Maui Nei

In the beginning, there was surfing. Hawaiian royalty rode the waves on boards shaped from koa planks. The feat highlighted the athletic prowess of men and women alike and was done for no other reason than it felt good.

Fishing and diving could be delightful, but their main purpose was collecting food. Canoes propelled by paddles or sails were for transportation, even if they could provide a thrilling ride on channel waves or on the way to a beach.

Last weekend, an Oahu waterfest marked the birthdate anniversary of Hawaii’s most revered waterman of all time – Kahinu Mokoe Hulikohola “Duke” Kahanamoku, born Aug. 24, 1890. There was nothing in the ocean that Duke couldn’t do. He swam to five Olympic medals and is credited with being Hawaii’s first world ambassador of surfing.

At the turn of the 20th century, one of the best-known authors in the world was Jack London. In his short story “The Kanaka Surf,” London, who learned to surf himself, referenced Kahanamoku while describing a roiling ocean.

“There are two surfs at Waikiki: the big, bearded-man surf that roars far out beyond the diving stage; the smaller, gentler, wahine, or woman, surf that breaks upon the shore itself.” London wrote “thundering monsters” allowed surfers to “rise out of the foam to stand full length in the air above and with heels winged with the swiftness of horses to fly shoreward.”

The popularity of surfing skyrocketed after World War II when the use of lightweight fiberglass boards became widespread. There was a time in recent Hawaii history when reports of good surf was an accepted excuse to skip school or work. A truant employee might even find the boss himself in the lineup.

In the last couple of decades, Maui has seen the rise of variations of surfing. For the most fearless, there is being towed by personal watercraft onto waves that defy the use of arm power. Sails were attached to surfboards. Hookipa became known as a world mecca for windsurfing, revitalizing Paia and Haiku. When the sails were detached from the boards, kitesurfing was born and the parking lots at Kanaha filled up.

The latest innovation is SUP, or stand-up paddling. On any morning off Kihei’s Cove Park, there is a phalanx of tourists and locals standing on large, fat surfboards, propelling themselves with a long-handled paddle. It’s much easier than lying on a board and paddling with your hands to get on a wave. An adequate sense of balance is handy. As a way to meander around on the ocean, the stand-up paddleboard appears to have supplanted the once ubiquitous kayak as a no-stress ocean activity.

It seems there has always been flying down the face of a wave without a board or any other sort of help except small swim fins. A variation of bodysurfing is bodyboarding, adding a torso-sized slab of Styrofoam to the fins for a ride.

Somewhere along the line, short lengths of plywood became skimboards, most popular with keiki just feeling their way into the water. No waves needed, just an inch or less of water washing across smooth sand. Properly launched, a skimboard will hydroplane enough for the launcher to enjoy a stand-up zip along the beach. That’s it for most, but not for Zach Platt when he’s working a healthy shore break at Makena State Park.

There’s no reef off Oneloa (Big) Beach. When a swell is running, waves pile up just a few feet off the dry sand. This is bodysurfing territory, but only for the akamai athlete. More than one person has been crippled by being slammed headfirst into the bottom.

The potentially deadly conditions are perfect for Zach, who has spent more than a decade mastering his skimboard. The Kula resident has limited use of his arms. On a skimboard, he doesn’t need them to shred waves. The proof was right there on the TV screen.

The name of the locally produced show didn’t stick. It was only happenstance that it was seen while, ah, channel surfing. What stuck was the sight of Zach ripping into a wave, flipping and carving with all the elegance of a pro surfer in an international competition. And, there’s no direction-aiding skeg on a skimboard.

There is no end to the ways the blue ocean connecting Maui to the rest of the world can be used for the sheer joy of living, even for those of us who simply watch from shore or a living room couch.

* Ron Youngblood is a retired editor and staff writer for The Maui News. His email address is

Maui Nei

Random musings about elections, storms, Maui police cars and change:

* Zip! Zip! This month’s election returns arrived with the speed of light illuminating television screens. It wasn’t always that way. There was a time when the County Clerk’s Office opened a series of boxes to count paper ballots. There were no absentee votes of the type that got waylaid in this month’s election.

Boxes from outlying precincts took time to arrive in Wailuku. Ballots from Lanai and Molokai had to be flown in. Even earlier, it is said, ballots from Kaupo traveled by mule to Hana and then by car to Wailuku. In those days, the county clerk would post local results on a big blackboard outside the county building. Newspapers were the only way to get state totals.

Later, the seventh floor in the current county building would be crammed with reporters and political junkies. There was always something to eat. KNUI often set up a remote unit linked to the station. Radio was the fastest way to find out who would be what.

In an adjacent room, The Maui News’ news editor, Earl Tanaka, would be analyzing precinct reports and hammering out his observations on a mechanical typewriter for the next day’s paper.

During more recent times, election central moved out to Dairy Road and the studios of Akaku: Maui Community Television. Various local personalities provided running commentary interspersed with on-site interviews with candidates. Got to fill up the time between the interim reports from the Capitol. Of course, you had to have cable to get the broadcasts.

