Jaws Maui – Pe’ahi Bay Cleanup, May 2016

by | May 31, 2016 | Maui News and Events

For anyone who rides a board on the ocean, the tow-in surf break at Pe’ahi – also called Jaws – is wildly famous. In the wintertime, when offshore storms near the Hawaiian Islands have the most clout, Jaws goes off! Big wave surfers are towed into the massive waves by jetski and released to their skill, balance, and fate. Some have the ride of their life on waves up to 50 feet high. Others wipe out, and their jetski partners must scoot in between waves to scoop them up and dash out – essentially a rescue of two – before the next wave crashes. This dangerous and exhilarating sport, as you can imagine, breaks a lot of stuff: boards, jetskis, legs. The ocean here on the north shore of Maui is much tamer in the spring and summer, and that’s when the debris from winter swells can be retrieved. A few Saturdays ago, I experienced the joy of participation in a Pe’ahi Bay Cleanup!

My name is Amy Fonarow, and I’m an environmentalist and ocean lover, as well as a blogger with Boss Frog’s.  The Jaws Maui cleanup event started at 8:00 am, so I got there at 7:30 and sent out the drone to film the two coves that we planned to clean. I’d driven down there the day before to do reconnaissance work – to find out where Pe’ahi was, to film with a regular camera, and to (it turned out) take photos of a bunch of trash that had been dumped in the cane fields way above the break. After reading the event’s outline, I’d assumed the cleanup would involve only marine debris, but when I got there the morning of the event, I learned that the cane field trash was going to be picked up, too. Fabulous!

Big wave surfer Torsten Durkan was part of this project. Last year, after examining his reasons for surfing big waves and finding them selfish, the then twenty-three year old started a non-profit called Surfing Be Cause. He asked people to sponsor him based on the height of the tallest wave he could ride that winter. Sponsors pledged whatever they liked per foot of wave height, and after Torsten successfully rode a 50-footer at Pe’ahi Bay, he donated the money to the coral reef research of Dr. Ruth Gates at the University of Hawaii.

Without reefs, after all, there are no waves to ride.

Torsten noticed all the trash at Jaws Maui when he surfed there, and he brought up the situation to Rodney Kilborn. Torsten said he’d like to have a cleanup, and could Rodney help make that happen? Luckily, this one was of Rodney’s many areas of expertise.

Rodney Kilborn is the kupuna of Pe’ahi Bay and a steward of the land. For the past 36 years, every time he has stopped by Jaws, this self-described local boy has picked up after those who have acted as much less than stewards. He is extremely humble about this fact; it seemed very difficult for him to even say it out loud. Rodney runs a longtime water sports promotion and event company called Handsome Bugga Productions, and he is very well connected in the community. His relationships with various people and organizations made the the bulk of this event happen.

Rodney brought in color-coded maps of the area, insurance to cover the volunteers, dumpsters, dump permits, and waived dump fees, a helicopter (more on that later), trash bags, the volunteers themselves, and so much more. I ran into Rodney myself at a community event, and he informed me of the upcoming Jaws Maui Cleanup, so here I was, early on a Saturday morning.

After flying the drone, I put my toys away and walked around to chat with everyone. Soon, we all gathered in a circle to pule (pray) before the day of work began. I held the hands of the people beside me and closed my eyes.

Trinette Furtado’s chant cleared all my scattered thoughts. My focus became aware only of her voice and a strong, slow, spiraling energy connecting me to the sky and to the earth. My body tingled, and I felt both expanded and more solid. The soles of my feet felt closer to the ground. I opened my eyes. We got to work.

Although I had wanted to help gather some of the more exciting (to me) debris from the coast, volunteers were needed to work on the huge piles of trash dumped throughout the cane fields. I climbed into a truck bed, and we headed up the hill.

