As Weird as It Gets: Ice Skating in Hawai‘i

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The Ice Palace west of Honolulu is Hawai‘i’s only ice skating rink. It opened in 1982 and holds open skates multiple times per week.

It’s noon on a rainy Thursday when I pull into the parking lot. At this point, I’m still not sure whether or not I’m going to skate. I really just want to check it out, to have a look around and see who’s there and what’s happening. An open skate in the middle of the week, at an ice rink in Hawai‘i, seems beyond my wildest imagination.

I arrive to find that snooping around the Ice Palace is not possible. The rink is like a movie theater in that there’s a ticket booth outside, and you can’t go inside unless you pay — the doors are even frosted over with fake frost so you can’t see inside. This drives my curiosity to new, insane heights. Who the hell is in there?

I fork over the $10 entrance fee and am happy to find out that it includes a skate rental. As I reach for the door handle, I’m excited to pull back the curtain on this place. But I make it only a few steps inside before turning back. The temperature is kept at 50 degrees, and stepping through the doors in flip flops is a rude awakening. I’m not sure what I was thinking. I go back to my car for a sweater and socks.

When I return and finally get a glimpse of the ice, my suspicions are confirmed: There is no one on it. Suddenly, it feels like I’m transported back to a grade-school roller rink party. In front of me, a worker preps the snack bar — nachos, soft pretzels, and pizza. Beyond him, the arcade games are all turned off, presumably because no one is here in the middle of the day.

I can feel the staff staring at me. As curious as I am about the place, they are just as curious about me. I put it out of my mind as I rent and lace up the skates. I’m sitting on one of those round, plastic cafeteria-style seats when the unthinkable happens — the type of thing that only happens in movies. As I finish lacing up, a song comes blaring over the speakers. It’s Amazed by Lone Star. The rink is absolutely empty, and I’m standing up on skates for the first time in ten years. There would be other love ballads played throughout the afternoon, but none more memorable than this one, at the start of my skate on an empty rink.

I’m timid as I step out on the ice. My hands are in my pockets to stay warm. I slowly coast along the side of the rink near the boards. I feel more comfortable after a few laps, and I start to have fun. It’s basically a private rink, and it’s not often you get cold cheeks in Hawai‘i. I can’t help but feel amusingly counter culture.

Later, a woman comes out. She looks like a pro, doing spins and swirls. I make up her backstory as I take laps — a former figure-skating star, banished to hot-weather Hawai‘i and mid-week open skates. Then, a group of guys in their twenties, part of a construction team on their lunch break, join us on the ice. They’re having a ball, and, like me, seem to view the experience as something to joke about, like they can’t believe they’re doing it. We instantly bond over it, flashing grins as we pass, our legs wobbly.

We continue to skate as a group until two of us make eye contact during Selena’s Dreaming of You and I decide it’s time to leave.

Looking for Love at Pu‘u Pehe

A romantic stroll in the wake of a romantic story.

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View of Sweetheart Rock in Lana‘i.

There’s one rock formation in particular that stands out from the rest. It stands alone, rising up from the water in the shape of a pillar, a stone’s throw from the main coast. It’s called Pu‘u Pehe, or Sweetheart Rock, and appreciated first and foremost for its natural beauty. But its backstory is one for the hopeless romantics.

From Hulopo‘e Beach Park, facing the ocean, walk to the left along the rocky coast. Look for critters and crabs in the tide pools as you go around the corner and reach the vista shown in the photo above. At that point, you can look down over the ridge and find a little beach below (it’s not recommended you climb down the cliffs, but it’s wonderful to access the beach at low tide via kayak). Take a moment here and look across the small bay at Pu‘u Pehe. It’s a great place for a photo, both for couples and friends. From there, follow the cliffs up to the high point to where you can look across and down upon Pu‘u Pehe.

As the legend goes, a Hawaiian maiden named Pehe from Lāhainā on Maui was courted by a young warrior from Lāna‘i. He was so blinded by her beauty that he came to be called Makakehau, or “Misty Eyes,” because her brown body “shone like the clear sun rising out of Haleakalā,” her curly hair bound and tied back with the lehua blossoms of the ‘ōhi‘a trees.

