Tag Archives: Oahu

5 Qs with Fighting Eel’s Rona Bennett

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I usually wear tank tops and pajama pants when I’m at work.

It’s the perk of working from home.

But if I need to leave the house — and it’s not to surf — I’m usually wearing something from Fighting Eel, a locally designed line that’s beachy chic, simple and uncomplicated but utterly stylish and well made.

IMG_2285And it just so happens one of the owners, Rona Bennett, is my high school classmate. (The other owner, Lan Chung, is my fashion idol. OK, her preschool-aged daughter is.)

The pair started Fighting Eel is 2003, keeping true to their fashion philosophy and commitment to running a successful clothing company from their hometown.

Their line — as well as its sister line, Ava Sky — have garnered loyal fans around the world, many who flock to their four retail stores on O‘ahu. Even Rachel McAdams and Emma Stone have stopped by its flagship boutique in downtown Honolulu for their fix.

“We make clothes that people can wear for a long time,” says Bennett. “You look good but not trendy. We also make everything comfortable so the pieces become your go-to favorites.”

Bennett and Chung just opened their latest boutique in Kahala Mall this month — much to the joy of East Honolulu shopaholics and fashionistas.

I took a moment to chat with my dear friend — you might remember her from my photos of Greece — to talk about the new store, her inspiration and what’s she obsessed with right now.

1. You already run three successful boutiques in downtown Honolulu, Kailua and Waikīkī. Why another one?

We heard a voice saying, “If you build it, they will come.” So far, so good.

2. What are your favorite items from your latest collection? And was there a design you didn’t think would do well but did?

From Fighting Eel, the Dress Brook in leopard. And from Ava Sky, Top Chi in black. As for a design that surprised us, it was the Dress Kenzie (from Fighting Eel). People still ask for it. Also, the crazy T-shirts from FE. I’m glad people ‘get’ us.

3. What can your fans look for in your next collection?

Fighting Eel is going to bring back colors. Pinks, blues, fun prints and nautical stripes. The summer collection comes out in May. Spring II comes out in March; that’s surf-inspired. Summer I is nautical.

4. Where do you get your inspiration?

Music. I put on headphones and work and a million ideas come to me.

5. What are you currently obsessed with — and it doesn’t have to be fashion-related?

I’m obsessed with yoga. I might want to be a yoga teacher/life coach on the weekends. I’m also really into Via Gelato’s cookies and cream gelato. I wish they would open up a location downtown.

Check out any of of Fighting Eel’s boutiques: Downtown (1133 Bethel St.), Kailua (629 Kailua Rd.), Waikīkī (Royal Hawaiian Shopping Center, 2201 Kalākaua Ave.) and now at Kahala Mall. Follow both lines on Instagram @fightingeel and @avasky. And visit the shop online at www.fightingeel.com.

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#GiveBack: Fix the hole in the He‘eia fishpond

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It’s Christmas. Everyone’s strapped for cash. I get it.

But one of the best things you can do with your money is support a charity or project that has an ROI (return on investment) that goes beyond Christmas morning.

Look, I’m budgeting this year for the holidays. It’s the first year that I’m solely, completely working on a freelance budget. (And if you know anything about freelance writing, you’ll know that I’m *thisclose* to eating instant ramen every night.) But I still found a way to give back this year — and I hope you do, too.

B39TevMCUAAUX55The one that really connected with me was this: Paepae o He‘eia, the private nonprofit that cares for the historic He‘eia fishpond on the windward side of O‘ahu, needs to raise $100,000 to fix an 80-foot-wide hole in the fishpond wall.

The significance of this campaign — called “Pani Ka Puka,” or “close the hole” — is that once the hole is filled with rock, the fishpond can finally be used. That means, all the work that’s been done since the nonprofit took over stewardship of the area in 2001 will come to fruition.

The 800-year-old ancient Hawaiian fishpond will finally be useable.

Watch and learn here.

“It empowers the Hawaiian to practice in a modern-day setting, being able to restore something that our kūpuna built 800 years ago and provide opportunities for others to do the same,” says executive director Hi‘ilei Kawelo. “There are less than a dozen useable fishponds left on O‘ahu, and this is an important cultural tradition that we have the opportunity to preserve and pass onto our children.”

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On Wednesday the nonprofit officially launched the campaign with a blessing and rock-passing ceremony (above) at the fishpond. The goal is to raise $100,000 in the next 12 months to pay for materials, labor and other support.

The first time I went to the fishpond was back in 2008, when I had joined the marine conservation staff at The Nature Conservancy of Hawai‘i. We helped cut down invasive mangrove, stacked rocks to build the wall, and removed invasive algae from the water. It was inspiring to see an entire community of people, all of whom felt a certain responsibility to preserving this treasure, come together and work on this project. That feeling never left me, and I’ve since written dozens of stories about the nonprofit, the fishpond and its significance in Hawai‘i.

So here’s a real, tangible chance to help.

I’ve done the physical labor — and would do it again — but now it’s time to give.

