David Morgan

WordPress Theme Designer & Developer, Brand Builder, Surfer Dude

Hawaii Has An Abandoned Car Problem, This Is My Theory

Cars litter Hawaii, quite literally. When visiting the islands you’re likely to see abandoned cars on the road, in fields, in ditches, and sometimes even ablaze.

Hawaii is full of transplants that ship their vehicles from the mainland — including myself. It’s not uncommon to hear stories of how a transplant lived out of their car for “x” number of days/weeks/months upon their arrival in Hawaii. It’s a lifeboat, and practically a right of passage when moving to the islands. As time passes, the vehicle gets older and depreciates. After some years, it’s affectionately referred to as an “island beater.” Island beaters are full of sand, salt, rust and used to transport surfers, boards and wet dogs from one remote surf spot to another. Hence the name, they take a beating.

A torched van I passed while riding home on my scooter.

Whether it’s after 2 years or 20 years, the vast majority of Hawaii transplants eventually leave. When a transplant leaves Hawaii, it’s often economically infeasible to bring their island beater back to the mainland. Ideally, they would sell it before leaving, but that’s easier said than done.

Selling a car requires 3 documents — a registration, safety inspection and title. Acquiring and keeping these documents up to date is difficult, expensive and time consuming. Obviously, it shouldn’t be. However, it’s easier to paddle the Molokai channel than deal with the Hawaii DMV.

Vehicle Registration

Most states make it easy to register your vehicle. They go out of their way to inform you that it’s time to renew. Hawaii is too laid back for that. They don’t tell you Jack Schitt. Since there is no passage of time here, only endless sunsets and sunrises, remembering to register a vehicle tends to slip the mind. Hawaii is Neverland after all, and Neverland makes you forget.

The cops couldn’t care less about registrations. I have friends that have gone years without renewing, and never received a ticket. Especially since Taguma retired from the force. In the unlikely scenario that you actually do receive a ticket, the fine is around $100. When compared to the absurd $300 yearly cost of renewing a vehicle registration, most locals take their chances with tickets.

However, after a few years of failing to renew the registration on your island beater, a decision to move from the islands can leave you with $1,000 worth of registration renewal fees. Of course, this could all have been avoided by setting an annual reminder, but moving to Hawaii isn’t about responsibility.

Safety Inspection

Safety inspections are mandatory in Hawaii. When a vehicle registration is out of date, the safety inspection probably is as well. Now it’s time to play ping pong with the DMV and a safety inspector. You can’t get a registration renewed without a valid safety inspection, and you can’t get a safety inspection without an up to date registration. WTF!

Getting a safety inspection for an island beater is always risky. You pay a cool $15 for the inspection on the hope and prayer of getting that damn little sticker to slap on your red dirt covered bumper. However, the $15 inspection cost is like paying a dentist for an exam — they’re probably going to find something wrong. Safety inspections are performed by mechanics, and mechanics make money off repairs — not inspections. So, guess what’s going to happen? You’re going to be replacing tires, fan belts, fluids or something else on your car that costs a lot more than 15 buckaroos.

Acquiring Your Title

I’m willing to consider my situation might be an exception to the norm when trying to obtain a title. Let me explain. No, there is too much. Let me sum up…

My vehicle has been paid off for over 5 years. I need the title to sell my vehicle. Honda never released it to me. Months of going back and forth with the DMV and Honda — using fax machines. Who the hell still uses fax machines? I don’t know how to operate those archaic pieces of technology. You might as well hand me an abacus. Anyway, the DMV informs me that I need to renew my registration. I try to renew at the DMV, but need a safety inspection. The safety inspector won’t pass my preliminary inspection without all new tires. A thousand buckaroos, gone. With my new tires, I get a temporary a inspection card that lasts 30 days. I take that to the DMV, and I’m finally able to renew my registration. Another $300 dollars, gone. I go back to the safety inspector for my final inspection. He can’t pass the inspection — again. This time because my insurance card from Allstate has expired — literally, the day before! I go to the nearest Allstate office and have them provide me with a temporary card. I take it back to the inspector. I finally get that damn sticker! I think I’m golden. I’m finally gonna get that title! I go back to the DMV, for the hundredth time. They know me there. I’m told Honda only signed a form that they needed to notarize. Now, I’m waiting on the Honda Finance Corporation to mail the final document I need to obtain my title… maybe.

