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Surfer Boys

Waikiki, Hawaii

by Lara Calloway
waikiki beach

There are six young men positioned in a naturally-occurring frame between a rack of rentable surfboards and a small clutter of palm trees on the beach at Waikiki, Hawaii. Their spatial chemistry is what initially draws me to watch them; while one Asian-looking boy leans lazily against a palm, two brown skinned boys sit side by side with their knees up, a black guy and a white guy stand behind them, and in the front, one with long light hair down his back straddles a surf bard facing the group. It’s approaching seven in the evening and they’re all in colorful swim trunks, apparent that they’re ending a long day of (presumably) surfing.

After a few moments of chitchat (not all of which I entirely understand, involving a fair amount off surfer and coastline jargon) the two boys standing leave together with a small wave to the group and semi-awkward “mahalo,” pronounced “muh-hello.” It’s a give-away that they are visitors to Hawaii and its idioms, and just recent acquaintances to the remaining group of boys. The four pass around what seems like a common-shared inside joke about the surfing abilities of their new acquaintances and they all snigger, but not cruelly. It’s decidedly appreciative. One of the boys sitting in the middle notices me, and offers a welcome wave which I return. The boy next to him could be his brother, and they bend their heads in a quiet discussion before shouting over, “What are you doing?”

I smile and say, “Watching.” They laugh.

“Us?” they want to know.

Hawaii,” I answer. Two people come in the frame to return rented boards, and the Asian guy moves to put them back on the rack. He must be the one working the stand, while his friends (or perhaps fellow employees) visit. Reluctant to answer questions regarding my surveillance of attractive young islanders, I take the busy moment to wave a shy goodbye and make my way down the beach, feeling very caught. A whole beach full of foreigners, travelers, locals (a mix of native Hawaiians and foreigners even in that), and I feel indistinctly singled out as “other.” Everyone around, I notice, is in some respect studying and absorbing the culture of Hawaii. But here I feel very discomfited documenting it. Like Eric Haanstad discusses in his article The Other City of Angels: Ethnography with the Bangkok Police, I feel like I'm unprepared- too shy, too obvious- and most of all, unqualified. No language barrier or loneliness, but who am I to specimenize these boys, while I myself am too timid to even talk to them? Especially since, after all I chose to watch them primarily because they were so, so pretty.

heading into hawaii

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