Alton and Rae Kagawa showed up at 4 a.m. Saturday to claim a good spot for their annual Fourth of July camp-out at Ala Moana Beach Park, but everyone else in their crew who got to sleep in was on their own yesterday to find parking as the number of tents, tarps and canopies continued to grow.
"Parking?" Alton asked with a laugh. "That’s their problem."
The Kagawas — and hundreds of other Oahu families and their friends — spend every Independence Day weekend camping from Magic Island and across the park in a rite that ends with the island’s largest fireworks show.
It’s a tightly choreographed tradition that requires at least four vehicles to move all of the Kagawas’ tarps, tents, fishing rods, surfboards and food from Pearl City long before sunup, then to be unloaded and camp set up when police open the park at 4 a.m.
After nine years all of the hassle is worth it, Alton said yesterday while standing over a smoking barbecue with sizzling oversize hamburgers.
"Fourth of July," he said. "It’s family day."
And at Ala Moana park, Rae said, "there’s the beach, surfing, fishing."
Up and down the beach yesterday, campers like the Kagawas praised the work of police, who worked out of McCoy Pavilion to enforce the park’s ban on alcohol and ensure that no one hoards cherished parking spots.
"The cops do a good job of making sure people don’t get out of hand," Alton said. "That’s why this all works."
Each year, an untold number of Fourth of July traditions are resurrected at Ala Moana.
Mike Wakita of Aiea sat on the sidelines as four Roosevelt High School boys in their group of 30 family and friends played horseshoes in the sand — practicing to take on Wakita, the group’s perennial horseshoe champion.
"That’s right," Wakita yelled to the boys. "Every year. Every year."
But Curtis Bautista and his sister, "Auntie Deb" Bautista, made their first July 4 camping foray to Ala Moana only this weekend.
"We normally stay away from crowds," Curtis said, "because I don’t like crowds."
But Curtis couldn’t resist the opportunity to bring out his homemade redwood-and-sheet-metal "cool smoker" and spend the entire weekend experimenting with pork butt, pork shoulder, beef brisket, chicken and other marinated meats.
Curtis’ creation cooks meats at no more than 210 degrees, stands as tall as an armoire and weighs in at 400 pounds. Getting it to Ala Moana meant loading it onto a truck in Mililani, finding a place to park at Ala Moana, then unloading it.
"It’s got wheels," Curtis said, "but they don’t help. They don’t help at all."
For the last eight or nine years, Makani Stanley of Pauoa Valley and his friends have set up their camp site in the same spot, adjacent to the park’s tennis courts.
It’s directly behind their favorite surf spot, Courts, and it’s where Stanley and his friends renew their "Pordagee Horseshoe Championship" every Fourth of July that comes with separate annual and perpetual trophies.
This year’s winner got to go home with a Frankenstein-esque trophy cobbled together from pieces of at least three other trophies, topped with a figurine of a female bodybuilder posing with her right hand behind her head.
It was the most hideous trophy the friends could build this year and was perhaps as funny as last year’s annual trophy, which was topped with the business end of a donkey.
The friends’ wooden, perpetual trophy carries the names of previous winning teams, such as the "Japanesians" and the "Mandingos," and should include nameplates for the last two tournament winners — except the friends never got around to it, Stanley said.
But the perpetual trophy might be complete by next year’s camp-out, Stanley said.
"Come back next year," he said. "We’ll be right here."