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Business slow, but fishing still fine at Haleʻiwa

By: Dave Reardon and Elizabeth Ufi

18 October 2020

Parking lots in front of retail stores were empty in September at Hale‘iwa due to Hawai‘i’s stay-at-home order. (Elizabeth Ufi)

Haleʻiwa is a split-personality of a community. Prior to the pandemic, this small town on the North Shore of Oʻahu bustled with visitors from all over the world, while remaining true to its local roots and values.


Traffic on the one-lane road from the Dole pineapple plantation to Haleʻiwa town would often be at a standstill on days of surf contests -- or on any sunny Saturday when the beach beckons to locals and visitors alike. Long lines awaited those hoping for a treat of shave ice at Matsumoto’s, or fish tacos at Haleʻiwa Joe’s Seafood Grill.


But now, six months into a world-wide pandemic, businesses are hurting all over Hawaiʻi, including here in Haleʻiwa.


At least traffic is no longer a problem on the North Shore.


“There’s nobody around. It’s a ghost town around here, and even where we’re allowed to be open we still are struggling,” said Tim York, managing partner of Haleʻiwa Joe’s.


No one is a stranger for long.


“... When we see each other regularly, we ask ‘Hey what's your name?’ ‘Uh Riley,’ He goes ‘Oh, I’m Jim, and that's Eddy, and that’s Frank, and that's Solomon’,” Chun said.


They sit 6 feet apart. But that’s nothing new, and has nothing to do with virus-related social distancing; it’s just enough space to cast their lines without tangling. They’re still close enough to talk stories, whether they be about the big one that got away yesterday, or a grandchild’s first words.


Hours turn into days and eventually years of fellowship.

“That's where I … meet numerous types of people and a lot of uncles that I know to this day,” said Elijah Davidson, who is young enough to be Chun’s son, or even grandson. “(They) taught me the skills that I need to fish and taught me different techniques.”


And fishing isn’t just a way to kill time. It’s a form of sustenance they can count on no matter how bad the economy gets.


“I always know that I'm able to provide for my family and myself if things get worse in some way or the supermarkets closed down or if the Matson and containers or the imported food stops,” Davidson said. “I'll still be able to harvest food.”


Self-reliance -- and sharing -- are important values to these anglers and this community, no matter what challenges may come their way.


Chun remembers lessons from his father.


“He said, ‘Always love fishing. If anything happens to the family, there is always the ocean. The ocean provides anything and everything.'"

The highway to Haleʻiwa is quiet and the cash registers are mostly empty. But, on most afternoons, the coolers are full of akule, ohulehule, and moi. There’s plenty of fish and aloha to go around.

Riley Chun fixes his line after a turtle took off with his bait. (Elizabeth Ufi)

Riley Chun is the first among his fishing friends to arrive at Haleiwa Harbor.  (Elizabeth Ufi)

For most of 2020, tourists haven’t been allowed to get a taste of Haleʻiwa, or learn first-hand why it’s so famous for surf as well as its restaurants -- they’re not even allowed to come to Hawaiʻi at all without a 14-day quarantine.


“Even when we were allowed to open for dining business our business was still struggling, because of the travel ban, because of the restrictions as far as social distancing,” said York, who put a trailer in the restaurant’s parking lot to let the few people driving by know the restaurant is still open for takeout.

That was in early September. When Tier 1 of Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell’s gradual reopening


Hale‘iwa Joe’s Seafood Grill rented a food truck to help  promote business and make takeout orders easier for customers when in-restaurant dining was banned islandwide a second time due to the pandemic. (Elizabeth Ufi)

of businesses went into effect Sept. 24, Haleʻiwa Joe’s re-opened again for in-restaurant dining, but only for dinner. And tourists remain a rare sight, although more are expected now. As of Oct. 15, visitors can come to the islands without a 14-day quarantine.


While it hasn’t been business as usual here, one thing that hasn’t changed: fishing at Haleʻiwa harbor.


Riley Chun spends most of his mornings sitting on a rock jetty at the harbor. The retiree, who lives nearby, is among the locals of all ages who regularly fish here. With coolers beside them in the hot sun, they’re covered from head to toe, shading themselves as they wait for tugs on their lines.

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