AUDIE CORNISH, Host:
Ah, Blue Hawaii; beautiful beaches, swaying palms and cattle farms? Yes, cows and cowpokes have a rich heritage on the islands. And on the island of Kauai a piece of that tradition proudly lives on the Kauai All-Girls Rodeo Association.
Gloria Hillard brings us the story of Hawaii's cowgirls.
(SOUNDBITE OF COUNTRY MUSIC)
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: All right, ladies, can we clear the arena please? We'll test the eye and be on our way.
GLORIA HILLARD: Saddles are cinched, cowboy hats dusted with red dirt are slapped across the knee and a few ranch dogs run in circles. It's the last day of competition for the Kauai All-Girls Rodeo Association. Cowgirls, yes, they wear that name with pride - from the age of 13 to 60-something.
Sixty- three year old Joyce Miranda, is a sturdy woman in well-worn boots, along with some well-honed rodeo advice about going with your gut and trusting your horse.
JOYCE MIRANDA: And you know for me my horses, one thing I've had a lot of good horses in my life. And one thing I've always learned: I'm not going to brag on my horse, because once you start bragging about them something always happens.
HILLARD: Miranda, the co-owner of CJM Country Stables, will brag some about the history of rodeos on the islands.
MIRANDA: A lot of people feel that, you know, that in Hawaii we have bikinis, palm trees and that's about all. But they really don't realize of how rich the paniolo heritage of going back, from way back into when longhorns were king in Texas.
(SOUNDBITE OF COUNTRY MUSIC)
WOMAN: Nice run, Eliza, with a time of 19.420.
HILLARD: Hawaiian cowboys, or paniolos, go back more than 150 years on Hawaii. And many of the cowgirls here - roping steers out of the box, barrel racing and pole bending - are descendants of some of the original cattle ranching families.
Kim Medeiros's grandfather used to round up wild cattle on sugar plantations.
KIM MEDEIROS: He's 87 now, so he can't get on a horse anymore. But he used to be a big-time cowboy back in the day with the rodeos and everything, too. That's how I got into rodeo, 'cause my mom rodeoed. And then, my daughter also just started doing rodeo - and she's seven.
HILLARD: Kim's mother, Charlene Medeiros, says after watching the men's rodeo for years it was time for a change.
CHARLENE MEDEIROS: Yes, we got tired of sitting on the bleachers and the back of the trucks. I kind of said we can do that we do it out on the ranch. Why can't we do our own rodeo?
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
HILLARD: Seventeen year-old Britni Ludington-Braun also comes from a ranching family. She eyes the gate from under a black cowboy hat. Her hair is braided and so is the mane of the horse she's riding.
UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: Go, Britni.
(SOUNDBITE OF A GALLOPING HORSE)
BRITNI LUDINGTON: I started riding when I was three years old and I did rodeo when I was five. It's just you and your animal doing what you love, spending all the time you can in the arena giving each other your hearts.
HILLARD: The bond between rider and horse is a strong one, which Tammy Puoknu says might explain all those fancy halters and saddles in the arena.
TAMMY PUOKNU: Cowgirls, especially, I think we take really good care of our horses. We like to bling them out. And, you know, put all those gems on them. And I think the horses wear more jewelry than we do.
HILLARD: In the bleachers, wearing long-lens cameras around their necks, are tourists from Poland.
AGNUS PRNIK: We knew about the rodeos and we knew about the culture. So we specifically asked for the rodeos on the island.
HILLARD: Agnus Prnik says they went to a Luau the night before.
PRNIK: A hula is, you know, it has its own flavor and style. But no, the rodeo is more dynamic and much more fun.
WOMAN: Go Sandra with the run.
HILLARD: When members of the Kauai All-Girls Rodeo Association compete on the mainland they have to leave their trusted horses back home. Kim Medeiros says that's when you see what Kauai cowgirls are really made of.
MEDEIROS: It makes us a little more competitive when you have to get on someone else's horse and do just as good as a job as they do.
HILLARD: In a few weeks there will be the annual award banquet. That's when they'll hand out those coveted championship belt buckles the size of saucers. In the meantime - while they'll do their very best to win - in keeping with the Aloha, spirit their loudest cheers are always for each other.
WOMAN: Go, Kim. That was your best ride ever.
(SOUNDBITE OF A WHINNYING HORSE)
HILLARD: For NPR News, I'm Gloria Hillard.