Coconut tree climbing, anyone?

This post is a fitting sequel to the recent post on the PCC (Polynesian Cultural Center) - “A Special and Unique Place.”

Climbing my way through school - literally and figuratively
Just yesterday, I read in the Samoa Observer an article on the PCC titled “Go coconuts in Hawaii.”  It is about some new changes in the visitors’ involvement especially in the demonstrations in the Samoan village. The Cultural Center is now going to give visitors a chance to not only watch the tree climbing demonstration, but actually try climbing the tree themselves.

“For our guests, one of the most popular segments in our Samoan village presentation is the coconut tree climbing demonstration,” said Delsa Moe, Cultural Presentations Director for PCC.
“Up until now, this has only been a demonstration, but due to guests’ high interest in participating we’ve decided to make coconut tree climbing available as an activity.
“Beyond being very fun, visitors also get to experience firsthand the amount of strength, dexterity and balance it takes to gather coconuts ....”
Personally, I don’t feel comfortable or confident in this change. The fire and coconut demonstrations should be fine and perhaps recommended. In fact during my time there, we had visitors actually try - and had done well - starting the fire and husking the coconut; the former especially.

Conversely, climbing the coconut tree involves a lot of risks, which I’m sure the PCC had already considered, hence the safety harness mentioned in the article. But falling is the least of the concerns since not many, if any, will make it to dangerous heights. Instead, it’s the inevitable scrapes, cuts, bruises and abrasions, which are part of learning to climb a coconut tree, even from simply trying to get a firm grip of the tree.

Skill in climbing a coconut tree is not acquired in a day, or two - it takes months or years. Now I’m not saying that these visitors or the PCC has competence-in-one-day in mind; it’s more for fun as stated in the article. But it’s still risky fun. There are no simulations in this climbing activity, but “firsthand experience”.

During my time there, we actually allowed some aggressive and fearless visitors try the feat. None of them got higher than four or five feet especially with the native method - the rope (aufaga) around their ankles. Some were able to climb higher without the rope, using just the grip of their hands and cupped feet. But all of them ended up with scrapes and bruises of some kind. Some bled real badly.

From experience, the skin on the chest and inner arms is compromised during the many first attempts. As a beginner, you climb using the “cuddling/embrace” method, hence the scrapes on chest and arms. As one becomes more experienced and skillful, he adopts the “leapfrogging” technique which all PCC climbers use. And by this time, one has already developed thick callouses on his feet (soles) and hands as part of the conditioning that is needed to climb faster, safer, and more effectively.

The visitors - most if not all - do not have these callouses and therefore their skins are quite thin and tenuous, susceptible to cuts and scrapes from the rough, gnarled and frizzy - sometimes sharp - bark of the coconut tree. The PCC would be wise to have first-aid treatment available onsite. Hopefully the cuts and abrasions will not lead to infections and other worse wounds for which the PCC can and will be held liable and responsible. Is it mainly for picture-taking? I think so. Will there be some legal disclaimer by the Center for this particular activity? I certainly hope so. Will the fun outweigh the risks involved? The PCC will be nutty (pun intended) not to have ruminated the issue.

Safe climbing everyone!

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