National Geographic : 2015 Feb
66 national geographic • February 2015 not pragmatic, as he showed in the running of his contest. Tourists who drove up from Honolu- lu often returned to their rental cars to find win- dows smashed and wallets missing. “ That’s the stupid thing they do. They bring a lot of mon- ey,” Keaulana said. So he identified the locals responsible for the break-ins—“all the thieves and make-trouble guys”—and hired them as security guards. The thefts mostly stopped. In recent years resorts have begun spread- ing up the West Side, and vacation homes have sprouted amid the modest plantation-style houses that cluster on either end of Makaha’s golden beach. But in other ways little has changed. At a beachside picnic table in the shade of a milo tree, Keaulana and his fellow uncles In the main town of Waianae the highway is lined with fast-food outlets, pawnshops, and scruffy shopping plazas. Homeless people camp in a thicket near the boat basin. I went to Waianae to meet one of Keaulana’s “make-trouble guys,” a surfing prodigy with a troubled past named Sheldon Paishon. I turned in to a neighborhood of ramshackle houses, one of which had a bedsheet hanging in the front door. Paishon poked his head through the opening and joined me in my car. Born on the West Side in 1993, Paishon had a painfully thin build and a crest of floppy, sun- bleached hair that he calls a “frohawk.” I asked whether he wanted breakfast. He declined, ex- plaining that he had eaten well the night before. He told me that his mother had been panhan- dling at the Waianae Mall, where someone had bought her a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken that she brought home to her family. “She met the right person,” Paishon said. “She got blessed.” We drove north to Makaha, stopping briefly so that Paishon could retrieve his surfboard of the moment—a sorry-looking thing with a busted-off nose—from the bushes where he’d stashed it the day before. We continued in the same direction and a few minutes later parked along the beach at Yokohama Bay. “Yokes” is considered the heaviest break on the West Side, and on this morning it was easy to see why. Thick, powerful waves unfurled across a shallow reef. But Paishon didn’t hesi- tate before joining the dozen or so surfers al- ready in the water, and within moments he was dominating the field. Effortless, devil-may-care takeoffs, casual tube rides, soaring aerial ma- neuvers—he surfed with a grace and audacity I had rarely seen outside of pro-surfing videos. After half an hour, he snapped his board in half and swam back to the beach, holding a piece of it in one hand. A lifeguard who had been watching wagged his head and observed, “You shouldn’t judge a fish by his ability to climb a tree.” It seemed like a cryptic statement, but to anyone who knew Paishon and his history, it made perfect sense: Few surfers on the West For the most part this is not the Hawaii of tourist brochures. while away the hours “talking story” or play- ing dominoes, and outsiders are received warily, at least at first. “You got any ID?” one of the uncles demanded when I first appeared with my notebook and questions. I later asked the same man if he worried about the influx of nonlocals competing for waves, and he assured me that he didn’t. “We regulate that to death, brah.” The communities collectively known as the West Side are situated along Oahu’s Farrington Highway, which begins west of Pearl Harbor and passes through Makaha before terminating near the island’s northwestern tip, called Kaena Point. Running along the base of the Waianae Range, it’s a rain-starved coastal strip that’s one of the oldest settled parts of Oahu. Here and there are ruins of stone temples and fishponds, along with more contemporary echoes of Hawaii’s past: roadside stands selling poke (raw fish) and laulaus (pork wrapped in taro leaves), outrigger canoes hauled up on the beach at Pokai Bay. But for the most part this is not the Hawaii of tourist brochures.