Finding Peace in Paia
After you’ve hiked, swam, parasailed, ziplined and snorkeled yourself into exhaustion, head to Paia. It’s Mayberry RFD, Hawaiian style. The … pace … is … slow. But definitely hip. After I park my rental car in the one parking lot (no cost, no time restrictions), a stocky young man with golden skin approaches me and asks if I like hip hop music.
When I tell him I do, Goldawn Won introduces himself as a rapper and pulls out a Samsung smartphone to play his YouTube video to prove it. We chat about hip hop – it’s becoming more popular in Hawaii – and I take a flier about his concert at Moana Café that weekend before heading up the street to explore.
Paia is a friendly “blink and you’ll miss it” town with one main street, Hana Highway. Art galleries, restaurants, souvenir shops, clothing boutiques and other small businesses occupy quaint storefronts of pale blues, greens and yellows. Located on the north coast a few miles east of the Kahului Airport, Paia is known for white-sand beaches and world-class surfing competitions.
Surprisingly, I see more black people in this mellow enclave in a few hours than I’ve seen in the whole of Maui in a week. That’s not counting my visit with the African-American Heritage Association.
A young brother named R.J. is waiting for a green light when I ask if he’d be willing to talk with me about Maui. He kindly obliges, and we sit down over banana pudding at the Green Banana Internet Café. Soon, in walks Tottie Jones, a sister with a short natural and big sunglasses, who stops to chat. About 20 minutes later, Akua Kanaka, his long dreads wrapped in a scarf, joins us.
They all agree that the laid-back nature of Paia is what drew them. R.J. compares the general tempo to “CP Time.” Of living here, he says, “I have to pinch myself every once in a while to believe I have the ability to do what most people would love to do.”
Jennifer Castleberry, a friend I’ve known since elementary school, seconds that. She owns “Haz Beans,” a coffee shop and popular watering hole just off Hana Highway at 115 Baldwin Ave. Jennifer appreciates that the local community is diverse and close-knit. She says it’s a haven for people wanting a more spiritual existence.
“Lots of people come here to find their inner ‘happy,” she adds. “I never knew the meaning of family before I came here. It’s not about being related by blood. It’s about love and respect.”