Castles in the Sand

Linda Burton posting from Honolulu, Hawaii – “Don’t bother buying sunscreen for the beach,” we were advised. “There are so many people at Waikiki all you have to do is get in the water and somebody else’s sunscreen will wash all over you.” Well eww, was our thought. But it’s the first day of summer! Who can resist an afternoon at the beach? And we were only two blocks away from Kuhio Beach Park, wide open for public use. We bought a Hello Kitty beach towel at the International Market next door. We bought the requisite pail and shovel, and a mat for sitting on the sand. And we bought our own personal sunscreen, because, well, eww. Out the door and down the elevator; Granddaughter Kayla swung the pail and danced down the block; past the hula hula dolls in the Made in Hawaii window; past the Ukulele shop and the Flip Flop store; past the giant banyan tree. We stopped to admire the statue of The Duke, Surfing Champion; grand swimmer; Olympic medalist. Surfboards were propped in the sand ahead of us; surfers were out on the waves, most of them in the paddling stage. Kayla picked her spot at the water’s edge; “Build me a castle,” was my request.

A good place to build castles, I’m thinking, since Waikiki Beach once was the playground of royalty. This area saw much of the tumult of Hawaii’s history; warrior kings and whaling ships; terrible epidemics and displaced Hawaiians. And then the tourists came. I looked up at the highrise hotels that line Kalakaua Avenue; I looked at the crowded sands where Kayla had claimed a tiny square as her own, for a few moments, in an afternoon.

What was it like before? Waikiki in Hawaiian means “spouting waters.” Very long ago this was a marshy wetland fed by mountain streams and gushing springs. The ancients dug out fish and duck ponds and planted coconut trees. The reefs provided an endless supply of fish and lobster. But the waves belonged to the nobility; they were called the Ali’i. I watched the surfers paddling out; two tanned teens sitting on the wall beside me waved and yelled cheers as their buddy stood and rode the wave. “Can you really tell who that is?” I asked, squinting and barely able to see that far. “Oh yes, we know his moves,” they answered. The Ali’i didn’t use colorful fiberglass boards like those that dot the waters today; they stood on shaped planks made of native wood, the first surfers on earth.

In the 1800’s a few hotels were built in the area and in 1893 a Greek-American named George Lycurgus leased a guest house and renamed the beach San Souci (French for “without worries”), creating one of the first beach resorts. Robert Louis Stevenson came later that year; it soon was a favorite destination from “the mainland.” Area coordinates still show the name as “San Souci Beach.”

It might be appropriate to call this sandy spot “Manhattan Beach,” it’s almost impossible to believe it, but the sand Kayla is playing on today was imported from Manhattan Beach, California, brought over on barges. Due to severe erosion, they began importing the California sand back in the 1920’s as tourism began to grow. Erosion continues to be a problem; a project this spring restored the beach to its 1985 shoreline.

Kayla’s castle was eroding too; she’s poured buckets of water over it; the wall has been breached. I walked over to get a picture of her antics; we laughed at my long shadow stretching out like I’m on stilts. “Let’s walk into those waves,” I suggested and Kayla ran ahead of me into the great Pacific Ocean. Waves broke over my feet and sand swirled out from underneath. California sand in Hawaii; we are free from worries, in this land of spouting waters.

The beach at Waikiki, a two-mile stretch just right for kings, just right for crazy tourist folks, just right for building castles on and washing them away.