I was in Waikiki, sitting with my girlfriend, Stephanie, sipping fruity umbrella drinks on the patio behind the Royal Hawaiian hotel. There was a gentleman nearby who overheard our conversation about the intensity of the Hawaiian sun, compared to what we have in the deserts of Arizona.
We were watching the people on the beach, pointing out those poor, naive “newbies” who must have just walked off the plane from Somewhere, Middle-America, eager to bask in the rays after having spent the prior three months locked in the deep-freeze of a Polar Express. It was only 11 AM, and so many folks were already flamingo-pink. By dinner-time, they would match their entrée; lobster-red.
As inhabitants of the Southwest desert, we are no strangers to an intense sun. And if you lead an active, outdoor lifestyle, it is prudent to learn all the tricks and techniques to protecting yourself. If you don’t, it doesn’t take long to look like 3-day-old road-kill on a westbound lane to Yuma… baked on the asphalt, ripening for the buzzards.
Our discussion left us questioning if we had lathered on strong enough SPF, and wondering if there are any “secrets” the locals use to help protect their skin. Certainly, those who are of Hawaiian ancestry, and enjoy the naturally darker-toned complexion, are not nearly as sensitive to the sun as some Scotch-Irish lad on vacation from Peoria, Illinois… but, what do the transplanted Haole’s 1, who live there year round, do?
It was about this time that this gentleman turned toward us, apologizing for overhearing our conversation, and introduced himself as Lou. He suggested he might be able to help us with some tips that he had learned over time for not only protecting the skin from the intense Hawaiian sun, but also not looking like a total goofball in the process – subtly, nodding toward the lady nearby who was sitting under a red and white striped umbrella, covering her entire body in a pasty white cream that left her looking like she had been embalmed three days ago, then painted in white-face makeup and rolled in a chicken-fry batter.
Sun protection is important, said Lou, but this is Waikiki, and looking g-o-o-d is also important.
I must say that prior to this conversation, I had never heard of “transparent zinc oxide” for sunscreen. Zinc oxide is the white stuff you might remember as a kid seeing lifeguards wear on their nose while sitting atop their roost, twirling their whistle around their finger, and looking like a beacon on a lighthouse.
This new invisible zinc sunscreen uses a zinc oxide that gives protection like the white stuff, but keeps you looking Cool… Unlike li’l-miss chicken-fry whose brilliance – even in the shade of her umbrella – could guide the Pacific Fleet to safe port.
This was also the first time I learned that clothing fabric has SPF (Sun Protection Factor) ratings, and how it is not good enough to simply be covered up… the wrong material will still let in harmful rays.
It turned out that Lou was remarkably knowledgeable about sun protection and the link between too much exposure to early aging of the skin, and about the dangers of melanoma.
During the course of our conversation, two things became quite obvious…
First, Lou’s quiet and unassuming appearance is contrary to the outgoing conversationalist he proved to be. Lou spoke in a manner that was witty and clever, but with an air of gentle authority. It was immediately apparent Lou was a man of high education and life experience, and someone accustomed to responsibility. I kept thinking to myself, Who is this guy?
The second thing that was made quite clear is that Lou seemed quite familiar to almost everyone who walked by, but curiously, they all addressed him as “Oahu Lou“.
There was the kid with the surfboard who walked by, offering a thumbs-up with, “Yo… Oahu Lou…” Immediately behind, there were the two bikini-clad coeds who smiled and waved, calling him Oahu Lou, as well.
I didn’t start to think much about it until an older couple, with an Aussie accent, sat down at a table near us, and saluted him with the universal hang loose 2 sign, saying, “Aye… Oahu Lou, g’day”.
Shortly, thereafter, the bartender held up the bar phone and hailed him with, “Oahu Lou… you got a call”, at which point, our new friend expressed his apology for the abrupt departure, and politely excused himself.
As he walked away, I turned to my girlfriend and asked, “Who is this guy?”
