Most Kauai people remember Taylor Camp as a place reviled, a punchline to local jokes or a code word for the ‘60s and ‘70s cultural invasion by pakalolo-smoking, long-haired-hippie/surfers living in a clothing-optional, pot-friendly, treehouse village on the beach at Limahuli. And if they haven’t seen “The Edge of Paradise” — Taylor Camp, Kauai, 1969 – 1977, they may think of this documentary film in the same way.
But the story of Taylor Camp is not just a bunch of hippies frolicking on a beach. It’s a story about the Vietnam War, free speech, the environment, campus riots, civil rights, bloodshed and racial tension, while at the same time it’s also an intimate local story, told by a cast of Kauai folk, about a period of social and economic upheaval on the island.
Early in the film comes Calvin Kuamo‘o, a full-blooded Hawaiian and former Ranger. Calvin spent his time In Vietnam parachuting behind enemy lines along with a Chinese American and a Vietnamese Montagnard — a hill tribe whose people resemble Hawaiians.
Calvin’s partners could speak Vietnamese and, in the instant of first encounter, the enemy would trust them, seeing them as locals.
“They would think we were OK and we would turn around and kill them. There’d be bodies all over,” Calvin said. “I carry that wherever I go. And when I came back from Vietnam I had so much nightmares, but when I went to Taylor Camp I found healing.”
Billy Kaohelauli‘i explains, “I didn’t need to go to Taylor Camp. I had my place in Poipu. But we wanted a place to go out in paradise. Everybody was looking for paradise in those days. But really, the reason I went out there was to take LSD. Everybody was on LSD and living free. Enjoying life.”
Eduardo “Mala” Malapit, a former mayor, prosecuted the original Taylor campers, and then, as mayor, he led the campaign to shut down the camp.
“They started hitchhiking, sleeping down the beach, they were planting marijuana all over the place,” Malapit recalled. “People just didn’t like the hippies because they were different.”
One of the great ironies, and funniest moments, in the film is when we learn that Malapit’s younger brother, Bill “Kung Fu” Malapit, was a well-established member of the Taylor Camp community.
Retired Fire Chief David Sproat said, “Many a time we were called when the cops were arresting Bobo Hawk, to make sure she didn’t get hurt resisting arrest. One time the cops threw her naked in the trunk of their car and hauled her off to jail.”
“You wouldn’t think that some hippies going camping would have such an impact on the island but it did,” said Georgia Mossman, a reporter for The Garden Island. “That nudity was like walking into someone’s house and spitting on the kitchen floor. The paper didn’t take an official stand, but we were willing to print things that were bad about them.”
Bobo Ham Young’s grandfather, Henry Tai Hook, employed a lot of Taylor campers pulling kalo in his Wainiha patches.
“Long hair never bother us because we had long hair, too,” Bobo Ham Y0ung recalled. “ But they weren’t clean, they didn’t care about us, they were bringing disease, and we started getting angry. One night on the Anchorage dance floor it was the locals and the hippies and anyone that was hippie got lickins. Forget the dance. We were doing another dance.”
“But the hippies were smart farmers,” he continued. “We got some really good pakalolo strains from them — hash plants, the primo, the good stuff. Oh, that was the best! Live and let live.”
“My brother Joe and I were in the police department together,” said Bill Ka‘auwai. “Joe was the first to work out in Haena when the hippie movement started, and then I joined him. We didn’t know much about marijuana back then, and we had six big plants growing in the courtyard of the Lihue police station so we would know what it looked like. There was this one hippie guy that I had just booked and as he’s walking by I see a plant swing back and there’s no leaves on it. All the leaves are in his hand. So I grab him and booked him again for illegal drugs.”
“Our family was from that side of the island, so every summer we’d camp for a month at Haena Park,” said Nalani Ka‘auwai Brun, Bill’s oldest daughter. “We were just little kids but we could go down the beach on our own.”
“We’d tell our mother we were going to pick shells but really we’d be going to see what the Taylor Camp guys were up to,” Nalani’s younger sister, Sandy Ka‘auwai, said. “The first time I went to Taylor Camp, Nalani told me we’re going to see naked people! Oh my God, naked people! Back then nobody saw that!”
“We’d just have the biggest giggle fest,” continued Nalani, “hiding in the bushes, covering our eyes with our hands, pretending not to look but really looking through our fingers. It was full-on anatomy 101 for a bunch of little kids.”
“We’d usually try to go at volleyball time,” Sandy said, laughing, “when everything was flipping and flopping. It was a confusing time.”
Mitchell Alapa described it like this: “One night we stole a car, drove to Taylor Camp. We saw a whole bunch of surfboards so we started loading them up. We drove off with 15 surfboards on top of a Chevy II Nova. Now I joke with the people from Taylor Camp about the things I use to do. They were the first people I ever saw naked, really enjoying themselves — being free.”
Sam Lee, retired state Department of Land and Natural Resources land agent, was responsible for surveying, evicting and then burning Taylor Camp to the ground.
“Those of us who wore pants and shoes and socks and collared shirts to work every day probably felt envious of those folks who just lived, lived such a life, such a great life. For me, evicting the campers was not a happy experience. There was no joy in doing what we had to do, and the campers understood that we had a job to do and I was resigned to making it as painless as possible for them.”
Feeling what a lot of people feel these days, Billy Kaohelauli‘i concluded, “Life is hard now, not simple like at Taylor Camp. Simple living is real hard now.”
“The Edge of Paradise,” a documentary regarding Taylor Camp from 1969 to 1977, screens 6 and 8 p.m. Saturday at Kauai Community College Performing Arts Center. Tickets $15. Online tickets at taylorcampfilm.bpt.me.