Image by Aaron Yoshino

Some years back, I was going 80 miles per hour down Kamehameha Highway toward the hospital in Kahuku with a friend in anaphylactic shock riding shotgun, his face blue and his hands clutching his throat, when it dawned on me that the entirety of the human experience occurs at a beach park. We had been surfing out at Malaekahana when a Portuguese man o’ war wrapped its tentacle around the forearm of my friend, who had no idea how allergic he was to them. In the ER, it only took a swift shot of adrenaline to the ass and he quickly recovered, but on that mile-long straightaway to Kahuku, I thought he might be a goner.

Love, hope, redemption, death—undeniably, we are a beach-park people. Every single one of us has witnessed or experienced what it is to be human and alive and local at a beach park. At any given time of the day (legally, between the hours of 5 a.m. and 10 p.m.), you will see a celebration of birth. Just watch for the clusters of metallic balloons. You will see couples taking vows, promising themselves to one another eternally. You will see a mélange of cuisine from all corners of the Pacific served up to mark milestones ranging from graduations to a soldier’s return to a convict’s freedom to an addict’s sobriety to a patient’s remission. You will see a father teaching his son to throw net and a son throwing his father’s ashes out to sea. You will see destitution and homelessness, crews schlepping outrigger canoes, water baptisms, and full-blown political activism and revolution (see Bumpy Kanahele at Makapu‘u circa ’93).

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Beach parks are also a place for free, clean water and bathrooms—beachside facilities that are virtually non-existent for citizens in most mainland coastal states. Hell, my communal dorm bathroom at University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa was so filthy my sophomore year that for an entire semester I drove the three miles down to Kaimana Beach Park every night to shower beneath the stars. Beach-park water pressure is fabulous, by the way.

But let’s not forget the most ecstatic of beach-park experiences: flight. And by flight I mean the facilitation thereof by the ubiquitous bouncy castle. From Māili to ‘Ewa to Waimānalo to Kokololio—inflatable empires rise and fall. And you will know them by the trail of giant, puffy-lettered mile markers ushering you toward Bronson’s 6th Birthday Party. What do you get when you encounter a Dora the Explorer slide-palace vis-à-vis a Hello Kitty chateau behind a Toy Story 3 multi-bounce? The time of your life, that’s what. Sure, these blow-up kingdoms may take up a bit of scenic real estate, but have you any idea what treasures lie beyond the castle gates? Weightlessness, flying dropkicks, gettin’ double-bounced—eternal youth. Momentary lapses in gravity: only at a beach park.

A commonly heard query from mainlanders visiting Hawai‘i after seeing our vibrant beach park culture is: “Does anybody work on this island?”

Indeed. We’re working on living.