’s only a short window where you can actually get that backwash, backlight, which is just so dynamic, it’s wonderful.
Last year, a friend of mine, Alan Carpenter, said they needed some photographs of Napali, so I sent some quickly, not too many. Somehow, they chose that one. So really, I owe it to Alan and state parks.
When did you shoot that one they used?
Back in 2002 or 2003. It’s one of my favorites of that shot.
How do you get your pictures over the years? Do you hike in? By boat?
I used to hike in a lot back in the ’90s. While I was in there, one of the photographers I knew, I ran into him. He was an early pioneer of kayaking on Kauai, when fiberglass kayaks were the big thing. You could carry a ton of junk with them. I was backpacking in there with a 4 x 5 camera and food to last a week. By the time I get to Kalalau, I’m just a mess.
Kayaking opened up everything. Once I could start kayaking, it was like, ‘wow.’ I could carry my camera anywhere, I could land anywhere, at the same time, I started working with the state and the state had projects.
Where do you like to shoot pictures if you not on Napali?
I used to hike around, hitchhike anywhere I could get to and just literally watch light. I was one of those people who would wait for hours for that one shot. That was me, even as a kid. I’m still the same way. I’ll just study light, watch it, figure out what I want. Not to say that I wn’t be clicking away if things are happening.
What do you enjoy most about photography?
It’s hard to explain. I do love documenting people and places. I like chasing and understanding light. I love watching how light affects things, no matter what it is. And trying to figure that out and capture it, which is always tough. I’ve just always loved it. There will be times I won’t even do it for quite a while, usually because I’m full bore into something else.
If can travel at all, or if they send me places, then I just go crazy. But, how can you go wrong as a photographer on Kauai. Really, just go hiking around in circles and how can you lose.
Seems like people know of you and your work? Are you a good promoter of your work?
Pretty much everybody tracks me down. I’m not a good promoter. I never have been.
Do you sell a lot of prints?
No, I don’t really sell much prints. I just really have not gotten into it. I hated sitting there trying to sell my images.
What about your books?
Same with books. Like book signings. I refused to do them. Now, if somebody wants me to do a book presentation, that’s cool. I can do that and have fun with it.
I know books aren’t going to make much money. They’re not money things. I’m just doing it because I feel it should be done. That’s the way I do everything.