We’re just a little to young too have been hippies. Missed it by less than a decade, though it may well be in my gene pool. My older brother had plenty of stories about the Haight and Ashbury, and even a visit to the Fillmore to see Janis Joplin while paint splotches on an overhead projector created psychedelic images on the walls. And I alluded to my hippy naturist tendencies in a previous post, when the nudies took over a secluded swimming hole just a few miles from town, much to my father’s dismay.
If there were such a thing as a time machine that could crunch the last forty years into one collective, surreal, clothing-optional experience, that would probably be a visit to Kehena Beach about twenty miles outside of Hilo on the big island of Hawaii – where it seems the clock didn’t exactly stop in 1969, but just kept spinning in circles.
I have already ranted about what a shame it is that a place with the perfect year-round climate for nudity is quite overrun with “prudity.” I suspect the main force behind that has less to do with laid-back islanders, and more to do with hordes of tourists coming from the mainland who bring all their naked taboos along in their beach bags. But it seems few of those tourists find their way far enough off the beaten track to set a naked foot on the beautiful black sand of Kehena Beach.
We have visited twice in the past week; once on a quiet weekday when there were perhaps two dozen people on the beach, about half of them naked. But also on Sunday, which is… special. This is when the weekly drum circle fires up around noon, and the local “family” comes out in a way much like I remember the monthly church picnics when I was a kid – sort of. There must have been at least 100 people on the beach, where the far end was supposedly where the naked people would congregate. But in reality, only one out of five people were opting for total “disclothesure,” scattered among the clothed and the topless, as if nothing was less than ordinary except that nothing was ordinary.
The drum circle itself is renowned; (See link on YouTube) an improvised community of locals who bring a wide array of instruments to create an endless loop – and I mean that in a good way – of syncopations and cross rhythms, while a guitarist jams, a trumpet player croons, or a guy on an Indian flute seeks out a scale that works. For all the rest, you can let your imagine run as freely as the children playing in the waves. As our new friend Mike, a main player in the drum circle put it, the common decorum is mellow. There was nothing there I wouldn’t want my children to see, though you may have the opportunity to explain a few distinctive odors wafting through the air. But indeed, mellow it is.
Looking for hipsters out to find self-realization? They are there. Out to find real hippies that maybe overdid it in their youths? They are there. Looking to find that guy who can do back flips and hand stands in the crashing waves? He is there. Looking to find families in swimsuits frolicking in the surf? They are there. Looking to find families without swimsuits frolicking in the surf? They are there. Looking to find a few middle-agers who are feeling just a bit out of their element, but thoroughly enjoying the show? We were there too. Particularly fascinated with the kid who brought along his pet duck, who happened to be incredibly adept at body surfing with his family. (The duck, that is, not the little kid.)
Given the sense of community – at least on Sunday afternoons – at this remote little paradise, I was reluctant to blog about it at all, except for the fact that the Friends of Kehena Beach maintain their own website about the place which turns up just about anytime you go searching for nude beaches in Hawaii. To our knowledge, while there may be secret little coves suitable for nude sunbathing all over the islands, Kehena on the big island, and Little Beach on Maui are about the only two places were you can confidently drop your clothes and know you won’t be the only one naked on the beach.
Not into the time warp thing? Don’t go on a Sunday. A Friday morning visit offered the freedom to chill out on the stunning black sands while a decidedly mixed crowd came and went on this late summer day. If you’re looking for a dose of genuine, laid-back Hawaii, you’d be hard pressed to find a better place than here.