Gift of Gab

Fairmont’s ‘Beach Boys’ share culture with clients

By: Marty Wentzel

When the former Ritz-Carlton Mauna Lani opened in 1990, its managers wanted to instill a sense of place into the guest experience. For advice they contacted Gary Medina, a lifelong Hawaii resident with a passion for Big Island legend and lore.

“This area is so rich in history, it made perfect sense to present cultural activities for guests,” Medina said. “All they needed was someone to point people in the right direction.”

Medina turned out to be the right man for the job. Today at the hotel, now called the Fairmont Orchid Hawaii, he and five other so-called “Beach Boys” share time-honored stories, culture and water skills with clients. Stationed at the resort’s Beach Club, this easy-going suntanned crew is patterned after the famous Waikiki Beach Boys who have interacted with Oahu visitors for decades.

“We run all sorts of programs for guests, like snorkeling and surfing, but my favorite activities allow us to ‘talk story,’” he said. “That’s when a bonding occurs.”

The conversation never lagged on the day I met Medina, during his walking tour to the Puako petroglyphs (ancient rock carvings depicting early life in Hawaii). Walking stick in hand, he endeared himself to our group with his gift of gab and humor.

Known by most everyone as Uncle Gary, Medina has been interacting with island visitors for years, first as a Beach Boy at the former Kauai Surf in the 1960s, then reprising that role on the sands of Waikiki.

“I was born on Oahu and I was raised on Kauai, but my family is from the Big Island, so living here is like coming full circle,” he said.

At the start of the petroglyph tour, Medina took us to a replica field to learn about the drawings. With his walking stick doubling as a pointer, Medina talked about the meaning of the sample figures.

“Man was represented by wide shoulders and slim hips,” he said. “Then, when a figure had dots on the top of his head, he was a person of high ranking or even a god.”

As he led us through a cool kiawe-tree forest of gnarled trunks and arched branches, Medina pointed out caves that sheltered people from the heat before shade trees were introduced in the 1800s. He showed us depressions in the rocks used by the ancients to make stone tools.

“This was a very productive community of fishermen, surfers, paddlers and their families,” he said.

As the trees parted, the path ended at one of the largest petroglyph fields in the islands, with 3,000 drawings dating back to 600 and 700 A.D. Stepping carefully along the cracks and crevices to protect the carvings, Medina sparked our imagination, encouraging us to guess what particular forms meant.

Lines on lava sprang to life as hula dancers and chanters. Triangles and squares turned into a European-style sailing ship with its masts flying. Mothers, fathers and children took shape in the shiny black expanse, as did turtles, dogs and horses.

We learned about the tools of old as we spotted intricate images of fish hooks, poi pounders and spears. If, as they say, one picture is worth 1,000 words, a single petroglyph can take clients back more than 1,000 years.

“I’ve been to this field hundreds of times,” said Medina, “and the mana [spiritual power] always amazes me. I try to help each of my guests appreciate not only the stories behind the drawings, but the deeper meaning that they carry.”

Clearly a Beach Boy at heart, Medina hopes his efforts from the tours to the talking-story will encourage visitors to come back and find out more about the Hawaiian culture.

“The way I see it,” he said, “the more you know about the Big Island, the more you don’t know.”


Fairmont Orchid Hawaii’s Beach Boys offer a range of free activities exposing clients to the history, culture and lifestyle of Hawaii’s people. Choices include beach volleyball, a botanical tour of the resort, Hawaiian arts and crafts, hikes to ancient fish ponds and the petroglyph fields and snorkeling with sea turtles.

The Big Island luxury hotel also presents a variety of paid ocean, cultural, fitness, wellness and sports programs. The most economical way for clients to take advantage of them is by booking Fairmont Orchid’s Activity package. Priced at $40 per adult per stay ($30 per child ages 5-12), the package covers the cost of such activities as seaside yoga, tennis lessons, use of masks, snorkels and fins, vision fitness classes and meditation.


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