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
“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
“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
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
“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
“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
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.