Noah Clark creates a lively livelihood
Two years ago, Noah Clark was teaching breakdance lessons in a 216-square-foot “creative cubby-hole” in Lāhainā he dubbed The Break Spot.
He now dances just down the street in a more than 3,500-square-foot building at the Outlets of Maui that houses his other passion: the table tennis club he started last year called 808 Ping Pong.
“I definitely wanted to try and make a living off the things I enjoy,” Clark said of breaking and ping-pong. “They’re both creative. They both require movement. You use your mind and body with both of them, and they both bring out different personality traits.”
Breakdancing, for instance, shows an expressive side, while he said ping-pong is more philosophical. Clark said he finds how people approach ping-pong is how they approach life.
“Your habits in life kind of show through with how you play and view the game,” he said. “If you’re cocky in life, it will show in the game. If you’re humble, it will show.”
Although his daily focus is ping-pong, Clark still tries to practice his breakdance skills at least every other day. He’s known as Coach Noah at 808 Ping Pong and B-boy Noah on the dance floor.
The 26-year-old taught himself how to dance as a teenager while attending Lahainaluna High School. Now, he dances in local competitions and even helps judge the keiki showcases at venues such as Lāhainā’s Fuzz Box.
“To keep it alive, it has to be passed down,” Clark said of the art form. “In breakdancing culture, there’s a saying: ‘Each one, teach one,’ meaning whatever you learn, pass it on, share the knowledge.”
That’s exactly what a small group of breakdancers do when they occasionally meet up on Friday nights at 808 Gymnastics in Kahului.
Surrounded by vibrant murals on the walls and music blasting on the speakers, they practice their footwork, freeze poses and power moves. Many record themselves and later post the clips on social media.
Breaking will officially be an Olympic sport when it debuts next year at the Summer Olympics in Paris, and it’s clear why after witnessing the acrobatic athleticism of these dancers.
One of the regulars, Aysian Lee Kealoha Rosales, or B-boy Aysian (pronounced I-Sean), is a Baldwin High senior who has been breaking for the past six years. His dad, Brian Rosales, formerly B-Roc, was a member of Maui’s breakdancing crew Bad Habitz a couple decades ago.
“I’d say it’s a way for me to express myself,” Aysian said. “I feel very happy when I’m on the floor dancing.”
He also appreciates the supportive nature of the breakdancing community.
“Everybody’s very uplifting,” he said. “There’s always somebody cheering you on, even if you don’t know them.”
B-boy Aysian recently went to Oahu to participate in an event put on by The 808 Breakers Crew, and he plans to eventually move to the Mainland to further his breaking career.
As a young adult, Clark lived in Los Angeles for a year to explore a career in breaking and acting.
After he returned to Maui, he opened The Break Spot studio and taught lessons for dancers ranging in age from 6 to 30. In late 2021, he closed the studio to focus his efforts on 808 Ping Pong, which opened early last year.
He still gives dance lessons inside the ping-pong club and also practices his moves there after closing for the day. Clark’s signature dance, a power move known as the flare, turns his body into a human propeller. He’s currently working on perfecting a transition from flare into a move called “air-flare.”
Clark says he’s inspired by different dance styles and music. Breakdancing, which originated in the Bronx in the 1970s, has its roots in hip-hop culture, though Clark has been known to breakdance to metal, classical and even opera.
“I’m definitely drawn to challenge and expression and freedom,” he said.
Passion for ping-pong
Years before he attempted his first power move or head-spin, Clark’s passion was table tennis.
He started playing each week at the Lahaina Civic Center when he was 12. Clark quickly learned the sport and entered a tournament on Oahu, and won the juniors event.
He later trained for two months in the Philippines with a renowned coach and even took a U.S. Open championship title in Las Vegas during the summer of 2015.
Years later, his dream of starting a ping-pong club on Maui became a reality when he ordered eight tables online and opened 808 Ping Pong in an empty store next to the Banana Republic at the Outlets of Maui.
The club’s walls are decorated with awards, photographs and original table tennis-themed artwork by Clark’s cousin, Mei Lin Wine.
Clark’s goal has been to build a community with a focus on keiki and kamaʻāina (there’s even a local nun who plays), although he enjoys meeting visiting players from around the globe.
Wearing mix-matched socks, workout shorts and a T-shirt reading Yeshua, the Hebrew name of Jesus, Clark helped get a father and son paddles on a recent Saturday afternoon.
“It’s growing now in its second year,” he said of the club, which is open daily (currently from 2-7 pm.)
In addition to walk-ins, memberships and an after-school program, 808 Ping Pong features monthly tournaments, weekly round robin events and twice-weekly one point knockouts. The latter involves participants playing just one point at a time. If they win the point, they stay on the table. If they lose the point, they get back in line. The first person to get 31 points total wins, and cash prizes are awarded to the top three players.
Clark has pivoted in various directions to survive his first year in business, and he’s had to navigate unexpected hurdles, such as when the building’s air conditioning stopped working last summer.
“There will always be risk and uncertainty when you’re trying something new,” he said. “If you really want something you have to keep going to make it work.”
On Clark’s left arm is a quote from Louis Zamperini, the World War II veteran and Olympic distance runner, that reads, “If I can take it, I can make it.” The intensity of those words is balanced by a small, playful tattoo next to it in which a mouth tattooed below two freckles creates a smiley face.
Along with breaking and ping-pong, Clark is also a longtime skateboarder (which also just became an Olympic sport).
“All three are very mental activities and you have to push yourself and that’s what I like about them,” he said.
While he’s not ruling out a skateboarding-related business in his future, Clark’s focus for now is advancing in both breaking and ping-pong.
“I would like for the members and kids here to get better than me,” he said. “I’d like to see them go to tournaments as a club and keep it going.”