Sunday, March 11, 2001
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Posted on: Sunday, March 11, 2001

Hawai'i Ways, Hawai'i Days
Childhood days spent at Hanauma Bay

By "Uncle" Tsarkie

When I was growing up in Honolulu in the 1950s and 1960s, my favorite beach was Hanauma Bay. I was luckier than most, because I got to spend a couple of months each summer camping there. Arriving at the parking lot above the bay and looking over the moss rock walls to see the "keyhole" in the coral reef was always the start of a wonderful summer.

My godparents were Irene Lee and her son Arthur. My godmother and her husband, Chuckalong, organized camp outs every summer. They also ran the little snack shop in the old green wooden pavilion that used to stand at the bottom of the winding road that traverses the hillside of the bay. Back then, private cars could still drive down to drop off camping gear.

Several families would camp together at the far end of the bay under a grove of kiawe trees. The primary duty we had as kids was to clear our camping area of kiawe thorns, the ones with the inch-long spines that easily punctured our rubber slippers. Once camp was set up, the adults would begin preparations for feeding all of us and sit around talking story. The kids got to play.

Of course, the first activity was always swimming. We usually headed for the "keyhole" to swim out to the reef, which was smoother than most. One summer we found a long plank floating in the bay and we decided to make our own diving board. We stuck it in a puka at the top of the "keyhole." We didn’t think about any damage we might be doing to the coral. We were just kids having fun.

After swimming, we liked to gather around the campfire to warm up. When I was 8, I went to sit near the fire and grabbed one of those folding wooden stools with a canvas seat, and it snapped shut.

I didn’t realize that it took off the tip of my right middle finger until I started to wrap the towel around me and blood began spurting out of my finger. I started crying and calling out for my godmother, affectionately known as "Auntrene."

She immediately wrapped my finger in cotton and told me to stop crying, which I did. She then drove me from Hanauma Bay to the hospital to be stitched up. I remember thinking that I had never seen "Auntrene" drive faster than the posted speed limit, but she did that day.

Another summer, we found a log about three feet in diameter and 10 feet long that was used in the movie "Blue Hawaii" as part of Elvis’ front porch. We played on that log and paddled it around the bay for hours.

Sometimes we’d walk along the north edge of the bay. There’s one spot where you have to walk through a hole in the lava. We liked to climb up above that puka and dive into the water there. The spot was known as "Broken Nose," but I don’t remember anyone suffering such a fate. Past the puka, the color of the water would change to a deeper blue the farther along we walked.

Just beyond the end of the bay is an inlet with a rock formation known locally as "Toilet Bowl," because of the way the seawater rushes in and out. Depending on the conditions of the ocean, the flushing action can be mild and just swirl around you or intense enough to lift you out of the hole.

The south side of the bay was better for fishing and for picking pipipi (small mollusks). We would gather hundreds of them and boil them in salted water, then spend time using a needle to life up the little protective flap to draw out the delectable meat.

We liked to fish for uhu (parrotfish) and kala (surgeonfish) using a bow and arrow. Uncle Chuckalong taught us how to connect a line to our arrows and wrap it around a can attached to our bows. It took great skill to be able to stand still enough for the fish to approach and be able to pull on your drawstring without chasing them away.

Things changed in 1967 when Hanauma Bay became a marine sanctuary. We could no longer fish there or remove any marine or plant life. However, camping was still allowed for a few more years.

During my college years, I would return home from Georgetown University and spend my summers as a camp counselor at Hanauma Bay for the city and county’s Summer Fun program. The various parks around the island would take turns sending kids to camp for three days and two nights. It was our job to keep them organized and occupied, and most of all having fun. Every time a new set of kids would come to camp, we would listen to them calling each other by name. We would then surprise them by also calling them by name.

As camp counselors, we would take them swimming in the "keyhole," hiking to the "toilet bowl" and exploring the hillside. We got to show them all the things we used to do when we were kids. We cooked on open fires. We played all day. We built campfires at night to tell stories and sing songs.

Trying to keep 300 kids listening to you around a camp fire can be a challenge. We’d tell the children that if too many of them were talking and not listening, we would raise our hands and that would be the signal for everyone to count to 10 as loud as they could. At the end of "10!" we wanted them to pay attention again. It worked like a charm every time.

We enjoyed telling them legends about the "lady in white" and taking them "snipe hunting." If a child got hurt or sick, we dealt with it and didn’t worry about being sued.

I seldom visit Hanauma Bay anymore. However, I still tell people that camping at Hanauma Bay was the best job I ever had.

"Uncle" Tsarkie lives in Palolo and is co-owner, with his wife Kathy, of Kwilts and Koa.

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