When I embarked on this Hawaiian journey I hoped it would be filled with amazing experiences and adventure, sunsets, surfing, warm evenings and the maybe even sounds of a ukulele playing in the background. Looking back, it was nothing like I expected. Yes, it was spectacular, and of course it was warm, but some aspects of adventure and companionship were more nuanced than expected. I knew some things about everyday life when camping on a remote farm were going to be wildly different from home, but I never expected three of my passions – driving, surfing and simply meeting friends would be so complex in Hana.
Our host purchased a 1998 Ford Ranger for us to use and we were all so excited for this freedom and mobility. I got a taste of the craziness that lie ahead the moment we left the airport. We drove two and a half hours home along the Hana Highway to get to our new residence. This road is world famous for its 620 curves, 59 one lane bridges, and the breathtaking views from this treacherous road. I got to experience that road 24 more times over the course of 3 months. Sometimes I would be the white-knuckled driver, other times I’d watch fearfully from the passenger seat, and every third trip from the bed of the truck – looking backwards, lolling back and forth on the verge of vomiting with unrelenting rain showers pouring down on me. Seeing that road the first time set the tone for the trip and forced me to wrap my head around the twists and turns to come. The journey quickly evolved from something cool and visually mesmerizing to a nauseating rollercoaster that seemed to never end. But by the end of the trip we had trimmed the drive to two hours and felt like masters of the jungle stock car race.
While Hana is known for its plentiful natural resources, people are few and far between, and US mainlanders even less so. We had hoped to make some local friends eventually, and after several days in a row of playing Frisbee and making diving football catches in the waves after work with a group of locals curiously looking on from afar, someone finally came up and asked to join in our game. We were so excited. Before long we were grilling out on the beach with about 20 other “woofers” (Working-On-Farm) from the Hana area. That initial connection turned our rather predictable farming and swimming routine into Frisbee Fridays, Volleyball Sundays, Soccer Wednesdays, and big wave Thursdays. It was awesome and it was a game changer for us. They were great folks loving the land the way we’d hoped to, leading us on cliff jumping expeditions deep in the rainforest or along ocean coves, searching for secret beach spots and trading farming secrets over an evening fire. Their willingness to befriend us and share their own network and adventure took us to all corners of the island.
Surfing was something we all learned to love very quickly and occupied many weekend hours. Saturday afternoons we would finish work, throw our day packs, cameras and surfboards in the truck and hit the winding road in search of waves. We would drive all over the island chasing breaks appropriate to our abilities. As our surfing skills grew so did our appetite for bigger waves. Pacing the wave or standing on a board was easy in the grand scheme of things. Our understanding of where to set up in the lineup, how to read the water, identifying consequential landmarks became critical areas of focus. Many of those tasks did not come easy, as the help from the local crowd was nonexistent, not very welcoming to outsiders and far different from the Hana “woofer” crowd. Every new break we went to posed different problems and challenges, whether it was the paddle out, navigating the crowds of surfers, finding non-deadly exit points, or avoiding the ever present reefs. One by one, through much trial and error we were able to steadily progress without getting killed and soon were catching waves beyond our wildest dreams. Some of my best memories from the trip materialized from not just surfing but the adventure of finding secluded spots, beating others to the break after a rainstorm and checking out the sights from various parts of the island.
Our host had suggested that dietary changes were coming our way upon arrival in Hana, as were eating schedules, work routines, bathroom protocols and basic daily hygiene. I will admit that all of those required some measure of adjustment, but the act of simply getting to and from the beach, meeting new friends and surfing waves ended up being far more challenging than I could have imagined. But everything we learned in that arena was worth the additional effort. I can now drive with laser focus and have perfected the hairpin turn as if driving a golf cart. I can size up a surf break and manage to navigate the water, natural obstacles and enthusiastic inhabitants like a native. And I have learned most important of all to embrace new and different people, to realize how everyone loves to play, and to keep putting myself out there in search of new relationships and experiences. The easier stuff somehow became the challenging stuff, but it made Maui a better experience and will stay with me forever.