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Hawaii Survival Guide

The Lazy Guy’s guide to staying alive in paradise

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Cover image for Nov 30, 2011

Most people in Hawaii have a system for surviving our state’s unique temptations and hidden dangers. A surprising number of people I’ve met never go in the water. Others never go into the hills. In my mind, these aren’t acceptable answers–they’re reasons why you should move to Nebraska. Come on. This is Hawaii. Enjoy the place. Just don’t die doing it. Or buy a used car without using CarFax.

And that’s the theme here: stuff that will save your life, save you money, save you the hassle. Where did The Lazy Guy get this 411? From you. Yes, he prefers to learn from your mistakes–instead of making his own–one reason why he’s called lazy. He even listened to those folks who are, shall we say, one scoop rice short of a full plate lunch–because almost everyone can boast of that one thing they’ve got totally wired. In my case, it’s where to get the cheapest and best arugula at the KCC Farmers’ Market. “Arugula?” you ask. “Where’s the hazard in that?” The hazard, I reply, is that if I tell the world which stall, then it will be sold out before I get there.

The rest, I give you here, and for free.


FIRST RULE: DON’T BE FIRST

Yes, it’s great to be brave and get all the attention. But it sucks to be hospitalized. So, don’t be the first to: drink the worm, pet the pit bull, jump off the waterfall, dive into the reservoir, surf the new monster swell, take the stranger’s pill, plank the cliff, skateboard the Pali, run across six lanes of traffic, etc. In fact, it’s better to be the last guy, the one who begs off with the excuse, “Eh, somebody here has to be conscious to call 911.”

TOAST WITH JELLY

Jellyfish, that is. Don’t underestimate our monthly invasion of jellyfish, usually after the new moon. Reactions are unpredictable. You can go for years getting a little itch or sting from a box jellyfish or Portuguese man-of-war, then a fresh one wraps its loving arms around you and–paralysis, shock and off to the ER you go.

NO. 1 FAKE FEAR (UNLESS YOU’RE REALLY UNLUCKY)

SHARKS!!! In 1990 I pitched an article about a spate of local shark attacks (3 fatal) to a national travel magazine. They bought the piece and spiked it in the same day. With the Hawaii Tourist Bureau spreading around an average $30 million a year in magazine advertisements, why kill the golden nene? At least they admitted it, in a rare case of editorial candor.

Twenty years later, a wiser man, I realize they were onto something. We really don’t have a shark problem. You’re at worse risk on a bike, a moped, a skateboard, a car, a bus… The sharks, though, they have a people problem. We’re exterminating them.

Sharks are dangerous, just not here.Watch out in Florida, South Africa, Australia/New Zealand, Brazil and the Red Triangle off San Francisco.

In Hawaii, only two places seem to draw enough action to be labeled “sharky”: West Maui and Waianae/Makaha/Yokohama Bay, all of which face west and are lightly populated, heavily fished and “lonely” (that’s your Mother speaking).

The Fix: You can reduce your risk to zero here by avoiding sunset and sunrise surfing, offshore swimming, swimming in bays (especially to and from boats) or across channels or stream mouths, swimming after a rain, scuba diving at 100+ depths, spearfishing and, especially, falling in while fishing or picking ‘opihi from rocky coasts. Note about the latter: as with most pleasure boat-related drownings and disappearances, the male compulsion to urinate while standing up is often suspected, especially where beer is also involved.

TROPICAL FEVERS

Dengue and West Nile: The former is also known as “break-bone,” has always been around, but is no longer rare. The latter hasn’t arrived officially, according to the Department of Health, but we had coqui frogs for two years before the state admitted they were on Oahu. If it isn’t here already, West Nile will arrive via container ship, as do most of our invasive species these days. Don’t leave empty flower pots and spare tires lying around to collect water and attract mosquitos. And stop to thank the gecko on your wall: It eats skeeters.

Swine Flu: Somewhere in the Far East, probably on the border of Hong Kong or Canton, there’s a pig with a bug that’s getting ready to jump the species barrier. When it does, and mutates into another kind of swine flu, we’ll be in its flight path as it moves around the world. Hawaii may be isolated, but we aren’t safe. We may even be first.

Disco Fever: Sorry. But looking at Lady GaGa and Alicia Keyes lately, I get worried.

TRENDSETTING INJURIES

1. Yoga is all the rage now, which means there are lots of non-certified people teaching yoga, or what they call yoga. Not surprising, then, there’s an uptick in yoga-related injuries. Even if you know what you’re doing, take it easy with those head-stands. We know a dancer whose career ended thanks to a slipped disc. And we’re getting tired of seeing our friends with their heads on sideways because, frankly, it gives us a pain in the neck to talk to them.

2. Stand Up Paddling (SUP) is the bomb now, too, which means a lot of people who don’t know one end of a board from the other are heading out into the water. Two types of injuries are trending: people struck by loose SUPs in the surf and sea, and SUP operators with broken shinbones, jammed fingers, concussions and torn rotator cuffs (from toting the 60-pounders around). Our take: We don’t care what you do to yourself, but unless you’re Laird Hamilton, keep your damn SUP out of our lineup, okay?

3. Surf Kayaking: All we can say to you, wave hog, is ditto, ditto, ditto…

HOW TO BUY A USED CAR

It’s such a rich subject that we promise a longer version at some point, but here are the basics: Use Craigslist. Fix a price, narrow your picks, pick up the phone and ask pointed questions. Use CarFax. Hawaii is full of bad cars, clown cars, junkers and clunkers and repurposed chop-shop specials. Often just the words “CarFax” will scare away the scammers. Use your mechanic. Not the owner’s. Get the car sussed out. Use common sense. Bring a wingman. Meet in public places. Don’t carry cash.