Matt Lane & Lahaina Town Cleanup

Between the grooves of the knotted root system of a thick, shady tree at Launiupoko Beach Park, Matt Lane is resting comfortably. It’s the first time we’ve sat all day. He picks up a wandering roly poly and jovially reminisces about boyhood days spent chasing bugs in Oklahoma. He prods gently at the isopod, attempting to get it to do the thing that earned it its name—to no avail. Rather, the little guy seems content to crawl around on his hand, unperturbed.

It just may be Lane’s comfortable style that puts critters—and people—at ease. I gather he’s the type who can become fast friends with most anyone—a trait that bodes well for a man who has plunged deep into the heart of the community he’s called home for the last seven years, in an effort to bring together people from every demographic to unite under a common cause.

Even when flitting between phone calls and messaging, he’s patient, mellow and engaging—the measured pace of his cadence unexpectedly incongruous, considering the daunting schedule he’s worked himself into, wearing many hats as a community event planner, concert promoter and server.

Though composed, Lane is relentless in his passion for Maui, an uncommon quality in young, typically transient transplants. More than talk, his actions speak powerfully.

Case in point: this Saturday marks the fifth installment of one of Lane’s pet projects, the annual Lahaina Town Clean Up. Gathering impressive momentum and support since the event’s inception in 2005, Lane has been working tirelessly to include more sponsors, activities and of course, volunteers. Last year, more than 300 volunteers came out. Some 500 people are expected to participate this year.

The event will ambitiously tackle the scope of Lahaina Town, from where we sit at Launiupoko all the way to Canoes Restaurant at the curved tail end of Front St. At first it was just a beach clean up, but the event has expanded in recent years to include both harbors and the town at large—everything from divers harvesting underwater trash to a fine-toothed sweep of the coastal stretch from the shoreline to the makai side of Honoapiilani Highway. The effort even includes the entirety of Lahainaluna Road, thanks to strong representation from the students of Lahainaluna High.

“The cleanup took on a life. There are kids who have been doing it for four years now, from freshmen to seniors,” says Lane, who puts particular effort into making the events educational and creating a long-lasting impact.

Part of the Ocean Conservancy’s 24th annual International Coastal Cleanup—an impressive coalition of thousands of grassroots campaigns throughout 100-plus countries, which removed an estimated 6.8 million pounds from beaches and waterways last year alone—the Lahaina Town Clean Up aligns itself with international goals to “engage people to remove trash and debris from the world’s beaches and waterways, identify sources of debris, and to change behaviors that cause marine debris in the first place.”

Lane is weighting this year’s educational topics heavily toward the issues of consumerism and waste and is training team leaders (orchestrated by one of Lane’s many good friends, Kepa Niles) to educate participants about how our current habits impact the environment.

Before our rest under the tree, Lane and I trudge through debris-ridden sand at Kamehameha Iki Park adjacent to 505 Front Street. The area near the canoe hales will serve as cleanup headquarters, thanks to hosts Hui O Wa‘a Kaulua. We stop to poke around underneath one particular tree near the ocean that seems to be a vortex for collecting waste. Last year, Lane recalls over 1,000 cigarette butts were pulled from the sand immediately under that one tree, along with a frightening array of garbage fragments.

As we walk, Lane discusses the energy, resources and human rights issues associated with, say, a small electronic gadget: first there’s the raw materials involved, then the extensive, fuel-consuming global journey the parts and packaging must take and finally the product’s arrival at stores where (underpaid) salespeople work to sell these cheap items to patrons who are ill-informed about the consequences of their consumption.

“[Things are] fast. People aren’t always concerned about how we’re living,” says Lane. “I didn’t always think about these things. Now, every day of my life I’m thinking of it. Do I really need this? Maybe it is better to save and spend a little more on things you’ll keep longer.”

Building on the topic of consumerism, one particularly interesting activity at this year’s event will be an evening screening of the 30-minute version of the documentary Fuel. The film explores U.S. dependence on oil, primarily in relationship to energy but also in connection with widely used petrochemical-based products. Interspersed throughout the film is commentary from celebrity activists like Sheryl Crow, Larry Hagman and a personal favorite with a local connection, Woody Harrelson.

Following the screening, a celestial presentation and guided stargazing will be lead by Kala Baybayan, integrating cultural relevance into the event, a matter of importance to Lane and event partners, people like Rae Chandler of the Community Work Day Program.
“I walk down the street and feel so passionate—[Maui is] the toughest place I’ve ever lived, but also the most rewarding,” says Lane.

Though overwhelmingly positive and vision-driven, Lane is candid about the logistical stresses of pro-bono event planning, not to mention the trials we all share surviving island life.

“I’ve learned so much about myself living here—it all goes back to being humble,” he continues.

Humility is indeed one of Lane’s most winning qualities, a part of the easy-going affability that has won him abundant friends and supporters—all of whom he talks about profusely, how they’re contributing, why they’re “really cool.”

He’s squeamish during the Maui Time beach photo shoot, and even more uneasy when he picks up on the fact this story may take a slightly personal-interest tone. He repeatedly asks that I not detract from “what’s important—the event,” and keeps talking up the long list of businesses and individuals who are pouring time, resources and passion into making this event a success.

Regardless of how much he insists the effort is collaborative—which it undoubtedly is—the leadership factor cannot be denied. It takes a charismatic and passionate orchestrator to bring together so many elements and details.

Perhaps the best testament to Lane’s magnetism is that it’s impossible to spend a moment with him without bumping into someone he knows. Not just someone he knows, but someone he knows well and has obvious heartfelt rapport with. In the day I spent with him, as we explored various key shoreline sites and some of the businesses supporting the cleanup, we encountered nothing short of a constant rotation of enthusiastic characters, running the gamut of backgrounds (still-dripping surfers straight out of a session, business owners attending to their shops, partners like Niles and Nestor Ugale, Jr.).

“Maybe I’m good at bringing people together,” Lane admits. “And maybe if I’m good at that, that’s what I should do. I just want to be really, really happy.”

I laugh when he says that last part, standing at the crosswalk at Launiupoko in the fading light. Don’t we all? For Lane, it’s community projects like the Lahaina Town Clean Up that bring him joy, and consequently bring joy to others—roly polys and people alike. Maui Time Weekly

5th annual Lahaina Town Clean Up
Sat., Sept. 19, 9am-9pm

Bring work gloves and a re-usable water bottle; food, water and other materials provided