That’s right! Countless hours wasted, endless trips to the DMV and buttloads of money spent on a vehicle that ironically runs great! All that, and I still don’t have the title. Somebody, shoot me in the head! Maybe it’s just me, but there are few things I hate less than waiting in lines at government offices and filling out nonsensical forms. </rant>

If you can sympathize, it’s not a giant leap of the imagination to see why so many people in Hawaii ditch their car.

The Dilemma

Should the required documents to sell your vehicle be out of hand, you’re faced with a dilemma. Spend weeks, maybe months getting your documents in order, and potentially thousands of dollars in fees and repairs on an island beater that’s only worth a few thousand. Or, ditch that sucker in a field, light a match and buy a one-way ticket to the mainland. If I had it to do all over again, I might just put my car in neutral and push it right off the Pali.

I thought about donating the car to the Maui Humane Society or a food drive organization. Think again! You can’t even give away a car without a title!

So, that’s my theory as to why there are so many abandoned cars in Hawaii. I think it’s a sound theory. It’s obviously a problem. Maybe the root of the problem is that there are too many haole transplants like myself in Hawaii. I’m entirely capable of admitting that, but I’m not burning my car yet. I’m sure the state spends thousands upon thousands of dollars towing and disposing of these vehicles. So here’s a kind request to Governor Ige, please make it a little easier and less expensive to renew a vehicle registration. I’m sure it would be greatly appreciated by all Hawaii residents.

How I Met My Wife

In 2014, I was living in Maui. At the end of the year, I flew back to Florida for the holidays to visit my family. It had been a very long year for us all.

It started with my beloved grandma, Nanny, passing away at the age of 88. Then, my Australian Shepherd, Kona, died quite horribly from a rare bone cancer at the age of 6. Next, my Dad suffered a massive heart attack on our yearly family vacation in Long Boat Key. My mom and I watched him flatline in the emergency room at Sarasota Memorial. Thankfully, they brought him back, after what felt like a lifetime. We spent the 4th of July watching the fireworks over the bay from the hospital. Shortly afterwards, I went through a divorce. That’s always fun. As if that wasn’t enough, my Uncle Tom passed away from a heart aneurysm. He was an extremely kind-hearted man with amazing musical talents, taken way before his time. Frankly, it was a shitty year — at least until the end.

By the last quarter of the year, I was putting the past behind me and enjoying my new found freedom.

I went on a surf trip to Costa Rica with friends. Dimitri and I spent the days surfing perfect 8-foot waves in Nosara, and the nights driving around the jungle in a golf cart, drunk on local tequila.

I spent some much needed bro-time with my brother, Elliott, in LA. We did a lot of drinking and talking. He took me to a roof-top Youtube party, and I forced him to drive me to Santa Monica so I could catch some waves.

I hung out with my cousins in Utah. We took a trip to Vegas for a WordPress conference, and some good old fashioned gambling. We went trout fishing, and combed the desert in a Hummer in search of a crystal mine. We found it.

By the holiday season, I was back in Florida. During that time, I found a killer deal on a 6-foot Jimmy Lewis twin fin surfboard. That’s gibberish to any non-surfer, but I thought it was fate finding a Maui made board in Florida. After picking up the board, my friend David and I left for a weekend of surfing at Sebastian Inlet. The waves were almost non-existent. So we spent most of the time fishing, listening to Alice In Chains around the campfire, and punching raccoons in the face that were trying to steal our Pringles. Good times.

All in all, the year had taken a sharp trajectory upwards. Thankfully, it kept moving in that direction.

My 5 Favorite WordPress Themes

I’ve created lots of WordPress themes. As the co-founder of Organic Themes and GivingPress, I’ve been designing and developing WordPress themes since 2008.

In this article I’ll share my 5 favorite WordPress themes, and the principles upon which they were built. When building a WordPress theme, I adhere to a couple basic principles:

Minimal Design

Unlike most web design trends, minimal design never goes out of style. Creating a beautiful and functional minimal design is the ultimate challenge.

Minimal design also translates to code. I strive to develop themes with as little code as possible. That’s more difficult than it sounds. I avoid using excessive scripts, overly flashy effects, unnecessary image files and as few custom options as possible. When options are needed, I integrate them seamlessly into the native WordPress customizer. Developing minimally keeps themes light, easy to customize and fast when it comes to load times.

Less is more when it comes to the design and development of WordPress themes.

Ease Of Use

I make themes that don’t require any knowledge of use beyond using WordPress itself. Ideally, a WordPress theme should be ready to use immediately upon activation. It should not be reliant on several options, frameworks, shortcodes or plugins to function as advertised. If some setup is required, it should be accomplished within minutes using familiar WordPress settings.

