Maui Connections

Whenever I file the column long distance, as I’m doing now, the challenge is how to make good on its title.

In Santa Cruz, Calif., that’s no problem. The “Maui Connections” are everywhere. There’s an L&L Hawaiian Barbecue around the corner. The Aloha Grille is down the road.

Whenever I’ve posted columns from here online, I would get feedback from other friends who also spent some wonder years in this region — Nancy Newnan, her late husband Bob Shaw, Chris and Pat Simmons in the formative stages of the Doobie Brothers — before we all headed across the sea to old Mowee. Or I would get reminders that there are other former UCSC Banana Slugs, like Joanne Foxxe, who now call Maui home.

From this side of the ocean, the column could be called “Santa Cruz Connections.” I’m at a stoplight behind a car with a license plate that says PNAPPLE. A radio commercial for a local music store proclaims Santa Cruz as the ukulele capital of the West Coast. It’s followed by an ad for Hula’s Island Grill, a “tropical, tiki-inspired outpost.”

It’s a two-way, transpacific highway between Santa Cruz and Maui. Ripples from a recent Pleasure Point paddle out by thousands of surfers to honor legendary wetsuit creator and surfing legend Jack O’Neill following his death at 94 could be felt in the surf lapping the shores of Maui.

In his pirate eye patch, Jack was an artist in the new medium of neoprene and a marketing genius who realized “It’s always summer inside” his O’Neill wetsuits. He was one of the visionaries who transformed surfing into a culture, lifestyle and philosophy that spans the globe and sets the tempo for Maui’s north shore.

It’s in Santa Cruz that we watch the movie “Given” — chronicling a Kauai family’s wonderful, round-the-world surfing odyssey told by its 6-year-old narrator — that we missed when it played at the Santa Cruz Film Festival in June.

Unlike the rest of the United States, which are parts of the same landmass, Maui and Santa Cruz share the same ocean. We are staying with friends a few houses up from the beach, next to the town’s picturesque Yacht Harbor. Watching pelicans flying in formation over the water’s edge brings back a memory of walking on this same beach 50 years ago, with author James. D. Houston. I was still a UC-Santa Cruz undergraduate aspiring to be a writer one day, and Jim was basically the young university’s creative writing department.

While I didn’t quite follow in his footsteps, it was uncanny how close and parallel our paths remained over the decades. For all the accolades he won for his fiction, I think Jim’s greatest works were the documentary film scripts and his other collaborations with Hawaiian musical icon Eddie Kamae.

It was through Jim and his wife, Jeanne Wakasuki Houston, that I became friends with Eddie and his wife, Myrna Kamae. Jim and Eddie’s collaboration culminated with the award-winning biography, “Hawaiian Son: The Life and Music of Eddie Kamae” in 2004. A conference-call interview for The Maui News was the last time I spoke to them together.

Jim’s death at age 75 in 2009 caught me by surprise. Eddie’s death at 89 last year ended the rich, fulfilling life of a man recognized as one of Hawaii’s living treasures. Both were eulogized in national media including The New York Times.

Santa Cruz or Maui, whichever side of the sea you’re looking from, there’s only one story and we’re all living it. But the Maui-Santa Cruz connection endures, providing an invisible, invincible never-ending bridge across the Pacific.

*****

I’m not the only Maui guy on the Mainland right now. Movie writer-director Brian Kohne just finished several days in Los Angeles doing the final sound mix and now is off to the El Paso Film Festival for the Mainland premiere of his Maui-made movie “Kuleana.”

Things are beginning to roll now for the locally produced mystery drama — think of it as the little movie that could — including an invitation to a film festival in Europe whose name will be revealed if Brian decides to accept the offer.

*****

And while I’ve been gone, Suzi Osborn has kept me, and her legions of e-mail fans, informed about happenings on local stages, beginning with last weekend’s return engagement of Rita and Tita — the brilliant Rita Rudner and Maui’s uniquely gifted Kathy Collins.

That was the first show in a long time I was sorry to miss. When I saw them perform together last January, it was clear this dynamic duo of funny women is as funny as funny gets.

* Rick Chatenever, award-winning former entertainment and features editor of The Maui News, is a freelance journalist, instructor at UH-Maui College and documentary scriptwriter/producer. Contact him at rickchatenever@gmail.com.

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