They lived blissfully in a sea cave below Pu‘u Pehe on Lāna‘i, where she was out of sight from other warriors (you can look for the cave when you’re kayaking). But one day a storm hit while he was upcountry getting supplies, and he returned to find the cave flooded and that Pehe had drowned. Destroyed by grief, Makakehau asked the gods to help him summit the steep rock offshore, the 80-foot high Pu‘u Pehe, where he buried her. He then jumped to his death.

Okay, so, you know, pretty sad story, but hey, that’s love for you, and I guess that’s what you get when you keep a beautiful woman trapped in a cave. Anyway, when you get close, you can see a rock formation on top of Pu‘u Pehe. According to the legend, this is her grave. According to researchers, it’s a heiau, possibly a tribute to the sea or the birds, and there are no human remains there. So is it really her grave? No, it’s not.

But as Hemingway would say, isn’t it pretty to think so?

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Camping on Lāna‘i Camping on Lāna‘i at Hulopo‘e

Visitors to Lāna‘i don’t have much choice when it comes to where they stay. There are only three hotels, after all. Campers have even less choice if they want to set up at an official campground with bathrooms and tables — there’s only one, at Hulopo‘e Beach Park on the south side, next to the Four Seasons.

It’s not the best homebase if you are looking to move and shake around the island, as Lāna‘i City and the main roads are more than 1,500-feet up the dry hillside. But the isolated area is a great place to vege out, especially as an overnight from nearby Maui. You could do much worse than renting a kayak to explore the coast here, including Pu‘u Pehe.

Hulopo‘e Beach Park is the best-kept on the island, and the coastline has a variety of cliffs and small coves. One of the funny things is that you’re sharing the same scenery with people who have paid out the wazoo to be there. Camping here is not cheap — it is a $50 permit fee plus $15 per night per person — but considering that rooms at the Four Seasons start at more than $1,000/night during the summer, you feel like you’re getting a deal.  You can find more details on the campsite here.

The Locals Route at Ka‘ena Point

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When the surf is calm, you can walk amongst the rocks and find solace in the tidepools along the north coast of the Ka‘ena Point hike.

It was a crystal-clear day on a winter’s weekend, and we cruised with the windows down along the North Shore, past Dillingham Airport where the skydivers were landing to the end of the road and the Ka‘ena Point hike.

I’ve avoided Ka‘ena Point for a long time, mostly because I didn’t think it fit in with what I’m looking for on a hike. To me, the wilderness means less people, not streams of them, and Ka‘ena Point is well traveled. But with friends in town for the holiday weekend and their sights set on seeing whales, I decided it was a good time to give it a try.

When we arrived in the late morning, there were many cars. Most people walk the big dirt 4×4 road all the way to the point, and I could see groups of people going up and over the first hill. Anxious to avoid the holiday crowds, I made a sharp right over the dunes and down towards the water. The sea was relatively calm and the rocky coastline was revealed.

I could walk on the rocks safely out of reach of the water, in and out of small caverns and tide pools. The sharp terrain forced me to slow down, to breath it in. It took the focus off the final destination and placed it back in the moment, where it always belongs.

I expected to find many others doing the same. But there was no one. Whether it’s a lack of awareness or an intentional avoidance due to the terrain (you need sturdy footwear, i.e. no flops), very few people choose to go this route. It was nice to look down the coast and see no one, minus the occasional fisherman checking his rod, knowing there were groups clunking along the road nearby. Out of sight, out of mind. My friends and I were literally alone and, as you see above, free to get lost in nature.

This would all change when we eventually reached the sanctuary, when we decided, for the sake of time, to brave the crowded 4×4 road on the return trip. It was a quicker route, but one where we had to consistently dodge four-wheel drive vehicles and puddles of mud.

To be honest, I felt lucky to have avoided it on the way in. By foregoing the road and taking the coast, I was able to see a totally different, totally local side of that area. I was able to bypass the streams of people walking the road, turning a popular hike in a popular place into a private experience.

