Kauai might be the Western-most point of the United States, but Santa gets here quickly.
While millions tried to track the North Pole celebrity’s trip around the world on Christmas Eve, Santa dropped in early on Kauai with plenty of time before the stroke of midnight.
“This is the power of the coconut wireless,” said Christine Baron, visiting from Irvine, California, at Poipu Beach, as he watched Santa paddle into the beach with the sun still high in the sky. “He comes here, first. And look at all the people. This wasn’t advertised, but the people are here.”
Billy “Uncle Billy” Kaohelaulii helped pack the canoe with gifts, and smiled and stroked his natural beard while he surveyed the crowd.
“This is about as crowded as Poipu gets,” said Roy Yamagata, a longtime lifeguard at the Poipu tower. “This is a lot of people.”
Among the many who watched the famous Santa paddle, Renee Amochaev of Lawai was happy she made the trip
“This is for our Christmas picture,” Renee said, getting Mrs. Claus to snap a picture on her cellphone, while Renee was clad in a Santa hat. “We do this all the time.”
The Poipu celebration wasn’t the only Claus sighting on island, either.
Over at Kalapaki Beach, Kaupena Kinimaka of the Kauai Marriott delivered a box of candy to a waiting double-hulled, four-man canoe at the jetty.
“When they first started coming, there weren’t that many people coming out,” Kinimaka said of the traditional event. “I just told them to give me the canoe and they’ll come.”
Hundreds of people swarmed both Poipu and Kalapaki to get glimpses of Santa arriving via the traditional Hawaiian outrigger canoes.
“It’s an event,” Barons said. “One year, our oldest son Matt Otto was here with his saxophone. Uncle Billy’s relative plays the uke and the pair followed the canoe with ‘Santa Claus is Coming to Town.’ That was an event!”
Barons, a school teacher, and her husband Bruce, a school principal, have known Kaohelaulii, who plays a paddling Santa, for nearly 40 years.
“We started back in 2000,” said Jimmy Phillips, one of Santa’s paddlers in Poipu. “Uncle Billy wasn’t part of the first one, but came in after that and has been here ever since. Chris Kauwe was even part of the Poipu arrival.”
Kaohelaulii said originally, Santa would arrive around 3, or 4 p.m., but that was too late as a lot of people were leaving to attend holiday gatherings.
Kauwe also spun off an arrival at Kalapaki Beach with the help of the Kauai Marriott.
Most of the people in the crowd kept their eyes on the show — but not all.
“Our granddaughter is from Honolulu and we thought she would enjoy this,” said Vianne Tabata of Lihue. “But look at her — she’s having more fun with the sand.”
As quickly as the man in red touched down, he was greeted and photographed with relatives and friends before jumping back into the watercraft and resuming his journey around the world, wishing all a hearty “aloha” and “Mele Kalikimaka!”