So I went to the website and donated.

I’m not saying that everyone should donate to Pani Ka Puka (though that would be nice and I’m sure the nonprofit would love that!) I’m saying find something that speaks to you, that inspires you, that makes you believe in a better world — and support it.

Trust me, it will make your — and someone else’s — holidays that much merrier.

To learn more about Paepae o He‘eia’s Pani Ka Puka campaign, visit here.

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#DidThis: Riding horses at Kualoa Ranch, O‘ahu

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I was one of those little girls with posters of horses on her walls and a very well-worn copy of “Black Beauty” by her bedside.

Yes, I had a fascination with horses, even back then.

And while I had always wanted to ride on, the chance never really came up.

Until this weekend, when my sweet husband surprised me with a horseback tour at Kualoa Ranch.

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Maybe this will come as a surprise to many of you, but I hadn’t even been to Kualoa Ranch, either. So this was going to be quite an adventure!

Established in 1850 on the northeastern side of O‘ahu, Kualoa is a 4,000-acre working cattle ranch, stretching from the Ko‘olau Mountains to the Pacific Ocean. The terrain varies from dense rainforest to lush gaping valleys to white sandy beaches.

There’s a ton of activities here, from ATV tours through its scenic valleys to catamaran rides of picturesque Kāneʻohe Bay with views of Mokoli‘i Island (Chinaman’s Hat) to a glass-bottom boat ride to the secluded Secret Island.

But one of the most popular ways to explore the ranch is by horseback — and that’s what we had come to do.

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We checked in at the Ticket Office, where you can, for $3, rent a locker for your belongings. (You can’t bring along anything that can’t fit in your pocket, so bags and large cameras had to be stowed.)

Then you waited by a horse pen for the tour to start.

I won’t lie, I was a bit nervous. I had climbed onto a horse before — back in Vegas a few years ago — and the height was a bit daunting. You can definitely feel the strength of these animals, and you know, at any given moment, they can decide whether they want you on their backs or not. So it was a bit intimidating.

We met our guide (above photo), Kyle, a 2011 graduate of Kahuku High School, who grew up on her family’s ranch on the North Shore. Knowing — and seeing — how comfortable she was with these horses put my fears at ease.

She handed me a 10-year-old horse named Ace. He was once a guide horse, so he was really familiar with the trails on the ranch. “He’s super mellow,” she told me. “And he totally knows what to do.”

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My husband opted for the two-hour tour ($99 per person), which took us deep into Ka‘a‘awa Valley, where films such as “Godzilla,” “Jurassic Park” and “50 First Dates” were filmed. We started off along the highway, through groves of kiawe trees with stunning ocean views (above).

There were just a few of us — maybe 10 — on the tour, led by a guide. We rode single file and never went faster than a quick walk. That’s it. In fact, trotting or galloping would result in you — and I’m assuming your horse — getting kicked off the tour with no refund. They were THAT serious about safety.

I got used to being on a horse pretty quickly. (Maybe it’s my Portuguese heritage coming out.) At first, I was a bit nervous, gripping onto the reigns a little too much. But after a few minutes, I started to relax into the gait, using the reigns only when I needed to and truly enjoying the scenery. (It helped that my horse, Ace, lived up to his name.)

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We made our way toward Ka‘a‘awa, past freshwater ponds and grazing cattle. The verdant cliffs, the depth of the valley itself — it was all so breathtaking. I don’t think I would have enjoyed it as much had I been walking or biking.

There’s something rustic and exhilarating about riding a horse through this terrain. Like it’s the way you were supposed to experience it. On horseback. And with an iPhone. (smile)

Two-hour rides cost $99 per person, one-hour rides (to the southern half of Kualoa and the ranch’s 800-year-old Hawaiian fishpond) are $69 per person. To book a horseback tour, call 1-800-231-7321 or 808-237-7321 or visit here.

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#FieldTrip: A walk on the west side

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It’s been a couple of years since I’ve been out to the westernmost point of O‘ahu.

So when some friends and I were discussing different trails to tackle this past weekend, I tossed in Ka‘ena Point as a suggestion.

And to my surprise, one hadn’t been there in a decade and the other two had never been there at all.

So it was unanimous, we were going to Ka‘ena Point.

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We got to the trailhead on the Wai‘anae start of the hike by 7 a.m. And to be honest, that was a little late. This isn’t the kind of trail that you want to be still on when the sun is high in the sky. It’s dry, it’s brutally hot, and you won’t find any relief from the heat.

If you follow the highway to the end of the road, you will hit the start of the trail. There are places to park, trash cans for rubbish and signs everywhere telling you what you can and cannot do. For example, no dogs. I made a special note of that one.

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Ka‘ena Point is one of the last intact dune ecosystems in the main Hawaiian Islands. Located on the westernmost point of O‘ahu, at the end of Farrington Highway, this wild and rugged lava shoreline with sweeping views of the vast Pacific Ocean in every direction is nothing short of magical.

