Island Life

A few big waves, a bit of history and one hell of a view. Riley Seebeck and Max Fierek watch the swell roll in from the top an old WWII bunker on Oahu’s North Shore.

Island Life The Hawaiian Ways of Ohana, ’Ano and Ka Mahalo

My phone danced to life, casting a blue glow on the dreary Washington afternoon.

The text message was simple. Its insinuations were not. “December. Do you have any plans?”

The question came from my buddy Max Fierek, who was hunkered down in Minnesota for the winter. He had few riding options until the snow melted, so he’d conjured up a scheme to take us far away from the cold: a 10-day trip to the small Hawaiian island of Oahu.

Despite his current locale, Max knew Oahu well—he’d grown up there, spending 12 years of his youth on the island. Those childhood memories were to serve as our initial guide. Beyond that, we’d figure things out on our own.

It’s hard to imagine world-class trails existing in a culture built on surfing, but most tight-knit communities share similar values. In Hawaii, they’re called ohana (family), ka mahalo (respect) and ’ano (diversity), and they make for as well connected a mountain bike culture as they do a water one. I’d initially worried we’d find a heavy “locals only” attitude. Instead, we learned if you give respect, it will be readily reciprocated.

Our first experience with this came not long after we arrived, when mechanical troubles left us stranded and stumped. Pulling from his early Hawaiian years, Max called family friend and longtime local Steve Villager for help. Despite not having seen Max for years, Steve came to our aid without hesitation, showing up with tools, trail beta and good company.

Over the next few days, Steve would also serve as our guide to the island’s north side—particularly the Pupukea trail, part of Oahu’s largest trail system of the same name. It boasts both incredible jungle riding and unique history; the land was originally slated for a housing development after a Japanese developer imported nonnative tropical plants to start a greenhouse. The small community of Oahu opposed the idea, successfully petitioning against the development. The open space is now a federally protected state park.

It wasn’t long before Steve and other local riders swooped in, hand-building what would become the Pupukea trail network. The web is full of short climbs and exciting descents, through stands of apocalyptic-looking ironwood trees. The pine needles contain a bacterium that kills most vegetation on the ground, so it feels as if you’re riding through a rooty, tacky “dead zone” that is very much alive.

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