In addition, the native WordPress customizer should be utilized for all theme options and setup. WordPress is placing a huge emphasis on their customizer, introducing new features with each update. In the future, all themes should utilize the customizer instead of bulky custom options panels. I’m proud to say all Organic Themes utilize the customizer.

The following 5 favorite WordPress themes were created with those principles in mind.

Surfing On The Gulf Coast Of Florida!?

If you found this post, you’re probably a surfer that’s relocating to the Gulf Coast of Florida. Whatever it is that brings you to the snow white sands of the Suncoast, it probably isn’t the lure of elusive gulf waves.

Before I moved from Maui to Sarasota, I spent countless hours scouting every inch of gulf coastline for surf on Google Earth. Could the rumors be true? Is there no surf on the Gulf Coast?

Man, those sure do look like waves from space!

A true surfer can’t live without swell, and you may just need to know if the gulf can sustain your surf addiction. The good news is, it can. The bad news is — barely. You’ll need a flexible schedule. Waves on this coast don’t last days — they last hours!

Building A Digital Product Business In Hawaii

In 2008, I lived in Waikiki. I was freelancing my creative skills to any takers. I wandered down Kalakaua Avenue, past the Silver Man and caricature artists, promoting my services along the Waikiki strip. If you visited Oahu around that time, I apologize if you witnessed my hideous animated advertisements for parasailing, swimming with sharks or whale watching tours. When I wasn’t creating awful Flash ads, I was designing logos and websites. It was a matter of survival, but I was always working on something bigger.

I tried anything that required only my creativity and a laptop. I co-created a children’s puzzle video game. I sold t-shirts on Cafe Press. I was the lead animator for the first, and possibly only cartoon ever produced in Hawaii. I sold textures for 3D modeling. I created a Hawaii hiking website for my first experiment with WordPress. I learned how to build a WordPress theme from scratch for my personal portfolio. With everything I made, I hoped thousands of people would finally recognize my talent, skills and hard work. I naively thought everything I created was going to be huge.

Until something was.

Cocoa Beach Is Trashy

I was recently driving back to Florida after an awesome week in the mountains of North Georgia with my fiance. It’s a long drive, and checking out the billboards to pass the time is a good way to lose all faith in humanity. There’s an abundance of billboards for anti-abortion, adult superstores, “spas” with trucker parking, and my personal favorite, “Hell? …Oh, I forgot about that.” It’s like Jesus and the Devil are duking it out for advertising space. Closer to the Florida state line, Cocoa Beach starts to join in the fun. Their billboards litter the road side like cigarette butts in the sand at, well… Cocoa Beach.

For the ill informed, the billboards and advertising paint Cocoa Beach as a sophisticated, tropical paradise along the Space Coast of Florida. For those of us that grew up surfing those dirty waves, we know the truth — Cocoa Beach is trashy.

Theme Development: Make Elements With Background Images Match Image Height

Let’s say you want a responsive WordPress theme to utilize a featured image as a full browser width page banner using parallax with content above the image. Something like this:


The Restaurant Theme using this technique.

To accomplish this, you’ll need to employ the use of a background image. However, background images applied to HTML elements do not inherit the height of the source image. That presents a problem when you want the element with the background image to match the height of the uploaded image. Otherwise, the element will just collapse.

Most developers use javascript or CSS height properties with media queries as a workaround. Most these solutions seem bloated or jittery. Instead, I found a solution that works well. Hacky or not, it’s simple and effective:

<?php $thumb = ( get_the_post_thumbnail() ) ? wp_get_attachment_image_src( get_post_thumbnail_id(), 'featured-image-size' ) : false; ?>

<?php if ( has_post_thumbnail() ) { ?>

  <div class="page-banner" style="background-image: url(<?php echo esc_url($thumb[0]); ?>);">
    <h1 class="headline"><?php the_title(); ?></h1>
    <?php the_post_thumbnail( 'featured-image-size' ); ?>

<?php } ?>

Get the source of the featured image and apply it to a variable. Then, call the image path for the inline background image style. The page title and the featured image are added within the the page-banner element.

Note: The featured image added within the element is what will give the element the same height as the image.