You can feel a kind of purposeful spirit here, walking the uneven 5-mile dirt trail from Makua on O‘ahu’s western coastline to Mokulē‘ia on the North Shore. This is the place of Hawaiian lore, where souls of ancient Hawaiians would jump off the point and into the spirit world and meet the souls of their ancestors.

That wasn’t in our plan.

We just wanted to walk the wild coastline dotted with tide pools and sea arches, talk story, and breathe in the beauty of this sacred place.

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The trail leads to Ka‘ena Point Natural Area Reserve, a remote and scenic protected area harboring some of the last vestiges of coastal sand dune habitat on the island, and home to native plants and seabirds. Whales frequent this shoreline during the winter months, and sometimes you can see spinner dolphins playing in the waters offshore.

Back in 2011, a 6.5-foot-tall predator-proof fence was installed to keep out invasive species that have been devastating the populations of native and endangered plants and animals. Animals like dogs, cats and mongooses have killed ground-nesting seabirds and rats eat their eggs.

Since this stainless steel, marine-grade fence — a dark brown to blend in with the natural surroundings — went up, wedge-tailed shearwater fledglings increased from 300 in 2010 to more than 1,700 last year. Laysan albatross fledglings went up 25 percent this year. Native plants such as ‘ōhiʻa and sandalwood are now covered in fruit.

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We were lucky enough to see a nesting wedge-tailed shearwater (above).

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Once you pass through the predator fence, the landscape changes. The volcanic rock coastline softens into sandy dunes lined with naupaka.

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To walk around this area is like a visual lesson in Native Hawaiian ecology. The coastline is dotted with native plants such as ‘ilima, naio and hinahina kū kahakai, with 11 species that are federally listed as endangered ʻāwiwi, puʻukaʻa, dwarf naupaka and ʻohia. And the point, a nature reserve closed to motorized vehicles, is home to rare and endangered coastal plants and seabirds. The critically endangered Hawaiian monk seal and green sea turtles are regularly spotted resting along the coastline.

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Closer to the shoreline, we found small tide pools, little marine ecosystems bustling with fish like lama (baby goatfish), alaihi (squirrel fish) and sergeant majors.

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We got to the point in about 90 minutes — and that’s with stopping to shoot photos.

It’s not a challenging hike at all. In fact, it’s a well-traversed trail with hardly any incline save for one spot where the original road washed away. But we didn’t go there for a workout. We went to see the stunning scenery and marvel at the native ecosystem that’s alive and thriving.

And that’s exactly what we got.

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Your favorite happy hours on O‘ahu

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Last night I met a girlfriend for pau hana drinks at Bevy, a fairly new neighborhood bar in Kaka‘ako. It’s got a solid happy hour menu, with a new selection of tapas, that we had wanted to check out. Items like house-made goat cheese creme on smoked beets with candied pecans. Or cod-and-caper croquettes served with a sweet chili aioli. Or the popular oysters on a half shell (above) with a papaya salsa and ponzu sauce. (And for $1 each, no less!)

It got me thinking about happy hours.

Anyone who has worked in Hawai‘i knows how much we love our pau hana. We love discounted pūpū and drinks — especially if they’re as delicious as the tidbits we feasted on at Bevy.

But what makes a good happy hour?

I say the following:

1. Great drinks. You can’t have a happy hour with lame, watered-down cocktails and a very limited offering of beers. (Unless you’re Shirokiya and you’re serving cold beers for $1.) We want good, solid drinks at a decent price. I’m not going to pay $8 for a colorful cocktail, even if it comes with a sprig of rosemary.

2. Tasty bites — and size doesn’t really matter. I want to say I appreciate the huge portions some bars dole out, even at happy hour. But I don’t care that much about the quantity as long as the food is crazy-good and reasonably priced. I’ll eat a small plate of food if the dish is absolutely delectable — and the price is right.

3. Fun, lively atmosphere. I might be in the minority when I say this, but I like a happy hour to be fun and lively — not dark or drab or dreary. I don’t need to sit in a cave and eat food I can’t see. If I’ve been sitting in a quiet office for the past eight hours, the last thing I want to do is be in a quiet space after work. I want laughter, I want conversation, I want to swear and dance and toss my head backward in a contagious fit of laughter. Period.

4. Parking. OK, maybe this my 39-year-old self coming out. But I hate having to circle neighborhoods for parking or walk several blocks in heels. I’m just too old for that. Give me valet.

I like places like Brasserie Du Vin in Chinatown, located closed to a cheap municipal parking lot. It boasts a robust happy hour menu like baked Brie, beef sliders topped with caramelized onions and a share-able cheese-and-charcuerie platter. Or Shokudo Japanese Restaurant & Bar near Ala Moana Center, with its late-night menu of contemporary Japanese dishes like unagi rice and sukiyaki bibimbap and sukiyaki kim chee pizza. Or Holoholo Bar & Grill in Mo‘ili‘ili with its take on bar classics like a Hawaiian version of poutine and deep-fried pork ribs.

So, according to that criteria, where are your favorite spots for happy hour?

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