Storm of the century floods Pele’s Cathedral
On a foreboding, dark evening in April 2018, a 500-year storm is gathering force offshore. The sun’s searing heat sucks the ocean into the sky. The air sags with heavy water.
The people of Hanalei Valley stock their coolers, fill their bathtubs, board up their doors.
Swelling clouds of hot moisture ride rivers of wind, then burst open like fireworks of water.
The mighty Mount Wai’ale’ale looks on.
This lush, steep, time-battered mountain towers as the peak of Kauai (at just over 5,000 feet, a bit shorter than our West Maui Mountains). Some years, this is the wettest spot on Earth. It’s also the eldest brother of Hawaii’s great mountains at a middle-aged 4.5 million years old.
Darkness blankets the valley and the rain comes. The sun vanquishes the darkness, and the rain pours.
The sun rises and sets and rises again.
The river swells and rises. The ocean falls out of the sky.
And then, the Hanalei River jumps its banks
The river roars, slushes into the streets, blasts the foundations of houses.
The sandy sub-soils of seafront palaces wash away, and the palaces collapse and buckle in.
The river blasts cavernous holes in the ground, swallowing bicycles, cars, animals.
The water climbs higher, drowning stairs, patios, floors.
Restaurants and markets flood. Roads wash away.
The river gushes and grows and swallows everything in its path.
The roa vanishes. People of the valley must travel by boat to re-supply, or escape.
Thanks to grace, there are no deaths.
Yet the carnage is devastating
When the rain finally subsides, the town is declared a disaster area.
In other words, the MOST RAIN IN AMERICAN HISTORY fell between the mountains and Hanalei Bay in 24 hours: 50 inches!
Two inches of rain per hour! Four feet of rain in 24 hours! In an enclosed crater that gathered all that rain into its arms and funneled it down into narrow ravines and rivers!
Hanalei, archetype of Heaven, had seen the flood. Collapsed buildings, closed roads, ruination. Paradise Lost.
A few weeks ago, I am standing on the porch of a demolished house, gazing out onto the crystalline bay with my friend Dave. The ruins are a bit sad and depressing – all of that human ingenuity, engineering and hard work of construction just washed away so capriciously.
It makes me think of mortality, volatility and uncertainty, and all of the ways in which we are all feathers blowing on the winds of fate.
We leave the ruins behind and climb through the brush, race across the vanilla white sand, wax our longboards and swim together out into he middle of Hawaii’s most majestic bay.
A half mile out to sea, I cast my eyes to the high horizon to take in mighty Mt. Wai’ale’ale, resister of the elements, bulwark against time, pride in the face of certain doom.
I ponder the fate of the mountain. For 4.5 million years, Kauai has lived. From an underwater hotspot, to a tiny rock on the surface, to a behemoth the size of Mauna Kea, and now, to a shrinking, eroding, dying island, on the way to certain death as a tiny coral atoll.
I cheer up and ponder the resilient people of Hanalei, as they work to rebuild their road to Na Pali, re-set their housing foundations and rebuild their stores and public buildings.
A wave comes my way!
I stroke into an arcing wall of water spinning down the point. I leap to my feet and slide to the channel… and then I do that fast and fun, ephemeral and meaningless and meaningful water dance that is surfing.