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Passion of Collecting


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He collects everything in the surfing world from boards to posters to trophies.

Photo: rae Huo

Mark Fragale

Surf Memorabilia Collector

"My surfboard collection has been whittled down to 100 really nice boards,” Mark Fragale tells me casually, as if owning 100 surfboards is a completely normal thing. Or, rather, that owning more than 100 boards is weird, but owning just 100 makes him a model of restraint.

Looking around his Windward Oahu house, I only see 25 or so boards, hanging next to each other throughout the family room and lanai like an art-deco, drop-down ceiling. The rest are either at surf shops or in “deep storage.”

Fragale has so many vintage surfboards that Rick Rarick, director of the Hawaiian Islands Vintage Surf Auction, personally visits his house with hopes he’ll part with a couple of boards for the sale. Fragale does contribute to the auction, but only if he has duplicate items that he’s willing to sell. A surf memorabilia collector since he was 16 years old, the 58-year-old surfer is a collecting purist. He collects everything in the surfing world from boards to books to posters to trophies, not to eventually sell at a profit, but simply out of a passion to have such things around. As if being up to your eyeballs in vintage surf stuff around the house isn't good enough, he's also the curator of the Honolulu Surfing Museum next to Jimmy Buffet's Restaurant in Waikiki.

Fragale moved to Hawaii in the 1970s after a number of surf trips, and went to work for Hobie Cat Hawaii.  He says getting into surf collecting early gave him an edge since it has only been in recent years that vintage surf items have become valuable. His collection is eclectic because surf history is eclectic. Did you know, for instance, that a guy named A.S. Twombly wrote a novel published in 1900 called The Surf-Rider : A Romance of Pagan Hawaii? Fragale has one of the few original books. And he's got a three-foot-high wood tiki holding a surfboard that used to sit outside a surf concession shack on New York City beach. He's also got every surfing magazine known to man. (His favorite: a 1962 Surfer with a cover featuring Murphy, a cartoon character drawn by legendary surf artist Rick Griffin.

Fragale's not even sure how much the magazine is worth because, you know, what does it matter? It's not like he's going to put it up for auction. Even if Rarick begs him.


"We are hunters. Instead of animals, we're hunting lost treasures," says jewelry collector Darlene Mandel.

Photo: Mark Lee Aeder

Darlene Mandel

Vintage Jewelry Collector

Big Island artist Darlene Mandel stalks the wild rhinestone. And the wild bead, faux pearl and fake diamond. Sometimes she even pursues the real things: diamonds, jade, opals, gold and silver in the form of earrings, necklaces, bracelets, brooches and tiaras. The bigger, flashier and gaudier the better. As long as they are old or, as collectors say, vintage.

She has literally tons of vintage jewelry in the Kona warehouse/gallery/boutique she calls home. The name of her business is Fabulous, which also describes her appearance and lifestyle. Bette Midler’s got nothing on Darlene Mandel.

She views collecting vintage jewelry almost as a contact sport. “You have to have an eye, a sixth sense,” she says. “You have to spot it. You hear it yelling at you. In another box. Even though you can’t find it, you hear it calling you.”

Photo: Mark Lee Aeder

The first time you find a great piece of vintage kitsch is a thrill, she says. “It’s a big, old natural high.”

Nothing is too broken, beat up or bent to save and recycle. “Anything glitzy like a single earring or broken bracelet or necklace gets recycled into a new piece of jewelry.”

Like a lot of collectors, she sells the stuff she doesn’t love so much to buy the stuff she does.

“The most expensive thing I own is a retro art diamond and ruby ring from the 1930s,” she says. “I love it. It’s huge.”

She doesn’t say where she hunted it down. One can only guess that a dazed swap-meet seller is still recovering from the day a lady in a safari jacket and cat-eye glasses dove into one of the boxes and wrestled the diamond and ruby ring to the ground.

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Honolulu Magazine May 2018
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