KAPAA — When Bob Bartolo joined the Kapaa Business Association 18 years ago, he and several other members wanted to find a creative way to celebrate the Royal Coconut Coast.
“Poipu Beach had an identity, the North Shore and Princeville area has an identity, but this area didn’t really have one,” said Bartolo, the current director of the Kapaa Business Association. “I said, ‘Well, this is the Royal Coconut Coast, so let’s create a Coconut Festival.’”
And, with the help of Ed MacDowell from Vision Properties and volunteers from Kapaa businesses, that is exactly what happened.
Since then, the festival has been featured on several television shows, including the Food Network, and now requires the help of nearly 200 volunteers each year.
“It is a signature event, so it brings tourism … to this area and give us a chance to present Hawaiian culture as well as all of the other cultures that make up the whole island,” Bartolo said. “There’s not just one area that we cover now — everybody has joined in to make it special.”
This year, the two-day festival, which began on Saturday, features a total of 60 craft vendors, 21 cultural performances and seven cooking demonstrations from island chefs.
In all, event organizer Tricia Yamashita said about 7,000 people are expected to attend the festival by the end of today.
On the festival’s first day, Yamashita said attendance was averaging at least 600 people every hour by early afternoon.
“It’s been pretty intense,” Yamashita said, as she stood by the entrance of the festival on Saturday.
“It’s really an opportunity for tourists and residents to come together and mingle on a Saturday and Sunday and enjoy the different cultures represented here,” she added. “People of all different ethnicities, such as Filipino, Hawaiian and Tongan, are sharing their cultures and entertainment on the two stages.”
A festival favorite, organizers say, are the fire-making (sioina ole afi), coconut-husking (oaina o le popo), fire-dancing (siraafi) and coconut-tree-climbing (aeina o le niu) performances by Kap Teo-Tafiti, from the Polynesian Cultural Center on Oahu.
Teo-Tafiti, who has appeared at every festival since its inception, said the festival is important because it celebrates the life of the coconut.
“Most people don’t know that it’s the tree of life and gives so much to us,” Teo-Tafiti said. “You can make anything — you can make whatever it is that you need — from the tree, such as your food, medicine, utensils, canoes, or clothing.”
Changes to this year’s festival included the expansion of orchid demonstrations provided at the event by Orchid Alley Kauai in Kapaa.
Event organizers, Yamashita said, also made a few additions to the event’s cooking demonstrations, a crowd favorite.
“Our cooking demonstrations have always been a part of it but it continues to grow each year,” Yamashita said. “Cooking itself is just something that has expanded and is more popular with the community, so they’ve asked us to do more.”
On deck for today’s cooking demonstrations include Robert Shakur from Shivalik Indian Cuisine, Executive Chef Guy Higa from the Kauai Marriott Resort and Beach Club and Lisa Lang from Heart Flame Bakery.
This year’s festival, Yamashita said, also included a new variety of food offerings from local lunch wagon vendors, including Yamato’s Ice Cream, The Green Pig, Hoopulapula Haraguchi Rice Mill, Recessions Original Santa Maria Style BBQ, Hanalei Taro and Juice Company.
Kapaa resident Su Haynes, who has attended the event for several years, said this year’s festival was “the best that they’ve had so far.”
“The entertainment is great, the food is great, the crafts have obviously been juried,” Haynes said, as she sat under the orchid demonstration tent. “This is my favorite tent — I always buy an orchid from these guys even though I live right across the street from it.”
The proceeds from each year’s Coconut Festival goes to fund Kapaa Business Association beautification projects and scholarships for high school graduates.
Admission is $3 for adults and free for children 12 years old or younger.