I See Tiki People

Celebrate South Pacific-Americana style at this wild and wacky annual convention


 Joe Ditler is raving about Tiki Oasis 9—an annual gathering of eclectic enthusiasts he says is as colorful as any super-hero-costumed Comic Con crowd. The event started Thursday and runs through Sunday at the Crown Plaza Hotel (formerly the Hanelei Hotel).

“So I’m walking though the show, and I see this woman in a bikini with a chain saw,” says Ditler, a Coronado-based writer/publicist. “She’s chopping up a telephone pole. I go away, and come back in an hour and there’s this amazingly beautiful Tiki statue.”

Show organizer Otto von Stroheim laughs when this is mentioned to him. “Yeah, that’s not something we scheduled, but that’s typical,” he says.

It’s hard for von Stroheim, who organizes the event with his wife, Dorinda “Baby Doe,” to succinctly explain Tiki Oasis. “It’s so many things,” he says. “We’ve got vendors selling Tiki spices, jewelry, drinks and fashion. There are musicians and seamstresses and mixed drinks. Tiki covers all genres.”

Can we get a definition of Tiki?

“Tiki people are covered by a broad definition,” says von Stroheim. “Generally, it’s people that appreciate Tiki—an American folk art. We enjoy 1950s and ’60s culture—not to live retro, but to incorporate those values and styles in our lives.”

Von Stroheim concedes that Tiki is generally seen as tacky art—but says that perception came after a 40-year run of a highly creative style.

After the sun goes down on Tiki seminars and live music and car shows, the evenings heat up. Tiki Oasis features burlesque shows, followed by wild room parties.

“People decorate their hotel rooms with Tiki décor, and they get bartenders and set up bars and even offer bar menus,” says von Stroheim. “Rum is big. And people bring in bands and dancers and have art shows.”

Tiki Oasis 9 is expected to draw more than 2,000 people. Many of the events are sold out. There will be a free public Tiki seminar on Sunday at 10 a.m. At 1 p.m., there’s the open ukulele jam. Bring your own uke and, hangover willing, join in.

Ron Donoho is a regular contributor to NBCSandiego.com and a contributing editor to sandiego.com. His Web site (sandiegoDTOWN.com) is dedicated to news, sports, culture, happy hours and all things downtown.

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