Maybe you can try, too, when the surf is calm and you’re looking to see a different side of a place you’ve probably seen before.

The Worst Kind of Tourist Trap

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When I first arrived in Hawai‘i, I stayed with a search and rescue pilot for the Coast Guard. Over the course of living together, I watched him get called out for a variety of rescue operations. Two people swept off the sea cliffs by a wave. Someone dragged out to sea by the current. A person who fell to their death on a ridge hike. Most of these incidents were not reported on the news, but because I lived with him, I was privy to just how often things go wrong here in paradise, and just how unaware most people are of the problem.

The arrangement was a blessing in disguise, because I too had a very naive and overconfident view of Hawai‘i. I had come from the Rocky Mountains, navigating the elements of high-alpine terrain. Hawai‘i, by comparison, with its pretty beaches and small “mountains,” seemed like a piece of cake. Little did I know that these islands are a Venus flytrap, a place so beautiful that it draws people into its wrath unknowingly.

For these islands, whose notoriously rough surf results in a high rate of drownings, the task of keeping visitors safe has been a battle that too often runs under the radar.

Residents and local organizations are always trying to figure out how to keep Hawai‘i safe from the impacts of tourism, launching preventative efforts that span a wide range, including signs requesting proper behavior at heiaus across the State, statutes limiting the number of cars at the Haleakalā summit, and environmental educational efforts at places like Hanauma Bay, Volcanoes National Park, and others.

But are we forgetting the other side of the coin? According to the data, we also need to figure out a way to keep visitors safe from Hawai‘i.

Back to Back to Back

On a whole, the State has drawn criticism in recent years for not doing more to provide consistent messaging to visitors. Most memorably, a 2016 editorial from the Honolulu Civil Beat called out Hawai‘i lawmakers for their seeming indifference towards public safety.

A prime example was when the State’s House failed to support legislation in 2013 that would have encouraged airlines to show ocean safety videos to visitors. Rep. Tom Brower infamously expressed his concerns by suggesting that “the proposed video might unnecessarily raise fears or hurt the state’s idyllic reputation among tourists.”

The tendency for lawmakers to avoid the topic is one that continues to be denounced by local media, mostly because visitor deaths continue to occur at alarming rates. In another Civil Beat report called Dying For Vacation, which analyzed the frequency, cause, and reaction to visitor deaths in Hawai‘i, it was revealed that nearly one visitor a week died from July 2012-2015 while many others suffered severe spinal injuries that left them partially paralyzed.

More recently, in a span of nine days in January 2017, three visitors to Kaua‘i were tragically killed by nature. Two were cases of drowning, one at Po‘ipū Beach and the other at Moloa‘a. The third died when she fell from the steep cliffs of the Kalalau Trail. These are heartbreaking stories of people who came to Hawai‘i for a good time, who came here on vacation, whose families had an empty seat next to them on the plane ride back home.

Playing the Blame Game

Given these statistics, it is easy to point the finger and say that the government should be doing more. But there are other factors at work that contribute to the problem and turn the attention back on personal responsibility, not just of the persons directly involved for things like jumping barriers, but on some of the very same national media that is quick to criticize the State. For example, consider this gushing description of Queen’s Bath on Kaua‘i from a travel publication:

Emerging from the tropical foliage onto the rocky shoals of the lava surf, the glistening pools hang over the ocean like a queenly throne… Slipping triumphantly into the brisk waters of the caldera, you could be a crony of Kamehameha himself, observing all around you the pinnacle of natural spectacle: the shimmering cliffs of Nā Pali, the endless horizon of Pacific blue… As far as wading pools go, this one makes the oasis at the Flamingo Hilton look like the drainage ditch behind Toby’s Crab Shack.

From this romanticized depiction, you would never know that nearly 30 people have died at Queen’s Bath, or that it’s one of the most dangerous places to swim in the Hawaiian Islands.

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Sign posted at Queen’s Bath warning of danger and death.

For Sue Kanoho, Executive Director of the Kaua‘i Tourism Board, this kind of irresponsible reporting is something that’s grown to be overly prevalent and increasingly detrimental to public safety.

