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Joy and sadness for the West Maui Ocean Tribe

By Staff | Jan 24, 2019

Plinio Lattanzi was a big, buoyant personality on land and at sea.

It’s been a month of joy and sadness in the West Maui Ocean Tribe.

First, the joy.

The Northern Oceans of the planet churn. Country-sized winter storms sweep over the steppes of Mongolia, rolling over Japan toward Alaska. Gale force winds whip the sea surface into bands of deep swell energy. After days and nights and thousands of miles of travel, walls of water tower over the reefs, rocks and sand where we live.

You can feel the energy everywhere during West Maui winter.

The booming echo of crashing waves plays a white noise background to our barbecues, fishing sessions and commutes.

Willie Lisk was a beloved friend to so many.

Pick-up trucks are stacked with surfboards whipping up and down Honoapiilani Highway, either south to escape the winter power, or north to embrace the ocean force. In West Maui surfing, you choose your own adventure.

In the winter, we surfers are strong, happy, grinning, excited. We are high-fiving, fist-pounding, running, stoked. We tell stories and get pumped for the next swell. Winter is harvest season for us, when watermen and women relish the wave abundance of our treasured home.

Barrels, wipeouts, drop-ins, slashes, roundhouses, aerials – the various steps of the surf dance are thrilling, exhilarating, progressive. Incredible rides and shared experiences connect the local surfing tribe more deeply.

Swells and seasons. Days to months. Years over years. The ocean tribe deepens and tightens over time into a community, a family, an ‘ohana.

And then, suddenly, sadly, traumatically, two tribal elders, at the height of our tribe’s holiest season, end their lives too soon, while surfing.

The tribe is shattered.

Willie Lisk was a beloved friend to so many. He was a County Lifeguard here for a quarter-century, publicly serving the residents, visitors and ‘aina of his cherished home. He was a man who changed the world by saving lives. He was a fantastic surfer, a passionate waterman and a treasured member of the community. I didn’t know Willie well, but everyone else did. Thousands of people poured out their support through the Hawaiian Lifeguard Association, and local friends and ‘ohana remembered him on Dec. 28 at Hanako’o Beach Park where Willie served. RIP, Willie Lisk. The tribe will miss you.

Just weeks later, tragedy struck again, when Plinio Lattanzi passed into the next world on Saturday, Jan. 12, at 5:15 p.m. Plinio was surfing Honolua Bay on a beautiful, pumping winter swell. Some 100 surfers played in the early evening bay, slipping and sliding down heavenly cathedrals of saltwater. It was a dreamscape, and Plinio was joyfully a part of it. His final moments were beautiful ones, of a happy man doing what he loved.

Plinio was a big, buoyant personality on land and at sea. He had plenty to say, people to greet, opinions to share, and aloha to give. You always knew when Plinio was in the lineup. You could feel his life force and joi de vivre.

Plinio’s passing has hit the West Maui Water Tribe right in the heart, just when it was recovering from the passing of Willie.

What can we do in the face of such sudden sadness?

Look out for each other. Love each other. Respect each other. Savor our short time on this spinning dot. Be kind. Be present. Cheer a stranger into a wave. Let go. Find our own truths.

Don’t waste a minute. Nothing is guaranteed.

Season of abundance. Season of loss. It’s the same season. The waves keep coming, to bring us joy, to honor our brothers, to wash away our tears…