Memory Lane: South Point, Hawaii and the Monkey Man

It’s September, 2001, two weeks after 9/11, and myself and a friend are off on a 3 month+ trip through Hawaii, Fiji, Australia, and New Zealand. After a couple nights hosteling in Waikiki we flew to The Big Island then headed off via rental car for South Point, prepared to use the tents and sleeping bags that took up way too much space in our backpacks. Ignoring Hertz’s insurance disclaimers, we ended up driving our sedan off road toward the rocky cliffs that would be our camp for the night. What we found there was a handful of fishermen and a suspicious brown van.

The Monkey Man swims while yours truly climbs an ancient ladder back up from the deep.

That van’s occupant was a scruffy 50-ish hippy, milking the government, while house-sitting for a buddy on the island. As the afternoon sun beat down, this bespectacled charlatan espoused his life philosophy to us while convincing us, rather easily, to make the 5 story leap into the Pacific. His life philosophy revolved around one simple question:

What is excellent?

According to our new guru everyone, rich or poor, young and old, even the President of The United States (George W. Bush at the time) cared about this single question above all. Thus, as we each leaped into the ocean entrusting our lives to this possible ex-con, and climbed back up the rickety metal ladder (which was possibly more frightening than the jump), I kept thinking about that word – excellent. This is all there is. This feeling is all anyone wants.

That jump was frightening. I was temporarily in shock after my first dive, floating on my back as the swell pushed me dangerously close to the rocks. I may have lost a sandal in the chaos of coming to the surface. But it all turned out fine, as our unemployed van dwelling guide ensured us it would.

South Point (Ka Lae) from the water. Photo by Eli Duke CC2.0

Later our shaggy friend convinced us to make a more harrowing jump into a inland lava tube. He told us we had to get in touch with our “inner monkey”, and for some reason we implicitly trusted his advice. I jumped into a lava tube several stories high, timing the incoming tide to provide enough depth so as to not fatally injure myself. Because the Monkey Man said I could, and because I knew it would be excellent. And it was. Later we sat around his creepy van, ate steaks bought on food stamps, and discussed the good life.

These days you can go on YouTube and watch others take this plunge. Nowadays, I couldn’t imagine myself doing anything that risky. But back in the day I thought nothing of it. Oh…the adventures of youth!

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