Issue 13.4: August/September 2010

Good Nius

Story by Paul Wood

Photo by Matt Mallams


“Who wants to spank a coconut?” calls Dave Elberg to the small crowd lounging on a seaside lawn in Pa‘ia, Maui. He shows how to slap one of these giant seeds to guess its age. Old nuts thud; they give the sweet milk. Young ones bounce; they provide jelly or “spoon meat” plus “the purest water on Earth,” Dave says, “filtered up through a sixty-foot trunk full of dense fibers.” With deft smacks of a cane knife, he opens nuts and passes them into the crowd. People glug and nod approvingly.


Dave lists the nutritional benefits of coconut water: more calcium than milk, more vitamin C than OJ, more minerals than sports drinks. Coconut water alkalizes and cleanses the blood, dissolves kidney stones, aids digestion … “It makes sex better!” shouts someone in the crowd. Dave grins, then talks about all the other benefits of coconuts, or niu in Hawaiian—the healthful oil, the useful fronds. “What other plant can give you food, water, shelter and clothing?” he marvels. He’s just published a book on the subject, The Amazing Coconut, available on Amazon.


“As you can tell, I’m kind of obsessed with this plant,” he tells the crowd. People cheer. They’re at a sustainability fair, and Dave explains his vision for reducing the island’s dependency on imports: Plant a few hundred acres of coconut trees.


Age 28, brimming with health, Dave climbs coconut trees for a living. His business is called Pure Life Palm Trimmers, and he never uses spiked boots, which disfigure and damage coconut trunks. Dave describes himself as a questioner and a natural-born climber: “I’m on a constant hunt for rock to climb.” Since Maui has relatively little of that, he’s satisfying himself by riding palm trunks in gusty winds. But his niu thing goes beyond kicks. “Getting back to the land is the answer for me,” he says, “learning from nature and all the intelligence inherent in it.” As though it’s a thought to the side, he adds, “I’m tired of paying for everything. If I could figure out how to make my car payments in coconuts, then I’d really be getting somewhere.”