"Oh yeah, Dump Trucks! I had a couple conversations with God out there," Billy says.
What did God tell you? I ask.
"He said, Wise up, young haole!’" There is laughter that Mitch caps off by saying, "Billy is our kupuna." He adds that Billy is also the father of Laird Hamilton who, as Mitch puts it, "rides mountains the size of Everest."
Everyone at the table agrees that the intimacy of life in Hanalei has a way of fueling the great achievements of its watermen and women. People witness and celebrate one another’s daring deeds in the water every day. "That’s our job! Beach boys got a job to do. Stay in shape. Get visitors out on their boards and bring ’em in safe," declares Mitch. But there’s another part of the job that is outside Hanalei hands: the permits, the applications, the creeping imposition of new regulations—all indications that these surfers are riding the currents of changing times. "The bridge. That’s what keeps progress out. But some want to widen the bridge and let more progress in. What’s gonna happen?" asks Ali.
"The one with the most money maybe gonna win," suggests Mitch.
"Or maybe whoever has the biggest toys," I suggest.
"Yeah, but honesty and truth will get you through the real gate and isn’t that where you want to go?" says Ali, who hands over a lauhala rose that he’s been weaving.
Where to start another day in Hanalei? Actually, with all the new espresso bars along the highway, with multiple cups of coffee. Finally, I amble into the venerable Ching Young Shopping Village and settle into a spot familiar to me from my previous life: the Hanalei Variety Store. The fare is still bacon and eggs, nearly as old-fashioned as the vintage photos of the first Ching Young family members, who arrived here from South China and established a general store that morphed into the North Shore’s main mall.
Ching Young Village is a crossroads for Hanalei’s people: old hippies, new agers, fresh-off-the-jet-tourists, surfers and farmers. Downstairs, I take my place at a picnic table among folks who are about to head off to jobs at the hotels in neighboring Princeville; in the last twenty-five years, the resort industry has become the area’s biggest employer. The man eating his breakfast next to me, though, is a taro farmer.
As I tool around Hanalei, I see that Trevor was right: There’s still a whole lotta taro root-pulling going on here. In fact, Hanalei is Hawaii’s chief supplier of taro, and the Hanalei Poi Factory on the highway is exactly that and not a souvenir shop as I’d assumed. To find out more about the crop, I’m told to talk to Clarence Kaona, a.k.a. Uncle Shorty. I’m assured he’s easy to find if I just look for the county school bus—Uncle Shorty is the driver.
I wander over to the landmark white-steepled Waioli Huiia Church in the middle of town and speak with the dignified church administrator, Verdelle Peters Lum. We talk about the church’s history and get onto the subject of taro, for there are fields right in back of the church. It turns out these fields belong to Verdelle’s cousin—none other than Uncle Shorty. That Hanalei synchronicity again. Moments later, he pulls up in the school bus. He tells me he will never sell this land. He is confident that at least one niece is interested in carrying on the family business of farming taro. He describes the backbreaking work and I ask him why he sticks with it. Without hesitation, he looks towards the mountains and describes what it is like to hold a bucket that is brimming with taro so big that it can only hold five pieces of the pinkish root. "We call it a five-bucket day’ and it makes you feel good to see so much healthy taro. That’s the reward," he says. "The beauty keeps me going."
At sunset I head over to Black Pot—the area of the bay right along the river, a place I remember as ground zero of Hanalei hospitality. Seated at yet another picnic table, I meet a motley but merry bunch that has made this a hotspot for pitching horseshoes. Beer and pu¯pu¯ appear from nowhere. The sky darkens, and in the last embers of light, someone mentions Cathy Ham Young is out on the pier.