Identifying members of our tribe

Many runners these days refer to themselves as being part of a “tribe”. The tribe of runners. The interesting thing about being part of this tribe is the instant recognition of other members. Most runners can spot another runner across a crowded room in seconds. I’m not sure what it is that identifies us to each other – sometimes there are dead giveaways like the wearing of a race shirt, but most of the time you just sort of know.

However recently, I discovered that my “runner identification antenna” is not as finely tuned as I’d thought. I spent just over two weeks in a town in Hawaii called Paia Town. Paia is located on the north shore of Maui which is considered the windsurfing capital of the world. The best windsurfers from around the world arrive on the north shore in the summer to sail the waves, and if it’s not windy, or when the day is done, you can find most of them hanging out in Paia. I see these muscly, tanned, athletic people walking around shirtless, and I have an instant flash of tribal recognition. But then I notice no sock tan-lines and their upper bodies are slightly too muscular to be runners. They also carry themselves with an air of “cool” vs. “runner-geek”. No, these people are not of my tribe.

It's possible he's not a runner. Maybe I should take a better look to be sure... Photo - Pierre Bouras

It’s possible he’s not a runner. Maybe I should take a better look to be sure…
Photo – Pierre Bouras

Not only is Paia full of windsurfers, but it is also a popular destination for hippies. Since the 1970’s, Paia has been known as a “back-to-nature” town where hippies have come to live off the land and share in the free living communal vibe. Many live in yurts up in the hills, in vans, or even maybe under trees on the beach – I’m not really sure. But during the day they mostly hang out in Paia. They are often built like runners – thin and wiry, and their gaunt, bearded faces aren’t that different from some of the hipster distance runners around. They are also surrounded by a whiff of body odour reminiscent of race starting lines. But then I notice the piles of dreadlocked hair which no runner would weigh themselves down with and the dangly, cumbersome necklaces and I realize that these people are not part of my tribe either.

Pretty sure he's not a runner.

Pretty sure he’s not a runner.

There is a third group of people who walk the streets of Paia – the tourists. Unlike the hippies or windsurfing locals, these people wear high-tech running shoes and brand name technical fabrics. While sitting down having a coffee I notice a pair of asics walk by. I look up expecting a fellow runner but that is where the recognition ends. Most of the tourists are either pasty or sunburned and just a bit too doughy to be runners.

Runners meeting for a group run? No, wait...

Runners meeting for a group run? No, wait…

I’ve come to realize that Paia just isn’t a runners’ hang-out spot. It’s not that I’m actively looking for them, it’s just that I’m used to spotting one or two around and the dearth of runners leaves me confused and thinking I spot them where they’re not. It doesn’t really matter to me though – whether you’re a windsurfer, a hippie, a tourist, or a runner, if we make eye contact I will smile and say “Aloha”.