“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 here from LA to change my routines and attitude and, after only two days, I fell right back into my pattern from home: Distracting myself 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. But 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 talk 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.
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 all I’m on the island where the popularizer of that phrase, Ram Dass, lives.
After several miles 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 then its speed limit suddenly ratchets down to 20 mph. Not surprisingly, hiding around corners and in the bushes, police wait for the Little Beach celebrants.
As is often the case in the coolest places I’ve seen all over the world, the original tip came by word of mouth. Decades after my first visit, I still remember that whisper about a hippie haven just beyond a lava outcropping.
Big Makena State Beach offers a wide comfortable beach and some basic facilities, but back in the day, we 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 legendary tradition in the hippie world. One sees mostly younger folks nowadays, like the young man who woke me up that day, but mixed into the crowd are many gray-haired celebrants.
Overall, Maui is like that now, too. 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 Costco to El Pollo Loco. But my first visit in 1976 etched the place into my soul as a tropical idyll, a nature adventure. We rented a converted pick-up trucks from Beach Boy Camper Holidays and camped at any beach park for free (no permits needed). It was the anti-tourist tour of Hawaii, a mix of my priorities of freedom of movement and comfort. It’s the same—relax where and when you feel like it—appeal of the RV culture of today. This ‘tour’ is not possible today.
Unlike most of Maui, the show doesn’t end at sunset; a night tribe comes out with fire sticks. The whole world is a lot more managed these days. But participating once again in the free expression of Little Beach revived the part of me that is still 25. As I 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)—that youngster doesn’t often show up. Stoked, I stayed till almost sunset and, as I left groups of people were just arriving with their drums and batons and ice chests for a wild fire dance to welcome the moon.
On this trip to Maui I rented a room via AirBnB because I wanted to stay in a locals’ neighborhood, Paia. 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 . Around the same age, with long hair with an occasional penchant for wearing long dresses, he had recently left a work/ stay arrangement at an organic farm on Maui. The next day, a friend of his from home (Grand Rapids, MI) arrived who worked on island as a tree-cutter. And then a third guy, a medical marijuana care-giver, came from Michigan, too. 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 a while, more so since I quit the rat race (some call it career). Many of us older, retired people share this with young people: We’re both free of most responsibilities and when wanderlust hits the world calls, and the bold ones are off to on a new adventure. For me the remembrance of revelry, expression, and community of Little Beach made for a good excuse to visit Maui, yet again.
We all have that need for novelty, the unknown, and the exotic. Sometimes it is deeply repressed and / or covered by excuses, but it is usually possible to seek and find your own Little Makena Beach, just past the rocky point.
Recall a ‘magical’ place or experience you had in your youth and haven’t revisited. Imagine what it felt like. How does it feel now?
Throw away most of your caution and security and go back or do it again. Example: I stopped playing golf when I was 20, recently I picked it up again and it is fresh and fun.
[Ed.s’ Note: Other essays can be found in RW Klarin’s memoir/ self-help book—Living the Dream Deferred (2015)
Beyond taking you back to one of the most interesting times in American history, the book can help move you forward on your own mission. IF you DO the Inner Journey and Action Steps that are part of its format. Then you, too, can head out to exotic isles or create your on wonderland at home.]