The next day, I was standing at the bar on the same patio ordering another round of umbrella drinks. While I waited, I asked the bartender, Frank, what he knew about Oahu Lou. It turned out, not much.
Apparently, Oahu Lou just started hanging around several years prior, popping up with a frequency that allowed folks to assume he was living at the hotel… although, I never found anyone to confirm it. And no one seemed to know his last name, or if they did, they weren’t saying.
Frank said Oahu Lou shows up on the beach or patio, from time-to-time, and is quite content to either stare out at the water or flip open a notebook to write. And although he seems aloof and distant, he is a genuinely warm and pleasant personality.
As Frank and I talked, a small group began to gather… each person offering their own understanding, or belief, of Oahu Lou’s story:
” He’s a burned-out dentist from Poughkeepsie, New York. “
” No. He is not from Poughkeepsie… He is from Boca Raton. And it wasn’t dentistry… he was a dermatologist. “
” I think I heard he’s a plastic surgeon, from San Antonio, who entered the witness protection program after he identified the new face of Paulo, a notorious Colombian drug czar. “
” No way… He owned a chain of t-shirt shops along the California coast that he sold to Snoop Dog’s first cousin.”
” The dude is one of the writers of Hang Gliding for Dummies, but he never finished the last chapter after his co-writer hit a flock of pelicans in Malibu, above ‘Highway 1′. No, wait… not pelicans… seagulls… something like that…”
” Nah… You’re all wrong. I heard he was the technical adviser for Robert Ludlum’s novels until Ludlum died. “
” Good grief! Where do you people come up with this stuff… He was a cattle rancher from Sedona who sold out after he got fed up with all the new-agers and tourists breaking down his fences to get to the energy vortexes… setting up their stupid little rock-ring-thingies to meditate and sing Kumbaya.”
So, you get the idea. After listening to much bantering, quibbling, and reckless surmising, I concluded I was no closer to the truth about Oahu Lou than before.
And he didn’t help clarify much, either. We bumped into Lou quite often during our visit, and I would occasionally try to steer the conversation to talking about him, but he would always – skillfully – steer it away by either offering a vague response or using masterful techniques of redirect.
In the big picture, it didn’t really matter from where he came… we were fast becoming friends with much to discuss, and he seemed to be genuinely interested in talking to us about our involvement in the health industry.
Lou proved to have a curious insight into topics about sun protection, and I still don’t know why. In our experience, when you lose someone close to you to a horrible disease, you can’t help but have an elevated understanding about that condition, and take an exaggerated interest in any of the possible causes. Perhaps he has a similar story, and maybe that is why he has taken such an interest in sun care.
Eventually, we came to accept Lou as the character he is, who everyone simply knows as Oahu Lou. And because of his abundant insight into products for sun protection and skin care, he has agreed to allow us the use of his name in conjunction with his recommendations.
Now, even though he was okay with me using his name, he was ‘kinda funny’ about me using his likeness…
It turns out that as skilled as Oahu Lou is at diverting questions about himself, he is equally skilled at camera avoidance. The few times I attempted to point a camera in his direction, he would smoothly slip out of the frame using the stealth tactics of H.G.Wells’ Invisible Man.
So, who is this guy?
We may never figure it out, but in the meantime, we will benefit from his abundant insight into items he recommends for sun protection. These recommendations can be found in our new section, creatively titled, “Oahu Lou Recommends“. Over time, we will continue to add items in this category, as they are validated.
Without knowing Oahu Lou’s history, it is impossible to know exactly what motivates his deep interest in sun care, but sometimes answers are better left a mystery.
2) The “Hang Loose” sign is, classically, a Hawaiian gesture of greeting or farewell, executed by making a fist and extending the thumb and little finger. Although, typically associated with the Hawaiian lifestyle, this sign has become universal in its use. Please note, this should not be confused with the same gesture of the hand while held to the side of your head. Whereas, one means, “Hey, Bro… be cool, take it easy, hang loose…”, the other one means, “Hey baby… call me, I’m only a little creepy, but a total dork.”