“Hey man, why you reading the paper? It’ll bring you down,” said a young man at the weekly celebration at Little Makena Beach on the Hawaiian Island of Maui. Awoken from miasma, his words blasted me back to the present. I came all the way here from LA, to change my routines and attitude and after only two days, I fell into my pattern from home: Distracting my ‘here and now’ with reading. In front of me a crowd of 20 free-spirits danced, drummed, twirled batons and hula hoops and surrounding them a 100+ multi-generational crowd mostly indulged in the clothing optional-custom of this hidden beach.
My accuser was a skinny guy, about 23, with long, blondish hair wearing a headband and glistening smile. He moved easily and quickly from one group or individual to another like he was the host of the event. Of course no one leads this neo-hippie scene, the whole event emerges ad-hoc. But this man, Joshua, played the maitre de of Little Beach, first drumming, then pulling a six-pack of beer out of a cooler and passing one to whoever he meets, myself included, then stopping for a hit off a joint and talking with a group of three young women, and then prancing down to the beach for a chat with an older guy with a long, gray beard. No generation-gap here.
The tropical sun blazed down on the revelers and I desperately sought some shade. Back home I enjoy hot, sunny days, but this was too much and I hid in the shade of trees on the periphery of the beach. That’s when the young host zapped me with the lightning bolt—‘Be here now.’
After miles and miles of jumble of big condo developments and tourist shopping centers in Kihei, the road goes through the antiseptic, planned community of Wailea with its luxury hotel resorts and golf courses and the speed limit ratchets down inexplicably to 20 mph. Not surprisingly hiding around corners and in the bushes police wait for the celebrating Little Beachers. I’ve been coming to Little Beach for decades on my many trips to Maui. As in most cool places I’ve visited all over the world, the original tip came by word of mouth. Someone in the tourist center said, “You might like Little Makena Beach. You get there by driving past the luxury Makena Resort to Makena Beach State Park south of Kihei and park at Makena Beach State Park.” Makena Beach offers a wide comfortable beach and some basic facilities, but you have to know that somewhere over a lava outcropping lies a hippie haven.
Back in the day the original hippies crawled over the rocks and in the secluded cove let go of clothes and inhibitions and ‘cleverly’ named it Little Beach. The word spread and the Sunday afternoon bacchanal grew into a tradition and legend in the hippie world. Nowadays one sees mostly younger folks like the young man who woke me up that day, but mixed in the crowd are many gray-haired celebrants.
Maui is like that now. My first visit in 1976 etched the placed in my soul as a tropical idyll. Beautiful scenery ranges from volcanoes to deserts to rain forest to tourist beaches , while at the same time it is a typical American small city with all of the conveniences from Home Depot to Costco. But in those days for us Maui was a nature adventure. A company called Beach Boy Camper Holidays rented converted pick-up trucks that we parked at any beach park and camped for free. It was the anti-tourist tour of Hawaii. That freedom of movement combined my priorities, freedom of movement and comfort. Stop where and when you feel it and relax. Maybe that underlies the appeal of the RV culture of today, freedom and comfort.
Of course, the whole world is a lot more packaged these days. Finding and participating in the free expression of Little Beach revived the part of me that is still 25. But it is difficult to find, since I just don’t travel in those globe-trotting young peoples’ circles these days. No hitch-hiking, not much hanging out in bars, and needing a bit more comfort (bed and warm shower). Stoked I stayed til almost sunset, and as I left groups of people were just arriving with their drums and batons and ice chests. The night brings on a wild fire dance I’m told.
On this trip to Maui I had the good fortune to drop into a group of free-spirited young people. I rented a room via AirBnB, because I wanted to stay in a locals’ neighborhood. The room and the house provided what I needed, plus the unexpected benefit of hanging with free-spirited youth. As it happened, the owner was out of town and he had a friend stay to supervise the rooms.
About 24, she quickly invited her new boyfriend to stay. About 22 with long hair with an occasional penchant for wearing long dresses, he had recently left a work/ stay arrangement at an organic farm and now was looking for work as a waiter. Another day, a friend of his from home (Grand Rapids, MI) arrived who worked as a tree-cutter. Finally a third guy who is a medical marijuana care-giver came from Michigan for a short visit. So, we had an instant communal crash pad, just like I experienced in the seventies. Someone scored a place to stay in a cool place, and the crew showed up.
Like me, they had come to Maui searching for something different from home and its routines. My Venice home serves me well, but it gets old after awhile, more so since I jumped out of the rat race. Some older, retired people share this with young people: We’re both free of most responsibilities and the adventurous ones break out: The world calls, wanderlust hits and at the slightest hint or suggestion, it’s off to on a new adventure. Even in touristy Maui.
Maui hit the spot for an easy break from the mainland routine. The weather is almost always perfect, spectacular natural sights await, and has all the comforts of home. For me as an adventure traveler it takes some adjusting, because the edginess that appeals to me is hard to find. But the revelry, expression, and connection of Little Beach made it for me. Don’t miss it, even if you weren’t a hippie. Fun can be infectious.