Every week, thousands of visitors rely on print and electronic guide books for information and suggestions on Kaua‘i, and many times they list or recommend places that are known to be dangerous, like Queen’s Bath today or, going back a few years, Kipu Falls. Some guide books promoted the latter as a “glorious hidden little place” before it later became known, tragically, as “the pool of death.”

“I spend a lot of time calling people and saying, ‘You’re hurting the destination by pretending this place or that place is a good place to go,'” said Kanoho. “If you put it in [the guide book] and you’re sending people to places that are known to be dangerous, then you should be held accountable.”

This aspect of responsibility was so heavily debated on Kaua‘i a few years ago that it went on to be tested in the legislature. In 2011, a bill was introduced that would hold authors of guide books accountable if injuries or deaths resulted from their recommendations. The bill was supported by the visitor industry, but ultimately, concerns about first amendment free speech caused it to be rejected.

We continue to see varying levels of hypocrisy today throughout the travel media. Some of the very same outlets who publish articles to put pressure on Hawai‘i lawmakers have also written sensationalized travel articles that encourage trespassing and/or dangerous behavior within the State. A prime example is the Huffington Post, who published a critical article entitled “Way Too Many Tourists Are Dying In Hawai‘i” in May 2016, and then followed it up in August with another entitled “There’s An Incredible And Super Illegal Waterslide Hidden In Hawai‘i” that glorified a dangerous and illegal activity and provided extensive links, directions, and videos about how to get there.

Solutions Going Forward?

Kanoho has tried tirelessly throughout her tenure to make the public more aware of potential danger, implore the government to pass regulations, and to call out the media when they talk out of both sides of their mouth.

She’s petitioned airlines to show ocean safety videos, and tried to get television networks to run profiles of people who have gotten into trouble and survived, hoping that people might learn from the experiences of others. Neither idea has yet to fully materialize.

In the case of the former, only Hawaiian Airlines has ever run such a safety video. All the national airlines declined to air it.

One month ago on February 8, 2018, Civil Beat reported that 10 people – 8 of them visitors – had drowned on Maui in the previous three weeks. The string of deaths has prompted the State Legislature to come up with solutions, though Civil Beat questions the likelihood of improved measures given the State’s poor track record, which includes letting a liability policy expire last year that protected lifeguards from lawsuits.

Some solutions that have been thrown around are putting ocean safety warning sheets in hotel rooms, and/or requiring companies to attach them to rental snorkel gear. Another is to use stronger language in already existing warning videos and signs. But Civil Beat notes in the article that “the Legislature has been reluctant to do anything that could potentially hurt the tourism industry that drives the state economy.” One of the biggest concerns stated by the Legislature is that strong warnings might cause visitors to view Hawai‘i as an unsafe destination.

It begs the question: At what point does that last part become true? You can keep up with all the latest in Hawai‘i safety news here.

A Mimosa-Replacing, Hawaiian Beer for Breakfast

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Beer drinkers get the short end of the stick when it comes to breakfast and brunch. The other weekend, I cracked a beer at 10 a.m. and my friend, wielding a mimosa, looked at me funny. Apparently it’s okay to drink champagne or vodka in the morning, but not beer?

If that’s true, then why do they make coffee and fruit beers? Seriously, many beers taste great in the morning, and people hung up on what time the clock tells are missing out on a chance to expand their horizons.

My current favorite Hawai‘i-brewed choice is one you can find in most major grocery stores on O‘ahu: the Pineapple Mana Wheat from Maui Brewing Co. It explodes with pineapple and fruit flavor and is refreshing like a tropical juice blend, going down smooth and offering the kind of thirst-quenching power you want first thing in the morning.

In terms of taste and style, it’s basically the beer-drinker’s mimosa. The flavor of the beer mirrors the sweetness and drinkability of the juice, and the bubbles are swapped out for beer suds, providing the same mouthfeel of carbonation. Overall it is less tart/acidic and, in my opinion, finishes cleaner.

And like the mimosa, it tastes like it’s good for you, which goes a long way for morning morale.