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Buzzy Sproat on the trail to Kalaupapa Photo by Richard A. Cooke, III
Vol. 7, No. 2
April/May 2004

 

Global Village 

story by Julia Steele
photos by Erik Aeder

Today Paia is a small town, but it was once one of Maui’s largest, a thriving plantation town with 10,000 residents, four movie theaters, an extended family of mom-and-pop shops and a sugar mill that ground cane and belched smoke over it all.

The old Paia helped create the new Hawaii, and though the town has shrunk and morphed since its sweet heyday, it remains a fixture in the Island consciousness, a relic and a seed, something both vanished and vibrant. Paia tired in the ’50s after sugar sapped its soil and then took a trip into psychedelia with the hippes in the ’60s. In the ’80s, windsurfers from around the world blew into town and in the ’90s, big wave surfers dropped in on the place. Now Paia is a mix of all that’s come before, and despite the fact that its population came in at just 2,499 on the 2000 Census, it has become, person for person, Hawaii’s most cosmopolitan town, an international concoction, a Paia paella.

By the time I’d been there forty-eight hours, I’d met people from Brazil, Argentina, Italy and Canada. By the time I’d been there seventy-two hours, I could add Chile, France, Turkey and Spain to the list.

Paia sits on Maui’s north coast, with the Pacific on one side and the green of Haleakala’s lower slopes on the other. Most of the action in town centers around lower Paia: Read the paper-packed notice boards and you’ll see this is a place of belly dancers, yoga teachers, massage therapists, naturopaths—and realtors (sign in one realtor’s window: "se habla espanol, portuguese italiano"). Read the bumper stickers and you’ll see this is a town with global concerns: "Free Tibet," "Boycott Burma" and "Keep Ireland clean—throw your rubbish in England." But it’s not all new here: the mill still lends its hulking presence and one of Hawaii’s oldest Japanese temples sits surrounded by a cemetery on the outskirts of town. The post office is named for Patsy Takemoto Mink, who grew up in Paia in the ’30s, and went on to become the first woman of color elected to the U.S. Congress. Patsy—or "Pink Mink" as her conservative colleagues called her—was brilliant, passionate, always at the vanguard, a steadfast crusader for social and economic justice. She was elected to Congress for twelve terms—not bad for a Paia girl.

Paia is full of windsurfers —people trying to be, as one French aficionado put it, "ze bird, not ze feesh." In the early ’80s, windsurfers discovered Hookipa, a beach just five minutes out of town where wind and wave collude to produce what many claim is the very best windsurfing spot in the world. Word got out, boards got packed and today odds are better than three-to-one that if you ask someone what they’re doing in Paia, they’ll tell you they came for the wind. You’ll find people from everywhere, all with the wide eyes, wide shoulders and great tans of perpetual sailboarders.

 Kevin Pritchard

One night I meet Kevin Pritchard, friend of a friend and windsurfer about town. I’d wanted to talk to someone about Hookipa, but I didn’t realize what a pro I was dealing with until Kevin casually mentioned a few minutes into our conversation that he’s held several world titles in the sport—including world champion in 2000. (He’s also famous for his blond über-healthy looks, which earned him a spot on FOX’s Temptation Island and led People magazine to name him one of America’s most eligible bachelors.) Kevin grew up in California in a family mad for windsurfing—he still remembers the first time they came to Maui and bypassed the condo to head straight from the airport to the beach. "It was like a dream," he says. "Warm water, waves and so many unbelievable windsurfers." When he graduated from high school, Kevin moved to Paia and turned pro. "This is the Mecca of windsurfing," he confirms. "It’s where everybody from all over the world dreams of coming. All pictures are taken here, all the companies do their research and development here. I go around the world to compete—to the North Sea, the Canary Islands, the Mediterranean—and the worst thing about it is having to leave Paia."
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