Kona Kai Ki’i

Part of my planning for a journey is picking the right journals.

For the Big Island I chose two Stillman & Birn Beta journals. One a hard cover and the other soft cover. I like to break these journals in with a pre-trip sketch or two.

With my softcover Beta, I reached back into my very early connection with the Hawaiian Islands. This is not hard to do, considering I grew up in the state of California.

In the Bay Area in the 1950s there was a fascination with Polynesian or Tiki culture. The very first Tiki bar was open in Emeryville and it was called Trader Vic’s (opened in 1934). The restaurant soon became a chain and they claimed to have invented the Mai Tai cocktail. I remember a huge garlic shaped, wooden shingled Hawaiian themed restaurant on Stevens Creek Boulevard. The building was surrounded by a mote and tiki torches. It was called Don the Beachcomber and reflected the interest of all things Tiki. The restaurant is now gone but Trader Vic’s is still open and selling Mai Tais.

This also reflected that Hawaii officially became a state in 1959, which open the doors to its culture, food, and cocktails.

I spent summers swimming at the swim and racquet club where my family had a membership. It was named Kona Kai Swim and Racquet Club. The club was founded in 1958 and was an oasis in a sea of apricot and cherry orchards.

Kona Kai means “Sea of Kona” and the name of the club certainly does not reflect the club’s surroundings but reflects the Polynesian craze of the time (think: Trader Vic’s, Martin Denny, Mai Tai, Hawaiian shirts, and Don Ho.) The club still exists where it is still an oasis but among Apple’s buildings and the Kaiser hospital that towers above it.

To go along with the Hawaiian theme of Kona Kai, an artist from Maui was hired to carve a Ki’i or Tiki statue to greet members at the entrance. The sculpture was finished in 1967 and it remains at the entrance. It was this Ki’i that I intended to sketch on the first page of my Kona journal (featured sketch).

While I was sketching the statue a man got out of his car and we struck up a conversation about the statue. He told me that the previous week, the woman who hired the artist from Maui, had come to Kona Kai to take some pictures. The man turned out to be the tennis pro. He filled me in about the history of the Ki’i and he noted that it had recently been repainted.

It still looked good for being a wooden 55 year old statue that was exposed to the elements. And despite the astronomical rise in real estate prices in the area, Kona Kai still exists as a thriving swim and tennis club.

It was good to see that a piece of my Silicon Vally past was still in existence while many memories have been bulldozed and covered up.

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