.page-banner {
  background-position: top center;
  background-attachment: fixed;
  background-repeat: no-repeat;
  background-size: 100% auto;
  width: 100%;
  min-height: 380px;
  position: relative;
  line-height: 0;

.page-banner img {
  max-width: 100%;
  margin-left: -9999px;

Style the background properties for the element. Then hide the featured image within the element using a large negative margin.

The result is a background image applied to an element that reflects the height of the image and scales seamlessly without the use of media queries or javascript. Now parallax can be applied to the background image and content can be vertically centered within the element.

How Long Have You Lived In Hawaii?

After living in Hawaii for a while you’ll find yourself asking, and being asked this question often — “How long have you lived here?

I’ve lived in Hawaii for roughly seven years. Long enough that J.O.J. newcomers look up to me as a knowledgeable local. Short enough that veterans still question my longevity. You could say I’m at the seven-year-itch.

When explaining that the priorities in my life are changing, I’m asked by some locals, “But you’re staying here, right?

These questions seem meaningless, but they’re actually a gauge of your longevity and commitment to the islands.

You see, Hawaii has an extremely high turnover rate. The islands are like a recycling center for haoles. Because, unless you’re filthy rich or born and raised here, life is a struggle in the islands. No matter how you justify it, it’s really expensive and far from — well, everything and everybody.

There are generally two types of transplants within my age group (25-35) that arrive in Hawaii — those seeking adventure, and those seeking escape. God knows it’s not for career opportunities.

Speed Racer Is A Great Movie, I Swear!

So, what does make Speed Racer a great movie?

The acting!? No!

Spritle and Chim Chim!? No!

The ridiculous over saturation of colors!? Not really.

The heart and soul of this film? Yes.

Speed Racer is an underrated movie. It’s probably unlike anything else you’ve seen. The colors, the transitions, the anime inspired style, flashy effects and campy acting — it was unfamiliar territory in film making. So unfamiliar, that many people hated this film when it was released. I mean, look at the source material for God sakes! It’s based on a children’s cheesy 1960’s anime racing cartoon! What did people expect!? Drive?

I was told not to see the movie. That it was a disappointment. I wasn’t a huge fan of the cartoon as a kid, and I wasn’t particularly jazzed to see it as a feature film anyway. So I didn’t think much of it. I ended up renting the movie randomly from Netflix many years ago — back when I had DVD’s delivered in the mail. I had absolutely no expectations.

I thoroughly enjoyed Speed Racer. So much that I watched it 4 times before returning the disc. Then I bought it.

While the theme might be “racing,” that really isn’t what this film is about — at all. Speed Racer is about family, passion, hard work, small business versus corporate greed, not selling your soul to the devil, fighting the system and making a difference. There’s a lot of good themes here, and racing simply ties them all together. It might be cheesy, flashy and even epileptic at times, but there’s more depth to this film than I expected. Honestly, I tear up at a few scenes. This movie is full of heart.

As an older brother, small business owner, animation major, graphic designer, kid that dreamed of being a race car driver, and a dude that spent most his college education playing Mario Kart on Game Cube with his roommates; Speed Racer might as well have been made for me! It’s like watching a roided up game of Mario Kart with soul — only much better than that sounds!

While it’s far from perfect, if you can overlook the blemishes and blinding effects, there’s a lot more to this movie than meets the eye. Go watch Speed Racer. Go!

Write It, But Don’t Publish That Shit!


Buried deep inside myself is a halfway decent writer. I minored in creative writing, for whatever that’s worth. When I was younger I imagined writing Mark Twain inspired stories about my childhood adventures growing up in the swamps of Central Florida. Ya know, happy stuff. However, these days I sometimes use my writing powers as a tool for venting my anger, grief, fears and frustrations. That’s not a bad thing — unless I published all that shit!

My instinct is to treat my blog as a brutally honest account of the events in my life — as a personal journal. That begs the question…

“Should a blog be a journal?”

Maybe, but a very well pruned journal! Once upon a time, journals and diaries were hidden under beds and locked away in drawers. Those words were not meant to see the light of day, and we were terrified of them falling in to the wrong hands. Blogs and Facebook changed that. Now, our own hands are often the wrong ones.

I’m an optimistic dude. I try to look for the good in life and people. I try not to dwell on the sad times. They’re a part of me, but they don’t define me. Life is too short to fill it with bitterness. When I write as a release, that’s exactly what it is. I’m taking those angry thoughts, painful memories and hurtful people, and I’m letting them go. Some words should be written and burned.

Publishing content is like being Spiderman — with great power comes great responsibility.

