Mixed Plate
Book Report: Beaches of O'ahu (7/05)

Beaches of O'ahu by John R.K. Clark, University of Hawaii Press (2004).

When reality doesn't match expectations, there's bound to be a bit of a disappointment. That is kind of what happened when I read "Beaches of O'ahu."

"Beaches of O'ahu," by John R.K. Clark, is an update to his original 1977 book. At 190 pages, it is compact, with a glossy finish and color pictures. "Beaches" circles the island describing each part of the O'ahu coastline, one section at a time. It is so comprehensive that the only patch of sand that I think was not discussed was the Sandbar in the middle of Kaneohe Bay (although the Sandbar is actually depicted on one of the maps!).

I guess I expected something more akin to a Dr. Beaches rating, or even wishfully hoping for some detailed surf spot guide. However, the beach descriptions were more about the mo'olelo (story) of each beach, including any history or legends of the areas. If you go in expecting this, then you'll find this book to be an absolute treasure trove of historical information.

One thing that was especially neat was the origins of surf spot names. I'm still amazed that he collected and found the background behind so many surf spot names since to me they are so arbitrary, seemingly established more through word of mouth.

As an alternative, a book entitled "Hawai'i Place Names: Shores, Beaches, and Surf Sites," also by John R.K. Clark, may appeal more to the casual surfer/reader. It's formatted alphabetically like a dictionary, with names of all places related to the ocean across the state, with short descriptions and mo'olelo. It's a great compendium, especially for surf spots.

One interesting thing I got from "Beaches" is the meaning of Ulehawa (a surfspot in Nanakuli). Now that I know how the place got its name, I don't think I'll be bodyboarding there ever again (check out one of the books to find out why).