Bikers and Aloha
HONOLULU, HAWAII, DEC. 2—There’s something special about biker culture on Hawai’i, a sense of ohana (family) and kaiaulu (community) that is best described simply as “aloha.” Like many of us mainlanders, especially for me, Hawai’i has always conjured images of sandy beaches, flowered hula dancers, surfing, ukuleles, tikis, volcanoes… and tourists. But on a recent trip to the island of O’ahu, I experienced the real Hawai’i by joining about 5,000 other motorcyclists for the 2018 Street Bikers United Toy Run benefiting Toys For Tots—and the aloha spirit will stay with me forever.
As a tourist, one might be forgiven for underestimating the comprehensive nature of aloha, but we were there as locals, staying with friends who immediately made us part of their ohana—and as we learned, ohana doesn’t just mean blood relatives. First, we were introduced to Jaden and his wife Rhonda, both members of one of the largest clubs on the islands, Kanaka Hekili (“Hawaiian Thunder”). Before we even met, Jaden had made some phone calls and secured two Harleys for us to ride in the Toy Run—loaners from two other club members—and from that moment we became honorary Kanaka Hekili.
Kanaka Hekili doesn’t organize the annual Toy Run, but as an independent family club it assumes the role of host, and club members take a place of honor at the beginning of the parade line. The ride itself is organized by Street Bikers United, or SBU, as locals call it. SBU was founded in the early 1970s as a motorcycle rights organization that embraced the ABATE concept, while remaining wholly independent and “Hawai’i only.” If you’ve been paying attention, you won’t be surprised to learn that means “all races, colors, creeds, genders and political persuasions as long as a member displays an understanding and appreciation for the fundamentals of island riding: Aloha to all fellow riders, respect for other motorists and a commitment to safe, lawful and courteous riding.”
What amazed me the most, apart from the peaceful aloha spirit that pervaded the parking lot near Waikiki Beach in downtown Honolulu, where thousands of bikers gathered for the start of the ride, was the far-flung origin of many of the riders. I met riders from Tahiti, Samoa, Guam, Japan, and the U.S. mainland, all of whom had shipped their bikes to Honolulu just for this ride. Many stuffed animals strapped to the passenger seat made the trip as well as part of the roughly 8,000 toys collected by the Toy Run and distributed to deserving Hawaiian keiki (children).
After milling around checking out the colorful motorcycles, enjoying live music by the Marine Corps band, scarfing down an authentic Hawaiian breakfast (Portuguese sausage and egg over rice—I passed on the Spam “sushi”) and chatting with other bikers, a few police siren blips told us it was time to saddle up. Behind a chevron of police motorcycles, a double column of thunder rolled through the heart of Waikiki, a deep canyon between cliffs of high-rise hotels and condos normally choked with traffic. I heard later it took more than an hour for all the bikes to roll out. Without Ubers and taxis to chauffeur them, tourists, most of them holding up their phones, lined the sidewalks on both sides to ogle the spectacle of 5,000 rumbling bikes. I must’ve ended up on a few thousand Facebook feeds, grinning and waving on my borrowed Harley, still a little in shock that somehow I’d found myself on this side of the tourists’ cameras. We’d only been in Hawai’i for four days at that point!
We followed as the Kanaka Hekili split off from the main group and headed for Ke’ehi Lagoon Beach Park, where the club was hosting its annual Christmas party. I learned that many of the riders from the Toy Run would be coming to the party, so the club members needed to get there early and set up. We ate a quick bento lunch (fried chicken and fish cutlets, a bunless hot dog and, of course, more rice) as the first riders started to arrive, and the rest of the afternoon was a blur of live music, the motorcycle rodeo skills competition and introductions to too many people for my wee brain to remember. In short, it was a blast.
After staying to help clean up, we followed Jaden, Rhonda and two other members, El Papi and his wife Nikki, to enjoy a sushi dinner nearby. We ate and laughed and knew that from that moment on, we had a second ohana, our Hawaiian family. Aloha!