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Laie Beaches: What’s in a Name?

The Laie area has been inhabited for at least fifteen hundred years. Those early inhabitants gave names to the various features of the landscape, and these names given by the indigenous Hawaiians have meaning to them. We current inhabitants ought to respect these names our host culture, the Hawaiians, gave these places and not make up our own that sometimes show disrespect to the culture, especially the beaches. Perhaps, it might be instructive to look at some of these names and what they mean and some of the stories behind them.

See an infographic of Laie Beaches

Starting in Malaekahana Bay, there is Castle Beach, named after the Castle family that used to own the Kahuku Plantation. Various members of the family built beach homes along here in the early 1900s. However, according to John Clark’s Beaches of O'ahu and Sites of O'ahu by Elspeth Sterling and Catherine Summers, this area now called Castle Beach was known as Hali'i.

The point across from Goat Island was called Kalanai Point, and there was a fishing shrine called Koa. After the Cooke family built large beach house there, it was sometimes called Cooke’s Point. The Cooke estate was torn down when the park was created in the late ‘70s. 

Goat Island is really Moku'auia Island. A hundred years ago or so, goats were left out there where they ruined the native ecosystem. Now the island is a sanctuary for ground nesting birds. That’s why you see the signs to stay on the beach and not disturb the birds. The first Mormon convert in Laie in 1851 was a well-educated man named J. W. H. Kauahi who was the judge for the Ko'olauloa District. However, he later apostatized. Though the Mormons never preached polygamy in Hawaii, he apparently heard about it and took another wife, and they all three lived on Moku'auia Island. When the sheriff came to arrest him in 1859, he declared that since the island was not shown on any official map, he was the king of the island, and therefore, he could not be arrested. Somehow, he must have gotten past this problem because Joseph F. Smith reported visiting him in Lahaina in 1864 where he was serving as the governor of Maui. 

Hukilau Beach in Laie Bay is world famous. However, before the Laie Ward started their hukilau as a building fundraiser in 1948, it was known as Hamana’s Beach after Hamana Kalili, one of the fishing masters of Laie during the first half of the 20th century who had his boat house there. Hamana is also recognized as the originator of the “shaka” sign after he lost his three middle fingers of his right hand in an accident. The Laie community had been having hukilaus, or community fishing events, since time immemorial, but when the community needed to raise money for new chapel, they made it an organized event and invited tourists to come participate. The Laie Hawaiians and Samoans would entertain, and there would be a big luau. The hukilau helped set the stage for the PCC and was eventually closed in 1969. Before Hamana’s day, it was called Laie Beach.

At the south end of the sand-bottom beach is reef called Jenagators after the Hollywood starlet Janet Gaynor who bought beach lot fronting there after winning two Academy Awards in 1927. The local pidgin-speaking kids corrupted her name, and most have learned to surf on this shallow reef. South of here, there is large circular hole in the reef called Luapuhi, meaning “eelhole.”

At the foot of Hale La’a Boulevard is what is now called Temple Beach. John Clark gives the name of Kaunala in that area and also says the area was called Pu'uahi because fishermen using the narrow channel next to the Point would know where to come in at night when fires were built on the beach berm next to the Point. Others think the fires were built on the hill where the temple is.

The Point was originally called Laniloa Point but is now called Laie Point. Legend has it that two large mo’o, or dragons, guarded the Point, but two demi gods, Kana and his brother Niheu, slew them and chopped up the carcasses which became the islets (Kukuiho'olua, Mokualai, and Pulemoku) off the end of the Point. Clark says that before the tsunami of 1946, there was only a cave on Kukuiho'olua, but the tidal wave punched through the cave to make the arch. In the last 20 or 30 years, the seaward tip has been broken off by storm waves.

The beach south of the Point should be called Laniloa Beach. Locally it has been called Clissold’s Beach for decades because one of the first beach estates along here was built by Edward La Vaun Clissold in about 1951. Clissold had been a missionary to Hawaii and was fluent in the language; he was also the stake president, temple president, mission president, and manager of Zion’s Securities, the predecessor of Hawaii Reserves, thereby earning him the title of “second most powerful man in the Church.” Lately, however, it has been called Bikini Beach by some. Older folks in the community consider this name disrespectful and inappropriate, especially if this name comes as result of the actions of our university coeds.

Clark says the shallow reef just south of Laniloa Point is called 'Onini and is the place where a small plane crashed while filming a tsunami in March of 1957. This beach is mostly rocky, but there is a small sand patch north of the right-of-way, across from the chapel, called Puehuehu. Across from the south end of PCC is an area called Bathtub Beach because of little lagoon protected by an uplifted slab of reef. It was earlier called Scott’s Beach after the owner of an estate on the bluff above.

Pounders Beach is the area between the bluff called Kehuku'una Point south to the rocky outcrop called Pali Kilo I'a. At the north end is Laie Landing as evidenced by the remains of the pilings of the pier built in 1887 where bags of raw sugar and barrels of molasses from the Laie mill were loaded on to whale boats and taken out to ships anchored in the channel for transportation to Honolulu for transshipment to Claus Spreckel’s refinery in Oakland (C&H Sugar). There was also a warehouse on the beach behind the pier. When the Oahu Railroad was built around to Kahuku in 1899 and extended on to Laie in 1907, it was no longer needed. Before getting the name Pounder’s Beach, it was called Pahumoa after a skilled fisherman named Pahumoa Kamakeeaina. Before his day, it was called La'ielohelohe after the sister of La'ieikawai.

Beyond Pali Kilo I'a is the stretch of beach commonly called Kakela. The original Hawaiian name is Kokololio. The first part of the beach around the point from Pounders is called Mahakea Beach, and the section fronting the park is called Kakela after the Castle family who bought the area from Zion’s Securities in the late 1920s and built magnificent beach estate complete with statues and other embellishments. When Clissold took over management of Zion’s properties in Hawaii in 1951, he bought it back, and war surplus Quonset huts were brought in as boy’s dorms when Church College of Hawaii was started in 1955 and to house the labor missionaries who built the campus from 1956 to 1958. Laie residents fondly remember the ward camps held there in the ‘70s and ‘80s. In the ‘90s, the City & County got control of the area through “friendly condemnation” and made the improvements you see now and renamed it Kokoloio Park. The south end of the park, fronting what some call Alligator Pond, was originally bought by the Cooke family then sold to the Catholic Church who built CYO camp there before the City & County took it over. That brings us to Hau'ula.

Riley Moffat has been in Hawaii since 1968, learning about local history and enjoying the surf. He graduated from BYU–Hawaii in 1972 in Business and History, and he got advanced degrees from UH in Library Science and BYU in Geography/Cartography. He has been a librarian for Church Schools Tonga, BYU, and BYU–Hawaii and taught classes for U. South Pacific. At BYU–Hawaii, Moffat has taught geography, surfing, Church history, and library research methods and has written several books on the history of Hawaiian maps. 

He wrote this essay about Laie beaches in November of 2008 to correct some of the inappropriate names being applied to local beaches that were considered offensive to the kama'aina who knew and valued the stories behind the naming of the beaches.