They're starting to sound like political parties: The Nakeds and the Clothed. Or, as the naked people prefer, the Nudists and the Textiles.
The debate over Maui's famed Small Beach, a.k.a. Little Beach, a.k.a. Pu'uola'i is boiling over again with the fervor and fury of deeply partisan lines.
The Nudists talk like they're being discriminated against, harassed, misunderstood.
The Textiles say the beach belongs to everyone and the law says keep your pants on.
Of course, this is not a new debate. It's been going on for years on the Valley Island.
In the mid-'80s, Maui County police arrested nudists at Pu'uola'i. Some of the charges of "open lewdness" stuck, others were dismissed.
Police stopped making arrests when a Maui judge acquitted several nude sunbathers in 1986. Judge John Vail found that Pu'uola'i was in an isolated area not easily accessible to the public, a place where nudity is not likely to be observed by others who would be affronted or alarmed.
A number of nudists hired attorneys and in 1988, the Hawai'i Supreme Court ruled that the state parks division did not follow the proper procedures in calling for public hearings before enacting a no-nudity rule, and thus the rule was invalid.
Now that Maui's Makena coastline isn't very remote anymore, the state Department of Land and Natural Resources is putting together a master plan for the area. When word got out that there was talk of imposing limitations on nudity at Pu'uola'i, the Nudists began letter-writing campaigns, phone trees and newsletters.
The naked minority is a vocal minority. They argue that their clothing-optional lifestyle does not exclude anyone from using the public beach, and that the nude beach feeds the almighty economic engine of tourism.
As to the first argument, a group of naked strangers just might be off-putting to some of our more conservative members of society. I'd imagine it would be off-putting to some not-so-conservative people. Maybe the naked people think it's no big deal, but there are those of us who really just want to go to a public beach and not be confronted by what is, in all corners of society, a private thing. Of course it keeps people away.
As to the second argument, to invoke the golden god of tourism is becoming the oldest trick in the book. It's true that people come from around the world to run around naked at Pu'uola'i, but how much money does that mean to our economy? They aren't buying swimsuits, but are they making up for it in SPF 38 sunblock?
Perhaps a compromise would be a commercial nudist resort on private property on Maui: The Outrigger Hemo Pants. In any case, state law is that beaches are public, and law, culture and common decency say you cover up in public.
Lee Cataluna's column runs Tuesdays, Fridays and Sundays. Reach her at 535-8172 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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