We were dropped off in teams along with the tools of the trade: trash pickers, surgical gloves, and large bags donated by Maui Malama Nui made of tightly woven plastic, like bags for rice. I and two other volunteers hopped down onto the red dirt road to focus on a trashed alcove about nine feet across. The pile looked to extend maybe 11 feet back into the cane grass. My two littermates were the delighted and knowledgable Bob, and the brilliant and grounded Anya. We each had one trash bag, thinking three bags ought to take care of it.

I often pick up litter by myself, and that works just fine. This day, however, I learned that I could do much more when laughing and working with friends. The pile of trash actually reached about 60 feet into the cane (seriously?), and we all had a lot of fun dealing with it together. (Bob is a retired dentist besides, so cleaning Jaws with him just made sense!)

Our little group alone picked up a lot of single-use items: take-out containers, plastic bottles, small plastic cups for salad dressing or soy sauce, and plastic straws, to name a few. We gathered broken glass, a washer (as in washer/dryer), car parts, a lawn mower, a ton of cardboard packaging that had been driven into the mud by the frequent north shore rains, and so much more – enough that I had to stop to stretch my back more than once. There were several abandoned vehicles in the fields, too, but we hadn’t the tools to handle those that day. I wondered why all this trash had been dumped here. After all, Maui County’s website states “There is no charge for residential users of county landfills.”

Remember the trash on the coast? Well, the Jaws Maui coastal team went down and gathered what they found into huge rope nets. Then, Don Shearer of Windward Aviation flew his helicopter over to airlift the marine debris to the cliffs above. Don lifted three full nets, each one hugging a pile of debris about five feet in diameter. The team had collected rope, huge pieces of foam, plastic items, several tires that had cruised in from Japan, and a lot more. Before being thrown away, this debris was to be inspected and catalogued to discover what – and where – each piece may have come from.

Pat Simmons, Jr. was one member of the coastal team, and in terms of their collection, he was most proud of a surfboard leash that had been recovered from beneath large boulders. Pat said it took about 15 minutes of dynamic teamwork – running in and out between wave sets – to finally free it. The leash was in excellent shape, and Pat said he plans to repurpose it as a clothesline. (You can see Pat and his leash in their photo together.)

When we were pau hana (finished with the work), there was lunch waiting for us! Back at the sign-up tent, we found stacks of pizzas from Costco and several cases of single-use plastic bottles of water. My stomach turned. Water, which originally comes from the sky, was wrapped in plastic bottles, wrapped with plastic branding labels, sitting on cardboard, wrapped with heavy plastic sheeting.

Using plastic bottles for water has become entirely offensive to me. On dating sites, if a man has a photo with a plastic water bottle in his hand, forGET it! Even if plastic bottles are quote “recycled” after use, they are bad for just about everyone. I’d brought water from the tap in a reusable stainless steel bottle that I’d bought from a surf shop on sale for six bucks. And pizza from a big box store? C’mon! I understand the cost factor, but after picking up all that trash, and seeing that so much of it was packaging barged in from the mainland, the juxtaposition was just too much for me. Flatbread Company – a great pizza place just a few miles away in Paia – was donating lunch on the event materials, but all I saw were Costco pies.

Pat-of-the-Leash, the coastal cleaner I spoke with earlier, was equally surprised about the meal choices being offered, and he hoped there would be more local offerings at the next event. “We can recycle,” he said quietly to me, not wanting to offend those who had kindly brought this food for us to share. “But we can also stop it here. Considering what we choose to buy, and purchase. We can grow food here . . . This is a big time of choice-making.” Right now in the Islands, we import about 90% of the food we consume.

In addition to the bottled water, someone had brought coconuts – one natural alternative to plastic, aluminum, and glass! I totally wanted to drink from one, but I didn’t know how. Although I’ve lived in Hawaii on and off for about eight years, I hadn’t yet drank from a coconut. I picked one up and looked blankly at the people around me. Without my pocket machete, I felt useless.

