KAHULUI, Maui - The naked truth is out: A lot of people support nude sunbathing at Little Beach in Makena.
At least it appeared that way last night as nearly 200 people filled the Maui Waena Intermediate School cafeteria for a state Department of Land and Natural Resources meeting to discuss the future of Makena State Park.
Several Native Hawaiian members of a citizens committee advising the state on the park's master plan have discussed the possibility of imposing limitations on nude sunbathing at Little Beach, a relatively secluded 100 yards of sand within the 165-acre park.
The citizens task force, which was formed a couple of months ago, has discussed opening the park up for more recreational use including camping while protecting the area's wetland habitat and archaeological sites.
Native Hawaiian leaders Charles Kauluwehi Maxwell and Leslie Kuloloio have said many Native Hawaiians are offended by public nudity but should be given the opportunity to use the beach. They're suggesting a compromise to allow nude sunbathing but only at certain times, perhaps during certain hours of the day or on certain days.
But that didn't sit well with many who spoke at the emotional sometimes raucous gathering that was frequently interrupted by applause for statements supporting a clothing-optional beach and shouts against those on the other side.
Supporters noted that Little Beach has a worldwide reputation and is annually ranked among the best nude beaches in the world. They said the beach is an economic engine with a wide draw of tourists.
In support of that view, there were testimonials from several visitors, including Roy Dromhiller of North Pole, Alaska, who brought his family to the meeting. He said the family annually visits the island specifically for Little Beach, spending thousands of dollars here every year. He said they wouldn't come back if the nudity were banned.
Wailea resident Al Peter, a Little Beach regular, was among those who expressed disdain for any proposals to limit nudity to certain hours or days.
"It would be cumbersome and hard to manage, like those restrictions where you water your yard on odd or even days. I don't think we should be imposing that kind of thing on the thousands of tourists who come here. It would be like shooting ourselves in the foot,'' he said.
Many said they couldn't understand why anyone would feel like they can't visit the beach.
"The beach is there. If you want to go go. I invite everyone to go,'' said Rick Maldev.
But U'ilani Endo of Kahului told the throng she was raised body-surfing at Little Beach, with its safe offshore break, but now she can't go there. She said she's disgusted by the nudity.
"I can't even take my daughters there,'' she said.
Keala Hahn didn't hold back, either. "You shouldn't be running around naked on our beaches,'' she said. "You don't respect our culture.''
Nude sunbathing is illegal at state parks, but enforcement has been hampered in recent years by court rulings. Authorities have not cited nude sunbathers at Little Beach with any regularity since the 1980s.
The state Parks Division, meanwhile, is moving ahead with plans to build bathrooms and a caretaker's cottage that will house a DLNR enforcement officer.
After word got out that the committee had been talking about limitations at Little Beach, the state added a new member to the committee: Dick Hyers of the Friends of Little Beach.