It starts with Venus, glowing like a coal in a faint pink sky, sunrise in my rear view mirror, dawn patrol gathering at Crack 14, sea still glassy, wind just picking up.
Rainbow at Princeville, billowing ehukai in Hanalei, my friend Caren, trembling a bit in the parking lot of Hanalei Colony Resort, having just been subjected to an in-your-face barrage of inelegant epithets, delivered by Freddie Kaufman, owner of one Haena lot and caretaker of two oceanfront properties.
Her “offense?” Taking pictures that document the public beach, as defined by the highest seasonal wash of the waves. Or more accurately, proving how much we're losing to private landowners, while the state looks the other way.
The swell is big, and blown out by a biting northwest wind, but it's certainly not the biggest in decades, and nowhere near “monster,” as hyped. It's about an hour past high tide.
We check out Swaying Palms, the debris line clearly evident in the adjacent lot. It's obvious the waves having been washing right under this "sleeps 14" vacation rental.
The surf has deposited a fresh layer of sand under the house, and piled up driftwood beneath the steps.
Using an access that's supposed to be 6 feet wide, we reach the beach.
We move cautiously along the sand, where surf debris is evident in the backyards of several TVRs.
It reveals the true extent of how much public beach has been lost to the mini-resorts.
Here, an undeveloped lot has been cleared makai, giving the public a big chunk of its beach back. But right next door, the same frontage has been effectively privatized.
In many places, landscaping has been ripped out by the waves. Caren recounts how Councilwoman JoAnn Yukimura, in discussions about the pending shoreline setback bill, asked what's so wrong with letting people replant when their vege is wiped out by the surf. Mmmm, because that would be allowing them to claim the obviously public beach.
Monk seal signage, left too close to the water line, starts floating out to sea, but a guy risks life and limb to retrieve it.
We check out the King and Princess Hale, due for a shoreline certification the next morning. The owners want to do some kind of remodel, though it's unclear if it's another round of the “unsubstantial improvement” kind that allowed them to enclose the downstairs. Hey, maybe the county's making them rip out the downstairs. I'll have to check with planning, but I'm not optimistic.
A peek at the lawn shows debris has washed into the backyard, past the proposed shoreline. Oops.
Just then, a wave washes up and flows 85 feet past the proposed shoreline, into the public access. The vege hedges interrupt the flow of water, and thus the natural movement of the sand on the beach.
Two of the limited parking spaces at this public access are being used by people staying at the adjacent vacation rental.
Next stop is Kanaha, where landowners have replaced public parking with boulders, spider lilies and no parking signs.
The beach access post has been yanked out. Translation: beat it.
The access takes us through an oh-so-attractive tunnel of weedblock, where the debris line again offers evidence that public beach has been privatized behind those black barriers on either side.
Karma never sleeps reads a hand-lettered sign intended to chasten a bike thief. Indeed.
As if on cue, as soon as we emerge, we are confronted with a graphic example of beach theft — a good 30 feet of sand covered by landscaping.
Guess that orange shoreline marker was set a bit too far makai, to the benefit of the landowner.
We walk down the beach, past Pierce Brosnan's yard. Though he's cleared some of his vege, it's apparent he's still encroaching onto the public beach. About 25 feet worth, in fact.
Not to mention his little shelter.
Back at Freddie's end, we find no furious Freddie, but the freshly deposited sand offers more evidence of vege and structural encroachment onto the beach. There's that ugly fence, the one whose removal was fought tooth and nail by a landowner's attorney, until the state finally gave up. This property also has more than 40 burials.
Right next door, another fence is obviously on the public beach. Sections are falling apart, and one day they'll break loose and become a nice hazard on the reef. And that's the other reason why you don't let people replant, JoAnn. Their stuff is just gonna end up back in the ocean.
We check out Chun's, where we have a public right of way to the shoreline. But due to fences on either side, there's no safe lateral access when the waves are big or the tide is high.
The surf is building at Haena Beach Park, which is swarming with tourists. Windblown, chilled, gritty-eyed, we head back to HCR, where Caren is parked. Enroute, we decide to make another quick stop at the King Hale to see if circumstances have changed. We run into a woman named Marilyn, who tells us she is photographing high water lines.
And why are you interested in high water lines? I inquire. Because I believe the entire public has a right to the beach, and not just the rich people, she replies. Caren introduces herself and Marilyn perks up, says she's been wanting to meet Caren, the patron saint of shorelines. We part with smiles. Some people get it. But not enough.
Caren and I relax for a moment, out of the wind and waves on a patch of sand washed clean in high tide. The fate of this bit of beach is before the Hawaii Supreme Court, which is considering Caren's challenge to the way the state has been certifying shorelines. But nature is showing us it's clearly the beach and belongs in the public trust — not as private property.
Without it, we would be unable to hang on the shoreline today, because the public beach is heavily vegetated and impassable on either side. Caren's been struggling to maintain the coastline here, often one lot at a time. Meanwhile, miles are being lost across the state as citizens stand idly by or devote their attention to other issues.
As we prepare to leave, we encounter the surveyor, who has come to check his proposed shoreline at the King and Princess Hale. He's saying one thing, nature is saying something else. Wonder what the state's shoreline certification guy will say when he looks tomorrow morning.
Turning into HCR, Caren points out a young man walking across the parking lot. “That's the guy who uses the turkey shit in his landscaping. He told me so. He's planted over 30 properties. Now he's getting paid to remove some of that vegetation.”
Caren and I say a hui hou and I head east, through Hanalei, which has become virtually indistinguishable from any other beachy tourist town, with its throngs and the smell of cooking grease hanging heavy in the salt air.
Waiting in a string of cars, I see a dozen gallinule foraging in a fallow taro field alongside the road. At least the native water birds are doing well, I think, though some taro farmers hate them for it.
There's a half-mile line of traffic on either side of the bridge, folks wanting to get in and out of the valley, and as I cross, I hear Shilo Pa singing in my head: “Whatever happened to Hanalei.”
And I remember what Caren said, right before we parted: "The North Shore is under assault."