After a moment, the perfect tool was produced! It looked like a large pen that had been cut longways for half of its length and then hollowed out. Made of metal, the tool was sharpened to a point at one end. The pointy end was driven into the top of the coconut and then twisted to make a circle, which created a hole through the tough skin. I’d thought the coconut water would be warm, but it had a perfect coolness to it and tasted just wonderful! After working so close to the land for hours and then drinking the coconut water, I found that I didn’t feel the need to eat anything.

I sat on a tailgate and rested for a while as our group’s time together came to an end. After all was said and done, more than 200 people had used their time that day to lift Jaws Maui up. We completely filled the two dumpsters donated by Maui Disposal and gathered enough additional trash to fill at least four more (see photo).

Rodney later summed it up like this, “It’s not the amount. It’s the heart that’s important. It’s all about the people. You came here because you wanted to do something, and if you picked up just one bottle cap. . .that makes a difference. We had more than 500 to 600 working hours down there. It was good fun, too!”

I said my goodbyes, got into my car, and offered a ride to two people who were walking back up the cane road in the afternoon heat. Suzanna and Billy had come to Maui for their honeymoon, and they had walked down to see Jaws. They’d wondered what we’d been doing, especially with the helicopter. Energetic, curious, and kind, they’d just been married in Carlsbad, California, and both of them worked for the American Council on Exercise in San Diego. They seemed to be having a great time on their visit.

Happy Honeymoon from Boss Frog’s, Billy and Suzanna! If you guys need to rent any snorkel gear or beach gear, you want to do some incredible Molokini snorkeling, or you need some cool souvenirs to take back home call Boss Frog’s.

After I dropped Suzanna and Billy off at their rental car, I heaved a deep, happy sigh. I could barely contain my exuberance over what we’d all accomplished for Pe’ahi!

A bit later, I noticed a man working in his front yard, so I shouted from my car window, “Hey, we cleaned up! Things look a lot better in there!” I jerked my thumb backwards, toward Jaws.

“Oh, is that what you guys were doing down there? Thank you so much. I’ll make sure no one else throws rubbish,” the man said, beaming. “I always make sure when I see them coming.”

I learned the man’s name was Kalani, and his wife was Pearl. Pearl was currently seven months pregnant with their second child, and she was using the weed whacker just then. I was super stoked to hear that they were watching things at Pe’ahi. I don’t know about you, but sometimes the thought that “nobody cares but me/us” can seem overwhelming, but luckily that thought isn’t true. When speaking deeply with many people, you’ll find that they care, too! This is an important knowing; it makes us all stronger in what we love.

Now we know that these beautiful two are protecting that area from further disrespect.

I asked Pearl and Kalani if there was anything they wanted people to hear – especially visitors to the island, as that group makes up our main readership. They thought for a moment before replying, “Please don’t speed through here. It’s a family area, and there are kids that play. Also, it’s a long walk down the road; Jaws is not just around the corner. It’s about a 45 minute to an hour walk, so if you walk, bring water. If the road is dry, it’s safe to drive down, but if it’s raining or it’s been raining, you’ll risk getting stuck. We’ve had to tow a lot of people out already.”

I thanked the couple for their time, and the three of us smiled.

I drove a ways, and then turned onto the Hana Highway.

It had been a really good morning.

Mahalo for reading about the Jaws Maui Cleanup! You may want to contact this other, regular Hawaiian Island cleanup group for that feel-good feeling when you’re in town. They work on land and underwater, and everyone’s invited!  😀

Until next time, Dear Readers, this is Maui Amy signing off. Aloha for now!

PS ~ Confession: At this point in my life, I do shop at Costco. The people there are really nice, I know that the workers are well taken care of, and I save a ton of money on my groceries. I never buy plastic bottles of water there, though. 😛 Maybe some day, I’ll grow my own food here on Maui . . . or at least buy from people who do. The future is looking clean and bright!

Enjoy yourselves, and make it a great day!