A Townie goes to Kailua

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If you’re a bit sore, perhaps from kayaking, here’s the one Kailua secret I uncovered. Even people who’ve lived there a long time don’t seem to know about Hawaii Healing Arts College.

From the name, I expected something hippie-ish. Instead, I found an immaculate, professional operation, white walls, lots of expensive-looking wood trim. The college prepares students to become licensed message therapists. It has a steady stream of graduates who’ve been through months of training, but have to perform 100 massages before they can be licensed. For $25, you can book a massage with one of these interns, half the cost of the licensed therapists also available.

For getting into a mellow Kailua groove, there’s hardly a thing better.

 

Every day I walked down the little beach path strewn with hibiscus petals from the neighboring hedges, past the pile of slippers that people kicked off before stepping onto the sand and down the beach itself.

By midday, Kailua Beach turns into a kind of pedestrian mall and dog walk. One local vet estimated there were 15,000 dogs in Kailua. I must have met half of them.

People, too. I talked to anyone who’d stand still. Emma Howard, who designs aloha shirts, lived around the corner from my studio. Her dog, Gracie, took her for a beach walk daily.

Robert Chou, who doesn’t even live in Kailua, drives there to fish in the surf. As he put together his tackle, he told me: “If I get a bite, good. If I don’t, at least I enjoy the day. I’m outside, with the water and sunshine, and what if there’s no sun, then it’s cooler and I don’t get sunburned. No matter what happens, it’s never bad.”

I talked to kite boarders rigging their harnesses to the 14- or 16-foot crescent kites that would, when the wind cooperated, pull them across the water so fast they’d leave a sharp wake. “What are the kites made of?” I asked. “Don’t know,” they told me. “Plastic, maybe.”

Dacron. The kites are made of Dacron and cost $1,000. I learned this from Brant Wojack and Paul Porter, Kailua converts. Wojack had taught kite boarding on Cape Cod. “You could only do that three months a year, so I thought I better move here.” Porter, a classic surfer dude with long blond hair and an ability to say, “It’s all good,” every other sentence, was a transplant from Seattle. He was still in high school. “I like to wake up every morning and hear the wind and know I’m going to get on the water.”

Wojack and Porter were manning a truck full of water-equipment rentals in the beach park parkling lot. They could give kiteboarding lessons, but couldn’t rent you a kite. “Liability issues,” said Wojack. “The kites aren’t dangerous,” added Porter. “It’s the lines. You could cut up someone pretty bad. I always tell the people I teach, Don’t mess up.”

 

I began to feel guilty for hanging out at the beach. Kailua was more than a beach, it was a town.

I hit the streets. At Old Pali Road Antiques, one of Kailua’s five antique shops, Susan Grant told me that all the merchants in her little row along Kuulei Road were friends. “Just this morning I took some cake over to the guys in the tattoo shop.”

Grant specializes in costume jewelry. Her 70-year-old mother, who still lives in the Lanikai house Grant grew up in, comes in a few hours a week to help with beadwork.

A few doors down the street, Michelle Maielua-Yamashiro runs the Hungry Ear, “the oldest music store north of Honolulu.” Hungry Ear is small and, like music stores used to be, crammed with merchandise—new and used CDs, even vinyl records. “We get all ages, people love the thrill of the hunt through the old records.”

A few blocks up the street, Tom Weller mans the hobbycraft shop his father started. He specializes in plastic models, plus a full rack of Testor paints to add those finishing touches. His clientele is mainly adult men, who come from all over the island. “We’re not that isolated here.”

Isolated or not, none of these merchants much like leaving Kailua. “I’ll go to town to get something I can’t get here,” says Maielua-Yamashiro. “But I avoid it if I can.”

Adds Weller, “Once I had jury duty. Waking up early, getting on the bus—I can’t believe people do that every day.”

The only person who had positive feelings for Honolulu was Kehau Akana, who was grabbing a smoke break outside the Salvation Army store. She told me the production crew from the TV show Lost had bought up half the store’s used furniture. “I think they’re gonna burn ’em,” she said.

Akana used to work parking at Aloha Tower. She misses Chai’s Island Bistro. “Chai had all that music. I got my picture taken with all sorts of celebrities like the Makaha Sons, well, two of them. The other was off somewhere.”