That blue “Publish” button shouldn’t always be clicked. Sometimes, that “Move to Trash” button is the most relevant, most appropriate action to take.

My 7 Essential Tools For WordPress Theme Development

1. A MacBook Pro and Thunderbolt Display

Obviously you need a computer, but not just any computer. You need a MacBook Pro with a retina screen and a Thunderbolt display. If I’m traveling or just get sick of working from my home office, I want to quickly grab my computer and work on the go. Having a MacBook Pro with a Thunderbolt display makes that easy. I’ll be working while sipping on a latte in no time!

2. A Local Server

I personally use MAMP Pro as my local development server. I have trouble focusing on more than one project at a time — ADHD and all. However, if you work with multiple clients, Desktop Server may be perfect for you.

Update: I primarily use Desktop Server as my local development server now. It’s way easier for spinning up additional development sites.

3. Atom by Github

I spend a lot of time writing and editing code, so I need good development software. A couple years ago I made the switch from Espresso to Atom.

Atom is awesome! It’s free, open source and highly customizable. The good folks at Github maintain the software, and the active community contributes with useful packages. So you can customize the platform to meet your development style and needs. Assuming you’re a smart developer, you’re probably already using Github for version control. Atom syncs with your Git repositories to track all your changes. Really, I can’t say enough good things about Atom.

4. Adobe Photoshop

I learned Photoshop in high school at 14-years-old. I’ve grown up with the software, and used it for everything from illustration and print design to photo editing and web design mockups. I know the program backwards and forwards. These days I mostly use it for basic resizing of images for demo sites. I probably could find a much less robust program for my needs, but I’ve always been loyal to my Photoshop.

5. A WordPress Starter Theme

Using a good starter theme will get you 90% of the way to a completed WordPress theme. I initially created the Seed Theme to be a starter theme for my development process. However, it had some limitations. As a result, I ended up creating a new starter theme — the Swell Theme. I released a free version available on Github and the WordPress Theme Directory. Also, a premium version is available from Organic Themes.

Update: I’m always trying to create a better starter theme. The Origin Theme is the latest WordPress starter theme I have designed and developed.

6. The WordPress Developer Plugin

No WordPress theme developer should be working without the Developer plugin. This plugin contains a number of essential development plugins including Theme Check, Regenerate Thumbnails, RTL Tester, Debug Bar, Beta Tester and more.

7. Firebug or Chrome Inspector

Firebug is an essential tool for my design and development process. The Chrome inspector is equally as good, if not better. Regardless, use one of these inspectors, and use it frequently. You can practically learn web development just from playing with a good inspector.

There you have it. With a handful of essential tools you can create awesome WordPress themes! Granted, you’ll also need a solid understanding of HTML, CSS, PHP and Javascript — And some killer design skills couldn’t hurt either.

Humility Is For Poor People! Unless You Live In Hawaii.

I’m a fairly humble dude. I don’t like talking about money or my accomplishments. I’m not one to brag about my skills and talents. It’s uncomfortable for me — like cold weather. Man, I just want to create cool brands and products that people can enjoy.

I find many people in business, particularly on the mainland, are constantly working to impress others with their money, words and shiny new things. That’s never been my style. Nothing gives me more pleasure than silently kicking ass in business without competitors even realizing it. All the while, pretending I’m a dumb ass redneck from Florida.

I had relatively humble beginnings. My family wasn’t poor, but we didn’t have much when I was young. I ain’t no fortunate son. Nah, nah… I watched my Dad build a successful construction company from practically nothing. I watched him lose that business, and and build another. I took notice when my mom went back to school as an adult to get her Master’s degree in psychology while working a full-time job. I watched them both struggle to give my brother and I the best childhood they could — with or without money. They worked to change our stars. That was a better education than our private elementary school, magnet high school and college educations combined. It taught us to take risks in life and business, to work hard and further our education — and to be humble about it.

Something I love about Hawaii is that most people here are humble. You probably couldn’t spot a millionaire from a beach bum — unless you know your OluKai slippers from a generic brand. It doesn’t matter in Hawaii. We all surf the same waves, and we all share a love of the ocean and this land. Most of us struggled to get here — or to stay here. Humility is still a virtue in Hawaii. It’s not a flaw.

I moved to Hawaii 7 years ago with nothing but a car to sleep in. Somewhere along the way of building a life and a business here, through the awesome times and the really shitty times; I became a local. This lifestyle, this land, this ocean, these people — it suits me. It’s a hold out for humility and humanity.