This month, the quickest way to know results was via television from the city, even if it meant ignoring the blather and concentrating on the eye-straining numbers crawling across the bottom of the screen. Maui results didn’t warrant commentator attention.

The Puna situation on the Big Island lent a touch of the old days. Voters couldn’t get to the polls due to the damage caused by Iselle. Voters in two precincts would decide for the entire state which Democrat would be running for U.S. senator in November. Actually, the primary’s winning Democrat had been elected since the Republican Party, as usual, failed to field a plausible candidate. It took a week to decide the close race.

* Speaking of weather. Once upon a time, Maui had its own forecasters. The best of the bunch, and the last one before automatic gauges and the Honolulu office took over, was Roger Kawasaki. He knew how localized Maui’s conditions were. The island escaped being ravaged but there was damage here and there.

Perhaps the most serious damage was done in the Ulupalakua area. The ranch lost miles of fencing due to fallen trees, which also blocked some roads. In the same area, the D.T Fleming Arboretum at Pu’u Mahoi lost trees and fences erected to protect native species from being damaged. The arboretum is holding a fundraiser Aug. 30. Call 572-1097 or go to

There was plenty of warning about the storm. TV had been trumpeting the arrival of two slow-moving hurricanes since they first were spotted by satellites thousands of miles away. Too much hype led to unnecessary angst and shutting down the island. Better prepared than sorry.

The only time a cyclonic storm has been recorded on Maui was in 1854. A missionary noted in his diary that a whirling wind destroyed grass houses in the Lahaina area. Use of the term hurricane only began in the early 1900s.

* Have you noticed the new police cars? Ever since Ford discontinued building its whalelike Crown Victoria, police departments across the country have been looking around for replacements. The MPD decided to go with Chevrolets.

Not everyone is happy about the loss of the “Crown Vics.” One officer said the smaller Impalas weren’t as comfortable as the heavy “Crown Vics” and inspired less confidence, particularly on rough-road chases and emergency responses.

Once upon a time, Maui officers used private vehicles. In the 1960s and ’70s, that meant muscle cars. A $250-a-month car allowance made it possible to buy factory hot rods. It was a little difficult to spot the cars. They were marked only by a small lollypop light clipped to the car’s rain gutter.

* Maui, and the world, is in a state of constant change. Keeping up with the changes doesn’t mean forgetting about the “good ol’ days,” even if they might not have been that good after all.

* Ron Youngblood is a retired editor and staff writer for The Maui News. His email address is

Maui Nei

The late Charlie Nalepa played a part in a Sunday of discovery for a malihini reporter from the city. The year was 1973. The malihini had spent his first week on Maui digging up stories for The Honolulu Advertiser. Some days it was hard to find something worth reporting. The island was just that side of being sleepy.

The first day of rest since Young Brothers had delivered the reporter’s Triumph motorcycle rolled around. The reporter was more than glad to get out of a rental Datsun 210. He was looking forward to seeing what he could see while straddling 500cc of willing horsepower.

The boss in the city didn’t expect any copy, but there might be a feature story lurking in Maui’s wide expanses. Work was a habit that didn’t respect days of the week. Besides, the gig basically was a 24-7 job ready for anything and everything. That’s true for reporters anywhere and everywhere.

The sun had been up for a couple of hours. While eating scrambled eggs and Vienna sausages chased by a butter-soaked pancake and two cups of coffee at Sheik’s, a plan was formulated. Take a run to the summit of Haleakala and then visit a weird event scheduled for Kahului Harbor. Something might be worth writing about.

The morning sun had just started heating up the asphalt outside of the restaurant. Pull on the helmet, open the gas tap, tickle the carburetor and jump on the kick-starter. The bike muttered to life. There was little or no traffic in Kahului or on Hana Highway – a far cry from the streets of Honolulu. Up Haleakala Highway with mostly open road ahead. Wide views stretched in all directions. The bike’s tires sang a sibilant song.

A left turn at Five Trees led to an equally smooth transit. At first, pastures on the left and pineapple fields on the right. After the one-lane bridge, the road turned into a series of sensuous curves. The sweet-handling Triumph begged for a little more speed. A few cars, maybe carrying sunrise visitors, came the other way but it was easy to stay in the right lane.

Crater Road required more attention, especially those uphill, decreasing-radius curves. Even so, the views and the scent of sunbaked grass were distracting. On a curve, some cow had left a brown, wet-looking pile of manure. Spotted it too late to swerve. Trust the bike. The tires hit the cow pie. The bike slid sideways across the road but stayed upright. Whew! God bless English engineering and no downhill traffic. Proceed at a slightly lower rate of speed.

Lower-land heat gave way to a sharp chill. The self-generated wind whistled through a denim jacket over a sweatshirt. Bare fingers began to stiffen. At the top, wonder about altitude-spawned temperature changes on a tropic island. Savor another soul-swelling view and head down to where minimal riding gear would be more appropriate.

