LIFE ON CANVAS: Julie Patacchia Adds Color to North Shore History

By Tiffany Foyle    Photos Keoki

Julie Patacchia’s paintings chronicle the landmarks, traditions and pastimes of the once sleepy and rural towns of Waialua and Haleiwa and the people who live there. She paints the neighborhoods of old sugar mill homes and dusty streets, the ocean she played in her entire life, the flowers used to express Aloha, and the unique people rich in culture and tradition. While her paintings are her life on canvas, they are so much more: her art is truly a rich and authentic historical portrait of the North Shore.

Born in Waialua Hospital before statehood and raised in Waialua Mill Camp House #1, Julie attended Hale‘iwa Elementary and Waialua High School. “Our families worked in the sugar and pineapple plantations and we entertained ourselves at the Haleiwa, Kawailoa, Waialua, and Koga Theatres,” she recalls. “Our many cultures, foods, traditions and languages were intertwined. Together we experienced the tragedies of our native sons going to war and buried our loved ones at Queen Lili‘uokalani Church and The Waialua Graveyard. We fed ourselves with food from the sea, toiled the land, and raised our own livestock.”

Plantation Life
There wasn’t much to do during the summertime in Waialua besides go to the beach, so Julie’s parents bought her paints and canvas. She went to the Waialua Public Library and borrowed stacks of art books and taught herself to paint at the age of 15. Her first subjects were ocean-related. Growing up, her family’s beach of choice was Haleiwa Beach and Puaena Point because it provided food.

“Every weekend we would drive to Haleiwa Beach and gather different varieties of seaweed, clams, shrimp, opihi, and fish. We only took what we could eat for the week so our food was always fresh and we did not want to over harvest. The water was so clear then.”

Julie recalls that one summer, she noticed workers dredging the Hale’iwa Harbor and building barriers. A year later, the ocean turned a murky brown and the wildlife diminished. After that all the families stopped going to Haleiwa Beach.

“There were many other beaches to go to for food but Hale’iwa had the best reefs and gave us a variety that we could not get anywhere else,” she says. “That’s why I really enjoy putting captions and sharing stories with my paintings to inform everyone young and old about our fragile environment because some of Mother Nature’s gifts are irreversible.” She loves painting the Anahulu Stream Bridge and remembers the days when the water was crystal clear there as well.

Julie’s paintings chronicle the growth of the North Shore. Early works had just a few surfers in the lineup, but as time went on, the number of surfers on her waves began to grow. “Surfing has changed due to different equipment but the love of surfing that I see when a surfer rides a wave is always the same,” she says. “The waves are always different depending on the weather conditions, so every wave that I paint is never the same.”

Surf Family
When she met Fred Patacchia— a surfer from Florida who was fulfilling his dream of moving to Hawaii to surf and marry a local girl— she had a place at Waimea Bay and he lived across the street from Sharks Cove. “We met at the beach, got married two years later, and had our three children,” she laughs.

Julie and “Big Fred” owned the “Hawaiian Surf” brand for years. She manufactured the clothing line and he shaped surfboards. They loved being in the surf business because their lives revolved around the sport of surfing. They went to every single surf contest throughout the island, almost every weekend, packed lunches, pitched tents, and sat at the beach with surfers and their families throughout the day.

“We became a surf Mom and Dad to all the young surfers in Hawaii, and worldwide,” Julie says. “Our home was always open to my son’s surfing friends and they would sleep over for the weekends, and some would stay for the winter. I would cook for them, wash their clothes, drive them to the contests, and make sure that they got back safely to their parents. Sometimes there would be ten or more boys from other countries sleeping on my living room floor. When my son traveled to their countries, their families also welcomed him into their homes with open arms.”

Their son, Fred Patacchia, Jr. is of course a professional surfer who works for Quiksilver. Their two daughters, Leilani and Lehua, work for Hurley. Because Julie spends the majority of her week babysitting her four grandchildren (ages one, three, four, and five) there is no time to paint during the day. “I try to paint about four times a week and wake up at 4 a.m. and paint until 7 a.m. before the grandchildren arrive,” she says. “Making time to paint is like making time to surf. You love doing it so you do it when you can and enjoy every minute of it.”

Inspirations & Dreams
“The painter that I relate to is Grandma Moses,” Julie says of her artistic inspirations. “She was a self-taught, primitive style painter who came from humble beginnings. Grandma Moses raised her children and grandchildren and painted people living in the ever-changing countryside.”

Her biggest art dream is to make people smile when they see her paintings and read the funny (mostly written in pidgin) captions that accompany them, something that happened in April, when her art was on display at Haleiwa Joe’s.

Julie hopes that the galleries in her neighborhood will take notice and feature her as a local Haleiwa artist. For now, folks can visit her home studio by appointment (email or order prints and originals on her new website:


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