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A skateboarder/surfer makes a difference

By Staff | Sep 10, 2009

Elle Cochran jumped into community service by launching the Save Honolua Coalition.

HONOLUA — Once in awhile, a column seems to want to write itself. Such is the case with this one. Elle Nakaima Cochran, the activist founder of Save Honolua Coalition, only needed prompting with a few questions. The answers tumbled out in short, concise sentences one after another.

Cochran, schooled at King Kamehameha III Elementary and Seabury Hall and married to surf shop entrepreneur Wayno Cochran since 1996, takes up her story in her own words:

“My first job was at 13 at Charthouse being a prep cook. One of my favorite jobs (at 16) was with Joan McKelvey at her South Seas Trading Post right on the ocean where Kimo’s is now… I have been pretty much a hard worker all my life.

“My mom ran a restaurant and bar called Moki named after my Dad. Originally it was at 764 Front (Street) and we lived upstairs. It was such a fun, great town and everybody knew each other.

“We dove for coins near the old Carthaginian in the harbor. We would go, ‘Mister! Mister, throw a few coins into the water — we will dive for them.’ That is how we made the money to go for our manapua (bread) at Hop Wo Store and shave ice with ice cream, and cheeseburgers at Yamamoto’s in Honolua Valley.

“These were the good old days in Lahaina, and I can still remember them in my mind’s eye. When I walk down there today, there is no resemblance. It’s kind of sad. Then there was Liberty Restaurant with its fried soup (chow fun, a thick blend of noodles). We ate that every day. It was homemade and tasty.

“My dad was a heavy equipment operator who built of lot of the hotels, like the Sheraton. He passed away when I was three. My dad was Hawaiian, English and Spanish, and my mom is pure Okinawan, born in Oahu of Okinawan parents.”

Pausing to relate a story about how her brother died from either getting the bends after an unheard of dive of 300 feet, or from an encounter with a shark — no one knows which — Cochran explained that the episode made her fearful of the ocean. Finally overcoming the fear, she took up surfing — a fateful decision that led to her marriage to Wayno Cochran.

Years before as a ten-year-old, she used to skateboard near his shop. He complained that he felt like he was running a day care center for kids. Later, nearly 30, she met him again as a surfer and asked him to shape a longboard for her. Dinner and a movie followed, and in 1996 — despite a 15-year age difference — the two zipped off to Fiji for their wedding.

About ten years later, Maui Land & Pineapple Co. Inc. asked Elle and other surfers for input regarding a surf park they wanted to build near pristine Honolua Bay.     

“We loved that. Maybe a little cultural center down by the bay, too. Sounded good,” she said.

“But, of course, they failed to mention the 40 luxury homes they wanted to build in a gated community and the private golf course. I was pretty much the first person who wanted to do something to protect the bay from that massive development.

“What made me take a closer look was my husband got served when a sheriff came to our house with court papers. He has lived there (Honolua Valley) for 40 years. They want to take us to court over land; take the land down by the ocean. It was then I realized, there was something more to their plans.”

According to Wayno, the company owns a one percent interest in land he bought a few years ago. This gave it the right to force a sale, with the land to be sold at auction to the highest bidder. Cochran suspected the winning bidder would be Maui Land & Pine. A lawsuit over the dispute goes to trial in November.

To fight the proposed golf course on Lipoa Point, Elle and Wayno spearheaded formation of Save Honolua Coalition.

“We went out and educated the community. At our initial public meeting, 45 people showed up… Then we went to the Civic Center and that began to fill up. Web designer Shawn Reid popped up a website. The fire got lit, and it spread (involving) people who have intimate knowledge and attachment to Honolua Bay. Visitors knew about it and people from all over the world,” she explained.

“Then came six to eight hours of testimony before the County Council. We got all the kids out of school. It made a big difference hearing the keiki testify about what was going to be left for them. Kids in elementary school were worrying about their future. I was concerned when I was a kid about playing on the beach — not saving the beach. (Today’s children) have seen so much loss (of free space) already.

“(The coalition caught fire) because of the subject matter. This was such a special place to a lot of people, worldwide.” Wayno describes it as one of the best surfing areas in the world.

“You’ve always got to let the community participate in figuring out the solutions and educate as to what development was about. Then they choose, for or against. From the mayor to the planning director, environmental people all came to our meetings. The education was on both sides, and many jumped on the bandwagon,” Elle said.

Maui Land & Pineapple Co. eventually announced it would drop plans to build on Lipoa Point. The broader issue of what it can build, where, is unresolved.

Growing in knowledge and stature during the Save Honolua effort, Cochran has since moved on to push for restrictions on development through a new group, Maui Unite, formed with Gordon Cockett and another group called FACE (Faith Action for Community Equity).

All of this taught Elle perhaps her most important lesson.  “One person can make a difference,” she said. “That is why I am planning to run to succeed Jo Anne Johnson next year on the County Council.”

If elected, Elle wants to be collaborative. She currently is meeting with council members to build relationships and help them get to know her.

With the incumbent prevented from running because of term limits, there should be stiff competition. Let the debate on who can best serve West Maui begin.

(Next: Surf shop operator Wayno Cochran. Watch for the forthcoming book, “Voices of Maui”).