Red Bull doesn’t give you wings — McDonalds does. Thanks good ol’ Uncle Ron and my telephone book of bad habits, I’ve got the kind of freakish back fat that justifies starting a rumor that I practice Suspension (you know, hanging from the ceiling from deep sea fishing hooks sunk into the skin). Couple that with hair follicles feisty enough to make even the Missing Link jealous, and I’m a twice-certifiable circus freak. So it goes, I’ve not been much of a beach person.
It’s not that I don’t like the water — I love it — but being a country kid affords being able to comfortably hide deformities under jeans and jackets and, before you know it, build up a healthy layer of blubber for a long winter that will never come. But the ocean — on and island, and for an islander — is undeniable, and a return to it inevitable. So this week, I put aside my inhibitions and baked-on not one, but two salmon-colored layers onto my otherwise hoary flesh — thanks to a pair of unique seafaring adventures.
The first was a maritime expedition last Wednesday, aboard the Pacific Whale Foundation‘s Intrigue, as the Maui Ocean Center released six juvenile honu into the waters off South Maui’s Pu’u Olai. Of the 50 some-odd folks on board (including 25 lucky students from Kihei Charter School), I was the only one wearing a beanie. This was baffling. I know it’d been awhile for me, but I assumed that beanies were mandatory for boat-boarding. Sure, I was cheating a bit in that I wear my beanie so much it’s knitted itself to my head; but could I have removed it I wouldn’t have, as it seemed a fair homage to Jacques Cousteau, being on a boat, and doing boat-y things.
Fortunately, John Gorman, Head Curator at the Maui Ocean Center, is a sprite incarnation of Cousteau (so I didn’t feel so awkward with my lonesome beanie); and brimming with knowledge while buzzing about the deck in his wetsuit, his presence alone made the whole, very official affair all the more official-er. One of the more interesting facts he shared is that the turtles — hatched in captivity at the Sea Life Park Hawaii and shipped via air cargo to the Valley Isle at the tender age of about two months — had been reared for two years by his staff in preparation for their release, and fed a careful diet mirroring both substance and quantity of what they’d eventually be eating in the wild. I felt hunger pangs for them, and so helped myself to another croissant from the cabin.
Snacking, I peered for some time at green sea turtles, who were not so much green as they were black and kissed with ehu like wisps of flame. Etched with a Dremel tool (and filled with white industrial paint — nail polish, researchers discovered, did not hold up as well) into the rear of their shells were two letters, “M” on the left, and one of “A” through “F,” to distinguish each of the six.
Lingering around the tubs for too long, I had a knack for getting in the way and nearly collided with one of the caretakers (too cute for me, even as a reporter, to muster the courage to confirm his name), who was focused on readying the green sea turtles to to torpedo out into the wet wild blue yonder. Someone handed him one of the 30-pound creatures, but he refused it saying, “No, that’s MA. Where’s MF?” He then reached into one of the two big blue tubs and pulled out a turtle that looked exactly like the other, saying, “There’s my boy!”
“Why’s he your boy?” I asked, clearly annoying the man who — like all the professionals on board — were quite emotionally tied to the turtles, and he was in the midst of a hurried, heightened moment with his favorite of the bunch. As MF flapped his powerful fins, and the man flexed to maintain his grip and as he turned away, replied, “Well, he’s got a bit of a personality, as you can see.”
After oli and other rituals by kahu Charles Kauluwehi Maxwell, Sr., the turtles were one by one carried into the water, and they flew furiously out of view into the deep blue. Everyone cheered and the sea’s temperament seemed to respond too, as it was astoundingly malia for the whole morning, until we hit a stiff headwind at the very end of our voyage.
My second ocean expedition needs little explanation more than its title: “Gay Surf Sunday.” Friend of the paper and MauiTime blogger Julie “Coco” Yoneyama (@JulieYakaCoco / cocosays.com) had invited me to surf at Launiupoko with her and her crew of mahu dudes. Needless to say, it was an invitation that I could not pass up, as I neither surf, nor am gay. Nervous as I was (after all, if I’m kanaka-born and can’t surf, I might get kicked off the island), as I should have guessed, a bunch of down to earth gay guys and gal pal with the MT stamp of approval (on a oddly quiet day at the beach park, no less), was quiet possibly the most supportive environment in which to get an introductory tutorial, and I managed to not fall (because I didn’t ever quite stand up). But, the lesson ended early when a shark was spotted, and I bee-lined away faster than Phelps.
At the end of my week, though sunburned and sore, it was all more than well worth it; but more than anything made me wonder why I’d shied away for so long. Nobody died from looking at me, if I made a fool of myself, I’ve so-far survived the shame, and it felt good to stretch my wings.
Monday (September 6) Update: Happy Labor Day! I have yet to labor, today — but I did read the daily (so I’ve got that going for me). In very loosely related news, today on page A4 of the Maui News, there’s an AP story titled “Woman retains wing title,” about Sonya Thomas, “The Black Widow of eating contests,” who “best(ed) world eating marvel Joey Chestnut,” who’s “America’s No. 1 professional eater,” by eating “4.86 pounds of chicken wings… nearly 181 chicken wings in 12 minutes,” in the national championships in Buffalo, NY. “Drew Cerza, the founder of the festival, (was) inspired by the 2001 Bill Murray comedy Osmosis Jones, about a compulsive eater.” The article further says that Thomas is just 5ft tall and 105 pounds (so I’ve still got her beat in the back fat department), and “previously set eating records for oysters, hard-boiled eggs, cheesecake and jalapeno peppers.”
Another Update: Hey, look! This is me with Trish “The Dish” Smith from Maui Weekly! (Read her story “A Honu World” HERE. Title is too good. I hate you, Trish.) And there, folks, is my infamous beanie. Trish took this pic on her smart phone, e-mailed it to me immediately, titling it “Turtle Power.” Nice.