Waves column: From Puna to Hapuna, the lessons I’ve learned

You learn life’s lessons in the strangest places. The best ones for me came from here on Hawaii.

I learned one from a weird guy named Balthazar, who said he’d just returned from the planet Venus.


He was a mystical character with curly black hair, and glazed eyes and he was sitting on the beach at Hapuna many years ago telling us all about his amazing trip through space.

He described cities on Venus in such detail, being a wide-eyed 20 year-old, I started to believe him. Back in the ‘60s there was a kind of magic in the air that made you almost believe that people could fly off to other planets.

As we sat on the beach, he was talking about Zen or space travel when he said, “You must always operate on the highest level of karma.”

It stuck with me and meant to always treat people in the best way. A good thing to learn, even though I’m sure Balthazar was completely nuts.

Back in 1969 Hapuna Beach was a different place, not the landscaped lawns and smooth walkways of today. Back then it had scrubby Keawe trees right up to the beach, filled with rocks and wild goats.

There was a dusty parking lot and two wooden picnic tables on the beach, that was it. You could lie down in the sand and sleep there for weeks, no one cared. I learned my next life lesson sitting on a picnic table one night.

The scuttlebutt among the hippies was that the notorious Puna motorcycle gang, Da Blalahs, was going to descend on Hapuna that night. We heard they were big, bad Hawaiians, each weighing 300 pounds and were supposed to have all sorts of knives and guns and, of course, did not take kindly to Caucasians.

I was terrified. Attila and the Hawaiian Huns were coming! We’re doomed.

Right after sunset we heard the deafening blast of motorcycles — Da Blahlas were here! Where could we run? But we stood our ground, I was with a few long-haired friends of mine, and we trembled as the big, burly gang of Hawaiian bikers parked their Harleys and headed down toward us.

My heart was pounding. Would I be pummeled into poi?

They ambled down through the trees in the dark and sat down with their cases of beer on the table next to us and to our amazement shouted, “Hey, you guys like one beer?!”

They were not going to put us in an imu at the luau.

They turned out to be the nicest bunch of guys you’d ever meet. We laughed and talked story all night. From that I learned to always give people a chance.

The best one of all was from a gentle hippie girl living in the jungles of Puna.

I drove down one day and arrived at an encampment off the Red Road in Kalapana. I don’t remember the details, but there was a young blonde girl there wearing a bright pareo. She was talking to someone and said, “All that matters is the amount of aloha you can create.”


That’s the only lesson you’ll ever need.

Dennis Gregory writes a bimonthly column for West Hawaii Today and welcomes your comments at makewavess@yahoo.com