Over on the North Shore

Born and raised on the North Shore, Joel Guy is working to preserve its quality of life, especially for keiki

He cut his teeth surfing breaks such as Tunnels, has traveled the world with industry legend Andy Irons, and has woken every day of his life to either work or play in the water. But Joel Guy, painter, photographer, videographer and president of the Hanalei to Ha‘ena Community Association, is perhaps better known for his effort to preserve the stunning area in which he grew up.

To him, it’s just about protecting the North Shore.

“I was born and raised in Ha‘ena,” he says. “When you are gifted with growing up on the beach and the incredible life I live today, it’s clear that there is a responsibility to give back to the place that has given me so much. It wasn’t a choice to be born and raised here, so it shouldn’t be a choice whether I am an active part of the community process.”

That community process has meant advocating for issues salient to the North Shore, including lobbying for the Black Pot acquisition, bathrooms at Maniniholo, preserving the “few” public play areas for keiki — even working to repair the Hanalei Pier roof.

With a little luck, and with his advocacy, one day there may even be a county council member elected by North Shore voters (currently, representation on the County Council is at-large islandwide) and a community center Hanalei could call its own. Guy also has been working hard advocating for the renovation of the old Hanalei Court House into a community center.

“We have been fortunate to have a hardworking leader from the North Shore in Jay Furfaro, but the challenge is he is only eligible for one more term,” Guy says. “We have a large percentage of the population living on the south/east side of the island. We also have the majority of the County Council, two state representatives, a senator and a mayor all living (in that area), yet much of the marketing to the visitor industry, our island’s economic engine, is done toward the North Shore.”

Guy, who serves on the Kaua‘i County Charter Review Commission, also has been a sustainability advocate who worked alongside former state Rep. Mina Morita on the Energy and Environmental Protection Committee before her appointment as chairwoman of the Public Utilities Commission (you also may remember his name appearing on the KIUC ballot in the most recent election). He believes people need to be more respectful of the island’s resources.

“My favorite aspect of Kaua‘i is the island’s natural environment. We need to care for this beautiful place,” he says. “Kaua‘i has taken millions of years to form, and in just a week we can scrape huge holes to build on.”

As president of HHCA, Guy deals with plenty of contentious issues and rarely finds himself in agreement with everyone, but looks for compromises that best serve the community.

Working to preserve an area’s integrity — especially when many have been eager to develop it — isn’t an easy argument. But it’s one Guy can enter from experience.

“I don’t think my life suffered without a movie theater,” he says.

Perhaps that’s because at the time, there were more safe public areas for children to play.

“There’s not one public swing set from here (Hanalei) to Ha‘ena — that’s embarrassing,” he says. “We’ve built shopping centers, churches, million-dollar homes, vacation rentals. But we have not added infrastructure for children.”

The issue was further highlighted recently with the North Shore farmers market, which has since reopened. It seems a fair compromise was reached, Guy says, especially as one of the solutions involves vendors and guests no longer parking on the lawn of Waioli Town Park. Not necessarily a big deal, until one thinks of how parking there meant one fewer spot for keiki to play.

“It’s nice to see vendors able to return to selling Kaua‘i-made goods at the Saturday market, while not allowing the Waioli Town Park to be a parking lot,” he says. “We can’t support displacing kids out of any park space.”

Though there are new bathrooms at Maniniholo, and Black Pot, the beach adjacent to Hanalei pier, Guy says the unique problems facing the North Shore don’t end there.

“Ohana Realty is proposing a huge development on the hill along the Hanalei River, and we still haven’t added any infrastructure for kids,” he says.

Perhaps the issue of infrastructure for kids resonates so strongly with Guy, the son of a single mom, is because of his memories dating back to when the North Shore was a playground for him and his three brothers. Having grown up without a TV, he spent most of his time in the ocean bodyboarding, surfing, body surfing, fishing and diving, and hiking in the nearby mountains.

As the father to one son, Cole, 15, it’s that kind of idyllic childhood that Guy hopes to help maintain for youths who live on the North Shore, an area so inundated with people that it never, as he puts it, “has any down time.”

“I am 41 years old, so the changes I have seen are small compared to the kupuna,” he says. “But we are always busy in Hanalei, yet people still try to bend an ordinance or change a policy to improve their financial gain.”

As someone who understands hard work (he started out in 1984 at age 14 washing dishes at Charo’s restaurant in Ha‘ena), Guy moved up to general manager and operator of his family-owned restaurant, Bamboo Bamboo, from 2000 to 2005. Following that, he took a “leap of faith” and launched his filmmaking career. Having world champion Andy Irons as his best friend and boss helped make the transition a success. Guy photographed and traveled the world with Irons for a couple years to surf destinations including Indonesia, Africa and Australia. Irons died in November 2010 following a heart attack.

“Next to my mom and son, Andy Irons has been the single biggest influence in the direction my life has gone,” Guy says. “Having traveled to every surf spot on the planet that I ever dreamed of as a kid is the gift Andy gave to me, and he did it in style,” he says. “Allowing me to build my career on the heels of his success was life-changing, and I am forever grateful to him, his brother, his parents, his lovely wife and beautiful son.”

Taking on the old adage of “it takes a village,” when it comes to raising children, Guy says he believes the community should be responsible role models.

“Many kids are struggling because of drug-addicted parents,” he says. “We need to show them what a really good day looks like.”

For Guy, a really good day can start off with filming up-and-coming surf legends such as Alana Blanchard or veteran athletes such as Laird Hamilton.

Of course, Kaua‘i (and the North Shore in particular) also has changed for the better in a lot of ways.

“We do have great people working hard for kids, much more than when I was a kid,” he says. “We also have great county lifeguards. We never had those when I was growing up. There is a maximum capacity to the resources of Kaua‘i, and clearly we are approaching it, some even say we have passed it. I still think this is the best place in the world to live, and it is an honor to be a part of the process.”

“One of Joel’s greatest attributes is his ability to bring people together, to find solutions that will better their community,” friend and state Rep. Derek Kawakami says. “He does it not only by listening, but making people feel they are heard.”