We stopped for a hamburger at the small village of Kahuku on the northern end of the island and while we were eating, I heard a tentative voice behind me say, “Mr. Ulmer? Is that you?” Imagine my surprise when I turned around to see Kyle’s good friend, Alex Thommes, standing there, behind me!
It turns out that after graduating from the University of Florida in May with a degree in landscape architecture (we last saw Alex at Kyle’s Classical Cocktails party in Gainesville in February), Alex moved to Oahu to work on a project being developed by a family friend from the Florida Keys: a rodeo arena that doubles as a solar power generator.
Kyle and Alex became good friends at SeaCamp on Big Pine Key years ago through their mutual friend, Reese, whose mother, Grace, runs the camp. They have another mutual friend from the Keys named Cove whose family moved to Oahu several years ago. Cove’s dad, Duke, is a dynamic entrepreneur; he’s the one that’s developing the rodeo arena/solar power plant.
Alex offered to take us on a tour. The building sits on the top of a hill near Turtle Bay Resort. Duke and his wife love horses and rodeo, so it was a natural for them to envision a rodeo arena on the property they bought here in Oahu. I imagine that the wind generators owned by HECO (the Hawaiian power company) on the adjacent property might have given Duke the idea to add the solar panels to the roof; HECO would be a natural buyer and reseller of the electricity Duke could generate.
The arena building is huge – larger than a covered football field – with a commanding view of the North Shore. Alex, Cove and Duke have been constructing the roof, attaching the solar panels that you can see in the picture, below.
Duke keeps a pet guard-goat under the roof. The goat took an instant liking to Dale, and vice versa (that’s Duke, next to Dale).
Alex took us up in the lift to see the solar panels on the roof (notice the goat, looking for Dale).
They’re close to finishing the roof. Just a few (hundred) more panels to go!
We were surprised to learn that rodeo is a big sport on Oahu. I knew that ranching was an important industry on the Big Island (recall the Parker Ranch that we drove through on Saddle Road), but I didn’t know that ranching had also spread through the other islands.
Anyway, ranching and its accoutrements is big in the Hawaiian Islands, so much so that there’s even a Hawaiian word for cowboy: “paniolo.” I’m going to nominate Alex, Cove and Duke as “Paniolos of the Year.”