Thursday, August 3, 2023

I Came, I Saw, I Chilled

The operative word here is "chilled." You are now on "island time," so what's the hurry? The moment I stepped off the plane in Honolulu everything slowed down. I walked slower. I drove slower. I talked slower. Time seemed to stand still. "Hang loose, brudda" is more than a slogan in Hawaii. It's a reality. I have no idea how I'll readjust to mainland life. It does feel like Hawaii is on its own planet. I keep having to pinch myself that I am a product of the crystal clear turquoise blue of the Pacific. The swells were great during my visit. Kailua was breaking. Makapuu was breaking. Even Waikiki had waves -- not huge but certainly rideable with a longboard. 

When you first arrive at HNL, you just take in the beauty of this place. "I love this! Why can't Virginia have weather like this!" The nostalgia of your youth sinks in and you remember why this place is so important to you. It's just a small dot on the map. Yet within the 600 square miles of Oahu is a rich culture, an expansive history, and an unspoiled mix of white sand beaches, thick jungle, and dormant volcanoes visible from all spots on the island. 

On any trip there are thousands of moments that grab your attention -- if you pay attention. I try to travel with an openness to new experiences. I don't ever want to miss a chance to hear someone's story or the chance to deepen my understanding of the islands. Travel always makes me realize how alike all people are beneath the many outward appearances. 

The adventure began a week ago. I hit the waves daily. Hiked and swam. Met up with old friends. Revisited my old stomping grounds. Spoke at the Bridge Church. 

"Every member a missionary" was my theme. A thousand mahalos to Michael Halcomb for the invitation. By day two I had shaken off the place I came from and had entered the world of aloha shirts and slippahs. 

I couldn't wait to surf the South Shore/Waikiki again. Growing up, my favorite spot at Waikiki was Queens Beach (which also holds some bittersweet memories since this is where my cousin Pila died while surfing with my brother). Queens Beach is named after Queen Liliuokalani because her beach house and its pier used to stand here. Queens is located between the Kapahulu Groin in the west and the Waikiki Aquarium in the east. It's right across the street from the Honolulu Zoo, which provides cheap parking. I rented my board from the Queen Liliuokalani Hotel one block from the beach. Today Queens is reserved exclusively for bodyboarders, so I ended up surfing at Kuhio Beach located just west of Queens. 

When you leave Kuhio Beach a massive bronze statue welcomes you with open arms. 

If Hawaii has a super hero, it's Duke Kahanamoku, who won 5 medals (3 of them gold) for swimming at the Olympic Games between 1912 and 1932. But the Duke is most credited with spreading the love of surfing around the world. His surfing seminar in Sydney in 1914 sent Australia down the surf-crazy sinkhole, and it's never recovered. No wonder the people of Hawaii erected this 17 and a half foot statue of him at the entrance to Kuhio Beach. Incidentally, surfing made its long-awaited Olympic debut at the 2020 Tokyo Games, with Hawaii's own Carissa Moore representing Team USA. She became the first woman to win a gold medal in surfing. Way to go Carissa!

During this trip I also noticed how the plight of homelessness has reached enormous proportions in the land of my youth. Ever since the cities began sweeping homeless people away from the inland parks, tents have sprung up on the ocean roadsides everywhere, like here in Waimanalo

Waikiki even has a "sit-lie ban" prohibiting people from sitting or lying down on public roadsides. Did you know that? Wow. I'm afraid this will only push the homeless into Kapahulu, Kaimuki, Diamond Head, and Palolo. Quick fixes rarely work.

Did you know that:

  • 45 out of every 10,000 residents of Hawaii experience homelessness.
  • The average life expectancy is 53 for Hawaii's homeless. This is nearly 30 years lower than the general population of the islands.
  • The homeless in Hawaii are disproportionately native Hawaiians. 
  • There is a high rate of mental illness, addiction, and PTSD among this population of people.

Who's to blame? It's complicated. Many blame the government of Hawaii. They point out that many of the homeless come from the mainland, enticed by the benefits of a liberal, welfare-centric government and, of course, the pleasant year-round weather. The locals I talked to said state officials are weak and reactionary. Instead of plugging the tidal wave of homeless from other states, they've thrown money into welfare-type benefits, making homelessness more attractive. They point out that despite the millions of dollars used to address the problem, the number of homeless people in Hawaii hasn't dropped.

The high cost of living in Hawaii probably has something to do with this, don't you think? I mean, $300k will get you a pretty nice home in North Carolina or Virginia, but what will it get you in Hawaii? Nothing. I should know. I looked into it. Most people I know here work two or three jobs just to break even every month. Obviously, Hawaii has the resources to deal with the local folks who've either fallen on hard times or who suffer from drug addiction or mental illness. But the reality is that Hawaii seems to have become a sanctuary state for this kind of lifestyle, and this is a direct result of the leadership of the state.

In many ways, Hawaii is a better place to visit than to live. If you moved here you'd probably be shocked by the lousy roads, expensive real estate, crumbling infrastructure, and poor school system, with no real solutions available. The people who do relocate here do so temporarily (like the military) or are business owners, as were my paternal grandparents who immigrated to Honolulu from Montana in the early 1900s in order to open an import-export company. You'd also find more and more out-migration as kamaaina (locals) like myself move away. Paradise seems to come at a very high cost after all.

The bottom line is that "homeless" is a label that is applied to people who are human beings created in the image of God, just like human beings from the middle and upper classes of society and even the super rich. I thank God every day for my own blessings and never look down on any other who did not receive the breaks I have received in life. As I said, many of us who were born and raised in Hawaii have moved away. That shouldn't come as a shock. Every single time I tell someone that I grew up in Hawaii, they seem surprised. "Why would you leave?" It did make my happy to live in Hawaii. I was in heaven waking up to the birds singing every morning, swimming or surfing in the ocean daily, and seeing every sunrise and sunset. I'm grateful to have had these experiences, but since the age of 19 I've been on a new path, one that involves a much larger world than Hawaii could ever have provided. This doesn't mean that I won't keep coming back to the islands, though. In the meantime, I hope that the locals try to keep love and aloha in their hearts and help where and when they can. As in the rest of the world, the biggest problem in Hawaii is not economic but spiritual. 

The day before I arrived in my hometown of Kailua last week, a 21-year old homeless woman was found dead in some bushes at the entrance to the town. No one deserves that kind of short life and lonely ending. God bless her and the people so desperately trying to help these lost young people. 

Well, that's my Hawaii trip recap for now. I hope you enjoyed it. If you did, be sure to subscribe and hit that like button. (Kidding.) Seriously, though, do take a few minutes today to count your many blessings. It will do you a world of good.