After you’ve been on Maui (or anywhere in Hawaii) for awhile, you’ll hear the Hawaiian word “kama’aina” — it refers to a local person, a long-time resident, or a native (but not necessarily native Hawaiian). There are certain privileges to being a kama’aina, the most sought-after being discounts to meals, drinks, and hotel accommodation. To qualify, you need to show your Hawaii driver’s license or Hawaii state identification card. The latter is easy to obtain but you need an address.
“The waves are good on the west side tomorrow,” he says, after checking the weather forecast. “I’ll load everything up tonight. I’ll take you boogie boarding tomorrow.”
The newcomer smiles. She loves boogie boarding, especially when he spots a good wave and pushes her off her board.
The west side refers to the coast of Lahaina and northwards to Ka’anapali. They rarely go there because the road to Lahaina sometimes gets jammed with traffic or stopped by accidents. It’s as bad as Hana Highway around Paia town.
She learned the term “boogie boarding” on her first visit to Oahu. She was eighteen, fresh out of high school. Her friends picked her from the airport and took her boogie boarding and snorkeling.
The next morning, they drive to a beach, a few miles before Lahaina town.
“How do you know where to go?” she asks.
After they unload, he tells her to leave her slippers behind.
It’s mid-morning. There are few people in the water at this hour.
They stare at the horizon. Waves come and go. They all look the same to her. She can’t tell where to stand and when to jump on her styrofoam board.
“Here’s a set coming,” he motions her to follow him. “Start swimming,” he points to the beach. “Jump on your board! It’s coming!”
He gets on his own short board and rides behind her and around her. When he is in the water, he looks like he is in ecstasy. She can tell that he belongs in the water.
“You are one with the water,” she exclaims. “How can you tell a good wave from a bad one? How can you tell a set is coming?”
“Experience. Every wave is different.”
She loves the sensation of being pushed by the water and riding it until she gets to shore. If she does it herself, it’s a hit and miss. With him, she gets a good ride.
“How long does it take to spot a good wave?”
“You’ve heard of Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hours, right? You learn to read the waves. You can feel a good set coming. I’ve been surfing since I was fourteen.” His skin is much darker than hers, a testimony of decades in the tropics. He could pass for a Hawaiian were it not for his blue eyes. “Listen to this NPR clip about the perfect wave — there’s no such thing.”
With her natural skin colour, she could easily pass for a native Hawaiian but she knows nothing of the native practices. She surmises. What does it take to blend in with the locals? Do as the locals do? Speak like the locals?
You can own many surf boards and boogie boards, but that doesn’t make you a surfer or boogie boarder. You do need practice. Just like owning a Hawaiian State ID card or a Hawaiian Driver’s License doesn’t make you a real local resident. To be a kama’aina, you need the sort of local knowledge that comes from living there a long time.
[Note: You probably notice that the photo used in these blog posts sometimes get replaced with more suitable ones. When an idea for a story strikes, there isn’t always an image that fits. Please revisit for a photo that brings the story to life.]