Lisa and Pete Cabrinha have lived on Maui for 20 years. Surfing dominates their lives. It makes sense, considering that Lisa is a former professional windsurfer and Pete holds the largest wave ever ridden record, which he won at Peahi in 2004.
“Surfing is the basis of my life,” says Pete, the founder of Cabrinha Kitesurfing. “Art is just one of those things that sits in the background and sort of claws its way out. My art allows me to be edgy and more provocative about what I’m trying to say.”
Displayed on small and large canvases that hang in his home and studio, Pete’s surf-inspired art is a provoking combination of collage, photography, and paint with different methods of application.
Pete says his artwork explores two different paths. The first is closely connected to Hawaiiana, while the second is more urban, inspired by street art and graffiti he’s seen during his frequent travel abroad. “There’s something I like about the grittiness of the city and how fast things move,” he says, though he insists he would never choose to live there.
A piece hanging in the couple’s living room exemplifies both paths. It shows a seemingly typical beach scene with palm trees and a clear sky, yet the canvas is distressed and manipulated to add a grainy, black and white feel that belies the ocean’s easygoing appearance.
The Cabrinha’s breezy Haiku home is the central location for their creative output. Both have studios in the home, and though they use a completely different medium, the couple definitely share a common theme.
Pete’s willowy wife Lisa, the creator and owner of Letarte swimwear, matches Pete’s creative drive and enthusiasm for Maui surf culture. Her swimwear, sold at Maui Girl in Paia and featured on the cover of such major national publications as the Victoria’s Secret catalog and Sports Illustrated, is unique and almost whimsical in design.
“This year’s theme was love, peace and aloha,” Lisa says, citing the peace signs and flowing, easy shapes. Provocative patterns, sparkly details and a rainbow of colors set her swimsuits apart. Lisa’s studio is an explosion of color with racks of shimmery cover-ups and fabrics. Intricate details adorn the pieces.
“Letarte has turned into almost a cult, and is definitely a collector’s brand,” Lisa says of her swimwear. She says her line has loyal customers all over the world, from Brazil to Europe to New York. Lisa is often contacted personally by celebrities—Kelly Osbourne was the latest—in search of her suits.
Back when she was a pro windsurfer, Lisa eased into the swimwear industry by giving input to her sponsor’s lines. Starting her own line allowed her to get more imaginative with the designs.
“It is definitely a creative energy outlet,” she says, adding that her suits are known as some of the most original and artistic on the market. Recently she began designing beachwear and rash guards, among other accessories.
Letarte stands out in that it is a homegrown, family business. Lisa’s sister handles marketing, and local seamstress Pam Winans hand-sews all the swimsuits. Lisa and Pete often give each other creative feedback, drawing on their different methods and approaches to infuse their diverse art mediums with meaning and style.
Tahiti, the Cabrinah’s three-year-old daughter, was the inspiration for Petite Letarte, the child swimwear portion of the line. Lisa also employs local Maui girls as models, with Pete doing all the photo shoots for the Letarte catalogues. And either Lisa or her right hand woman Tammy Snodgrass, who assists Lisa in graphic design and is a creative collaborator to the swimwear line, personally test all new suits geared toward surfing.
The couple’s lifestyle and artwork exudes both a powerful force as well as symbiotic peace, much like the ocean that Lisa and Pete hold so dear. From swimsuits to canvasses and everywhere in between, the couple’s creative energy and output work together to create something beautiful and meaningful.
“The ocean is a pretty strong force,” says Pete. “There is enough commercial-looking art out there.” MTW