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Wander-full Waialua

Entrepreneurs selling everything from soap to surfboards bring a new vibrancy to the sleepy plantation town

By Nina Wu

POSTED:
LAST UPDATED: 08:06 a.m. HST, Nov 19, 2010


Looking for a place on the North Shore that's not so crowded and where you can actually find a parking spot?

Head on over to Waialua, once home to a bustling sugar mill, but now a quaint, little plantation town offering a Saturday morning farmers market, a few locally owned shops, shave ice, a five-minute coffee farm tour, surfboard shapers and a soap factory.

Waialua, just a five-minute drive from Haleiwa, was once a boom town, with the Waialua Sugar Co. at the heart of its economy. But the mill closed down in 1996 after 100 years of operation, much as other sugar plantations have throughout the state.

More recently, Waialua has lived in the shadow of Haleiwa, as that community has become a mecca for winter surf and summer beach action.

If you're headed to the North Shore to watch the Vans Triple Crown of Surfing, consider a side trip to Waialua. It's definitely off the beaten path and is now redefining itself with a new entrepreneurial and artistic energy.

Small business owners have set up shop at the old mill on Kealohanui and surrounding streets, creating products that include papaya seed salad dressing, soaps and soda (heard of Waialua soda?). Dole Food Co. has planted former sugarcane lands with coffee and cacao trees to create its own brand of Waialua Estate coffee and chocolate.

Some of Hawaii's most talented surfboard shapers have set up their operations here, including Eric Arakawa, who shapes boards for many of the Triple Crown pros, including the late Andy Irons.

Everyone in Waialua, a town of 3,700 residents, knows their neighbor, and there's a special synergy between the businesses. You're just as likely to find Waialua chocolate blended into one of the soaps as you are to find it in the shave ice, while coffee cherries end up in Waialua soda. And everyone supports surfing.

Just follow the sugar mill smokestack to the heart of Waialua town and park in the spacious dirt lot -- there are no marked stalls here, so just find a spot.

WHILE YOU'RE THERE ...

Sugar Mill Shave Ice, inside the Island X Hawaii Factory Store, offers all-natural flavors that are made in-house by owners Bill and Reba Martin using locally grown ingredients.

Flavors include mango, pineapple, papaya, coconut, watermelon, coffee (from a real espresso shot) and chocolate. The price is $4 for natural flavors, and $1.50 to $3.50 for artificially flavored shave ice. Add 50 cents for a scoop of ice cream or azuki beans.

Open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays, Saturdays 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.

Island X Hawaii was started by the Martins in 1991 with three lines of "Hawaiian lifestyle"-inspired clothing. Now the business is a gift shop with a coffee mill outside the back door.

If you ever wondered where coffee comes from, how it's grown, then processed before being transformed into an aromatic cup of joe, take a tour of the Waialua coffee mill. Just go up to the front counter and ask for the informal, five-minute tour.

Open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays, Saturdays 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Call 637-2624 or visit islandxhawaii.com.

North Shore Soap Factory had its start in Debora and Jerry Driscoll's Waialua home 10 years ago when they began making natural, handcrafted soap. The business, officially called Hawaiian Bath & Body, eventually outgrew the residence and was moved into the former sugar mill's cone-shaped building.

The soaps are made of all-natural ingredients, including kukui and macadamia nut oils, along with Waialua coffee, Kahuku papaya and Big Island guava. There are also bath scrubs, body washes, lotions, mists and lip balms.

The soap is still made and cut by hand, and you can watch from behind a glass window as workers produce various batches at the shop.

Open 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sundays. Call 637-8400 or visit www.hawaiianbathbody.com.

North Shore Country Store offers cool vintage Hawaiian apparel (think '70s-style fabrics and prints), including aloha shirts and jackets, as well as handmade jewelry and funky artwork by local artists using recycled materials and wood cutouts.

Most of the clothes are for men, but there are a few women's and children's items, too. Toss in a 1971 Norton motorcycle (which also happens to be for sale) and you've got an eclectic mix of treasures.

Open from noon to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays. Call 637-2596 or visit northshorecountrystore.com.

Waialua is the place to go for a custom-shaped surfboard. In addition to Eric Arakawa Designs, other sugar mill-based shapers include Third Stone Surfboards, Island Fin Designs, Pyzel Surfboards, Haleiwa Surfboards and North Shore Woodies, which makes beautiful, handcrafted, all-wood surfboards from koa, milo and kamani.

Visit www.sugarmillhawaii.com/surf.htm for a full list.

Sugar Mill Films is a new venture launched by a partnership that includes big-wave pioneer Dan Moore and surfer/film director Phil Waller.

Check out "The North Shore Experience," a documentary film that will take you on a thrilling ride on (and through) North Shore waves, skydiving above Dillingham Airfield and scuba diving with sharks.

Waller and Moore offer the screenings for free in their mini-theater, which seats about 25 to 30 people. It's located next door to a retail shop that sells films, photos and T-shirts.

Open 12 to 5 p.m. Tuesdays to Saturdays. Call 371-1331. Visit www.sugarmillfilms.com.

Waialua Farmers Market, held on Saturday mornings, offers a link to the area's agricultural past, as immigrant farmers, former sugar workers and others set up stands of isle-grown fruits and vegetables.

You'll find papaya, avocados, pineapples, bananas, tomatoes, greens, garlic and flowers at the market, along with a few handicrafts and barbecue chicken.

Open 8:30 a.m. to noon Saturdays.





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