Last week the University of Hawaii hosted its first game of the 2012 regular season against Lamar, a small Division I school from Texas. Needless to say, not too many people I knew were particularly worried about the outcome of the game. So what did that mean?
More time for tailgating!
Only about half the people who showed up in the stadium parking lot before a game ever went inside to watch the actual game. It’s been like that for as long as I can remember. Tailgating has become a sport in its own right. Does this essentially defeat the traditional purpose of tailgating? Sure it does. But it also speaks to a larger, more ingrained aspect of Hawaii’s culture.
People here don’t necessarily tailgate because they like football. They tailgate because they like each other and want to enjoy each other’s company. The food, the drinks and the game are just an added benefit. The core of the tailgating experience in the “Ohana” culture is the companionship and experience created with loved ones.
Why exactly is this the case? To get a better idea, I hopped from tailgate to tailgate, asking a number of people across various ages and races the same question: “What gets you most excited about tailgating before a UH football game?” Here are some of the responses:
“Mostly, I like tailgating and eating and drinking up wit my braddahs” “Hanging out with my friends” “Beer” “All the awesome memories” “Heating up the hibachi and cooking burgers.” “Da Chicks!” “Drinking Games!” “Getting free stuff from da Miller Lite girls… Dey MEAANNNN” “Walking around and seeing people I know everywhere.” “Just sitting around having great conversation.”
Photo Credit: Harrison Goo
Aside from all the references to alcohol, it’s telling to note that not a single person mentioned actually going to the game as the primary reason they enjoyed the “Ohana” tailgating experience.
The vast majority went to the game to spend time with one another (rather than with the football team). And this revelation speaks volumes about the unique mentality we have. Every other tailgating scene I’ve ever been a part of has been driven solely by the game itself.
At USC, for example, all of the tailgate conversation focuses on the team. Who are your favorite new players? What do you think about the team’s outlook for the season? Can you recite stats from last season? This focus holds true at many universities, where tailgating seems to be a means to an end. However at UH tailgates, it’s more meaningful than that day’s game.
My buddy Chuck has been going to games since I can remember. For him, tailgating is as much a family event as anything else; three generations of his family religiously attend UH tailgates. He told me once that football brought them closer, that even though he loved them, tailgating on Saturdays at the stadium was a necessary catalyst for actually sitting down together and talking.
Photo Credit: Harrison Goo
See, it was too easy for him to skip a family dinner to hang out with his friends, or his girlfriend. It was too easy to go study or go see a movie rather than go home. However he didn’t — and wouldn’t — dream of missing a tailgate for any reason. And it wasn’t so much about the game, as it was about the experience. It was about letting Grandpa fondly recall “the good old days,” and enduring the embarrassing stories about him that his friends told his parents, even if everyone had heard it all before.
This is what makes “Ohana” tailgating here so unique. Football may be what brought people together. But tailgating is what keeps people together.
Approximately a year ago, I wrote a piece about the unique “Ohana” culture surrounding tailgating in Hawaii (if you missed it, you can catch it here). You see, the essence of that first piece was to visualize and construct the “Ohana” tailgate model while this one strives to put that model into practice.