The jacket came off at the harbor. The beach was covered with several hundred people. They were laughing and yelling encouragement and derision at a motley armada in the water. The Haleakala Dairy Milk Carton Boat Races were underway.

Charlie Nalepa’s brainchild strained credulity. Racing was taking a back seat to survival. Craft of every shape and style floundered in the flat water. Each of the craft was constructed entirely of Haleakala Dairy half-gallon milk cartons. The more astute and ambitious builders had covered the cartons with fiberglass. They might not have been swift but at least they were staying on the top side of the water.

Each time one of the boats began to slip into the briny, there were hoots and laughter on the shore. Even the about-to-be-dunked sailors were laughing. This was a side of Maui that was new to the malihini reporter. Islanders loved a good joke, which the milk carton boats were. Definitely.

The death of the master promoter brought back a day of Maui discovery, the first of many. The memories began with an email from Peter Baldwin via Maizie Cameron. They were further prompted by a short obituary last Sunday and a Tuesday front-page feature centered on Charlie Nalepa’s success at making Haleakala Dairy’s POG known around the world.

Charles “Charlie” Nalepa died Aug. 2 in his Kihei home at the age of 76 – the right man at the right time in the evolution of the island. He was a Maui original.

* Ron Youngblood is a retired editor and staff writer for The Maui News. His email address is

Maui Nei

Maui’s mice have been preparing for the hurricanes for more than a month.

The little pests have been creeping into houses through any hole a little larger than their noses. Once inside, they scamper across floors and countertops, leaving behind little droppings and tiny pools of, uh, liquid which can turn dust into mud.

Blame a moist winter that encouraged abundant procreation. Bring out the traps, spring-loaded killers, sticky stuff and, for the faint of heart, some kind of humane trap. The latter requires the homeowner to head outside and give the little buggahs flying lessons. That can mean a repeat foray into the house, but, only if na iole li’illi’i are more akamai than most think.

Of course, the connection between mice and hurricanes is fanciful. A very real concern is the timing of the expected storms. There could be a direct connection with how many voters turn out for the primary election this Saturday, just when it is hoped more than 40 percent or so of registered voters would turn out. Hawaii ranked dead last in the nation’s balloting last time around. Disgraceful!

Maui voters have become lazy and cynical. “My vote won’t make a difference.” But, when a few hundred votes often determine the margin between election and also-ran, multiplying a few single votes this year can determine who carries the public’s banner into the state Legislature and, most importantly, the mayor’s office and the County Council. While voting for local officials, you might as well cast a ballot for governor. Maui’s congressional delegate is a shoo-in. Second District Rep. Tulsi Gabbard has no opposition.

Another reason given for not voting is we live in a “one-party” state, as if all Democrats march in lock step. They don’t. Plus, Maui County officials are elected on a nonpartisan basis. No political parties involved. It is true that most of the state’s elected officials are Democrats.

Sixty years ago, a newly invigorated Democratic Party took control of the Territorial Legislature. The 1954 elections are usually referred to as a political revolution – the working man versus corporate-backed Republicans.

The revolt had its roots in the unionization of the plantations. In 1944, the International Longshoremen and Warehouse Workers Union set up political action committees in the plantations. With the support of the ILWU, Maui elected its first non-Republican Territorial representatives, Joseph A. Kaholokua, Hal F. Hanna and Isabelle N. Thompson. Maui voters sent Democrats Harold W. Rice, a former Republican, and Clarence A. Crozier to the Territorial Senate.

On the county level, the buildup to “revolution” had its first successes in 1944, electing three Democrats to the Board of Supervisors, the predecessor to the County Council – John Bulgo, Alfred C. Franco and Eddie Tam. The County Council and mayoral races were approved as nonpartisan races in 1998, and the first county nonpartisan election was in 2000. Political change takes time and effort.

In 1954, the chairman of the Maui Democratic Party was Elmer Franklin Cravalho, a Kula schoolteacher. Three decades later, Cravalho told The Maui News he joined the Democratic Party because “that was where the action was.”

John “Jack” Burns, a one-time Honolulu police officer, was a prime mover in engineering the Democratic Party’s revolution. A “local haole” from Kalihi, Burns showed the way for applying to politics the hard-won pride of returning war veterans – most of them the sons of plantation workers.

The Maui Democratic Party, supported by the ILWU, fielded a slate for the Territorial Legislature: Cravalho, Nadao Yoshinaga, Clarence “Buster” Seong, Robert “Buddy” Kimura, Pedro Dela Cruz of Lanai and David Trask. All but incumbent Seong were elected.

“We had more guts than brains,” Cravalho said. Being aligned with the union was considered tantamount to joining the Communist Party. “We had massive rallies, ending up in Wailuku with a rally that drew 4,000-5,000 people. The rallies were colorful and unrestrained.”

Once upon a time, Hawaii had the highest percentage of voter turnout in the nation. It can be that way again. All it will take is voting absentee ahead of time or going to the polls Saturday – hurricanes, unions and mice notwithstanding.

* Ron Youngblood is a retired editor and staff writer for The Maui News. His email address is