Rules could put clothes on Little Beach visitors

Plan may limit when nudity allowed

The Maui News
Friday, November 2, 2001

Staff Writer

MAKENA - Because they think the natural surroundings at clothing-optional Little Beach have become far too natural, some Native Hawaiian leaders have proposed that an updated master plan for the state park at Makena require nude sunbathers to cover up at certain times.

"What I'm saying is, 'Hey, it's time to put your clothes on so everybody can use the beach for one purpose,' " said Les Kuloloio, longtime Hawaiian activist who was raised in South Maui. "We're not against nudity, but there are places on private land where they can go."

The buttoning up of Little Beach - Maui's unofficial nude sunbathing and swimming enclave - will certainly be the most controversial recommendation that will be discussed Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. at the Maui Waena Intermediate School cafeteria. The meeting is being sponsored by the state Parks Division of the Department of Land and Natural Resources, which pulled together a task force of state officials, parks enthusiasts and citizens to comment on the master plan drawn up in 1977.

Nudity at Little Beach wouldn't totally be forbidden. Kuloloio, part of the task force, supports a compromise where clothing would be optional two days a week or one weekend a month.

The Little Beach faithful, though, won't cover up quietly.

Kihei resident Tom Collins, the so-called "mayor of Little Beach" who has been swimming in the buff there since 1971, can't understand what all the fuss is about.

"We haven't had any complaints about nudity or offensive conduct done here since 1987," said Collins, adding that the last time police were called was because of a group of drunken - and completely clothed - youngsters.

"We have no problems down here," he said.

Collins promised that at least a dozen beachgoers have already said they'll join him at the meeting.

Phil Ohta, state parks superintendent on Maui, said he hopes the racy subject of Little Beach won't overshadow other important changes suggested for the 165-acre park.

"This is about the future use of the park, and an update of the plan is something that's been badly needed," he said. "We need to focus on that."

Other suggestions made by the task force include a smoking ban to eliminate the accumulation of cigarette butts on the white sands and a policy requiring beachgoers to pack out all their trash to keep the area clean. Overnight camping regulations - long anticipated by the community - will also be introduced as well as the cutting of some kiawe trees to create picnic areas or volleyball sites.

The park will probably be christened with a new (old) name, too.

"It's not Makena State Park," said Mary Evanson, a task force member who was an integral part of the grassroots effort that saved the area from development in the 1990s. "It's Pu'u Ola'i State Park. People have got to get the message."

Evanson said the group wants to name the park after the giant red cinder cone that was one of the last to erupt on the island. (Puu Olai means "earthquake hill.") A rocky finger of the cone separates the white sandy strips of Big Beach (3,400 feet long) and Little Beach (600 feet), providing those who prefer to go nude with a bit of privacy.

When Maui was invaded in the late 1960s by counterculture hippies, the isolated beaches from Wailea to Makena were frequented by swimmers who preferred to go nude. As the region developed, the protected strip of beach within the Puu Olai cinder cone became the last place where swimmers could let it all hang out with some amount of privacy. Ever since, the beach's notoriety has grown to the point where you can find it in most guidebooks, on the visitor channel and on the Internet.

Collins said he was disappointed that none of the Little Beach regulars was asked to sit on the task force. He said users come from all walks of life.

"We have boogie boarders, body surfers, wave walkers and fishermen," he said. "And, heck yes, we have families."

But not a lot of local families, said Hawaiian cultural leader Charles Kauluwehi Maxwell Sr., who used to arrest nude sunbathers at Little Beach when he was a police officer. With its more sheltered shoreline, the waters off Little Beach are much safer for children than the often-crashing surf at Big Beach, Maxwell said.

"I know it's a contentious issue, but by them (nude beachgoers) being there, it has kept many people away," said Maxwell. "Some people say it's a Hawaiian thing to go naked on the beach, but it's not. Hawaiians covered their private parts, they never ran around nude. This is a subculture that they brought here from the Mainland."

There have been occasional attempts to round up the naked beachgoers, but, for at least the past decade, officials have mostly looked the other way when it comes to Little Beach.

Ohta realizes a no-nudity clause might be tough to enforce. Even though current park rules forbid nudity, he said the state lost a court case several years ago.

"We lost it because of the way it was written," said Ohta. "We'll probably have to check with the attorney general's office to see what they have to say about it (the new proposal)."

The task force will also share plans about preserving and interpreting archaeological and historic sites along with safeguarding the wetlands, said Ohta. He noted that the group, which had a few meetings and conducted a site visit, is trying to live up to its mission statement to "enhance and protect cultural and natural resources and create recreational opportunities where appropriate."

The updated master plan is just part of a wave of improvements coming to the park. New bathrooms were recently approved and designs are under way for a caretaker's cottage, where a state conservation resource officer will eventually take up residence to discourage vandals and improve safety.

The state closed the park during nighttime hours five years ago because of increasing crime.

Return to News page

Ho`iho`i Mai