The Hukilau: The History of the Massive Tiki-Themed Event Taking Over Fort Lauderdale

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Like residents of most cities, there are a lot of things South Floridians take for granted.

Seriously, how many times have out-of-towners asked why you don't have a year-round tan?

The beach is probably not the only thing you're not taking advantage of.

Whether or not you're aware, you live near one of the most celebrated Polynesian themed restaurants in the tiki community, the Mai Kai. The Fort Lauderdale restaurant is responsible for bringing hoards of tiki-lovers from across the world to this weekend's retro South Pacific inspired Hukilau.

Clean Plate Charlie caught up with Hukilau Co-Founder, Producer, and Organizer Tiki Kaliki (a.k.a. Christie White) about the event, it's history, and the Mai Kai.

See Also:

- Five Tiki Cocktail Recipes from Mixologist Iliya Dimitrov to Kick-Off Hukilau

- Mai Kai Restaurant: History of a South Florida Institution

White co-founded the event in Atlanta back in 2002 at another well-known tiki establishment, Trader Vic's. That year more than 5,000 people showed up to the two-day event.

"At the time, some people from Lauderdale had come up to the event in Atlanta," said White. "They asked, 'Have you ever heard of the Mai Kai?' I said, yes. I actually bought a postcard from the Mai Kai in an antique store when I was 19. So I made up my mind to check it out then."

The following year White moved the festival to Fort Lauderdale. It is now the second largest tiki event in the country -- Tiki Oasis in San Diego is the largest.

"We decided to move solely because of the Mai Kai," says White. "Without it here, there would be no reason to be in Fort Lauderdale."

The Huklilau has changed over the years. What started out as a bunch of bands and tiki gear has turned into a four-day event full of vendors with tiki art and memorabilia, shows, and symposiums on tiki cocktails, history, and anything related to mid-century Polynesia.

"It's grown because my audience tells me what they want and I deliver as much as I can," said White. "I call it the most authentic tiki event in the world, because no other event has the Mai Kai."

This year the event expects to host 700 to 900 people.

To White, the Hukilau and tiki culture is all about escape from the everyday. She first fell in love with retro Polynesian memorabilia as a kid, hanging out in Alabama antique stores with her mom. She became fascinated by things from the past.

"The owner would show me Hawaiian records and tell me about her travels," she said. "I would dream of another place. I got my first tiki mug at 13."

White believes this desire to relax and find release from everyday life is what drives people to travel to these events.

"People want to have fun," she said. "The tiki bar was created for people who want to escape and see waterfalls or exotic women. It's another world. The Aloha spirit is infectious."

The Hukilau will be holding events throughout the weekend. Tickets can be purchased at registration in the lobby of the Yankee Clipper (the Sheraton Fort Lauderdale Beach Hotel) Friday at 10 am. Passes are available for the whole weekend or to individual events. For a full schedule of events visit thehukilau.com/2013.

Follow Sara Ventiera on Twitter, @saraventiera.

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