My Search for the Hawaiian Paniolos

NaPali Coast

NaPali Coast

My husband I are very fortunate to get the chance to vacation to the beautiful Hawaiian Island of Kauai. This trip marked a celebration of a myriad of things such as our fifth wedding anniversary, him having a very successful fire season and his upcoming summer 2013 adventure detailing as a Smokejumper. While we both absolutely LOVE winter in Montana (mostly due to our boarderline obsession with skiing) a trip to warmer weather, lush vegetation and island cocktails didn’t seem so bad. Being typical tourists we purchased a few guidebooks to wet our whistle on what to expect in Kauai. When I actually started reading it on the plane ride over (I know not much preparation, but hey I have been ridiculously busy) I noticed in the Hawaiian language section the word “Paniolo” – or “Hawaiian Cowboy”. This piqued my interest in the search for Panilolos. It’s true, there is an unexpected “cowboy culture” in Hawaii that is over a century old when longhorn cattle were brought to the islands and after some trials and tribulations a successful beef business was established. At first my thoughts were centered around the more traditionalist version of cowboy as this is what consumes a lot of Montana culture and heritage. However, after driving around the Garden Isle and seeing the amazing mountains that promote such an almighty presence yet put you amazingly enough at ease (hiking out the NaPali coast should be on everyone’s bucket list) my focus on the word Paniolo shifted. Often when outsiders think of Montana the first thing that comes to mind whether correct or not is cowboys. To me cowboys and cowgirls presents an image of a “hardworking, never give up even if it’s tough” type attitude. In a traditional sense they’re the ones that will work 18-20 hour days during calving season yet still make it to a good friends birthday celebration with their family. I think, however, this attitude and awareness extends beyond the areas of ranching. Fortunately these cowboys/girls often pass this same attitude and work ethic on to their children. One early evening during our trip we were sitting on the beach in beautiful Hanalei Bay (Peter, Paul and Mary definitely had this one correct in their song “Puff The Magic Dragon”). The sea on the North Shore had been quite rough due to higher winds, bigger swells and strong rip currents which is not unusual in the winter months. In fact, many of the beaches were closed that day to any swimming, surfing, snorkeling or scuba diving. Despite a “beach closed” sign posted by the lifeguard station at Hanalei you could see many locals out surfing in the huge waves that would crash down in thundering BOOMS. With the sun in a perfect spot we decided to sit on this beautiful beach and immerse ourselves in the sites and sounds.. After about 30 minutes we thought about packing up and heading back to our condo (there was after all an amazing fish market we had heard about that was calling our name after our 8 mile hike) but then my Paniolo vision arrived. Here came 5 local girls not more than the age of 12 all carrying their surfboards. I looked at Justin and asked “are they seriously going out in that surf, those waves are much bigger than any of them?” So we watched with marked trepidation as they paddled out as a group to start riding the waves.

A young Paniolo surfing in Hanalei Bay

A young Paniolo surfing in Hanalei Bay


These girls deserve some major respect as they were amazing to watch. Some of them would get pounded by the wave and tumbled like they were in a washing machine only to turn around and paddle back out. Each of them, however, would catch a wave and make it seem so effortless. Their smiles coming out of the water were as big as their smiles going in. It made me think they are the true Paniolos, in that, they wouldn’t have dared to give up even if they kept getting flipped, knocked, and careened off their boards. As I watched these young girls rip I realized, we could all learn something from these young Panilolos, life may knock you down but smile get back up and come at it with greater determination and inevitably you will succeed.
Hanalei Bay

Hanalei Bay

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One Response to My Search for the Hawaiian Paniolos

  1. mizehumphrey says:

    We have that exact same pic of the NePali coast! Pretty popular spot, I guess. Did you hike into the waterfall?

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