HONOLULU — About half an hour from shore, two small shadows appeared on the ocean surface several hundred yards ahead of our kayak, scuba divers coming up from a dive.
An afternoon trip along Oahu's southern coast may not be a journey into uncharted wilds but it's a wonderful introduction to a new sport, ocean kayaking.
John Gray, along with his wife, Kristie, operate Pacific Outdoor Adventure. The company offers afternoon and day trips around Oahu, and also arranges longer treks to Hawaii's neighbor islands and places such as Tonga and Fiji.
On this day, however, Gray was working with beginners. The group met at a boat landing in the Hawaii Kai area of Oahu, and everyone pitched in to inflate the rudder-equipped, 17-foot West German kayaks. Gray said he chose the West German model for its stability and durability.
"It's impervious to everything but a nuclear attack," said Gray. "It's extremely seaworthy, and an extremely dry boat."
After the boats were inflated, Gray gave the group a few safety tips and instructions in how to paddle and steer.
When we got into the water I was surprised how stable the kayak was--more like a canoe than the tippy, wave-riding fiberglass kayaks that have become increasingly popular.
After paddling a bit against a crosswind, we headed out into Maunalua Bay through a channel as fishing boats and jet skis passed us. To our left were the fashionable homes of Portlock on the volcanic hillside of Koko Head. In front of us was the open ocean.
Once outside the channel we turned downwind, enjoying the trade winds at our back for the rest of the trip between Hawaii Kai and Waikiki.
Most of us picked up kayaking skills within a short time. The rudder is steered by foot pedals in the rear of kayak. To go left, you press the left pedal. To go right, you press the right one. Simple.
We were in four kayaks. John paddled his own, a Honolulu couple shared another and two visiting tourists the third. After a short period of paddling we took a break in the open part of the large bay, allowing the wind to carry us.
"The kind of people I get are those who like to try something new, be outdoors," Gray said, as our kayaks drifted along together. "While we have many different trips, in many ways this is my favorite."
Undulating waves occasionally came along, giving us a slight lift. We stayed far enough from shore to keep away from breakers, but not so far that we would be caught in offshore currents.
Big on Safety
"Safety is a big thing with me," said Gray. "With the wind and current factor, it really is important to go with someone who has had experience in the ocean."
Gray grew up in coastal California and has been around the ocean all his life. He is trained in emergency first-aid and life saving. Each kayak is equipped with life jackets and flares.
Along the coast, houses dotted the shore and lined the hillsides, a part of the developed tentacles that stretch out from urban Honolulu. Clouds anchored like white hats along the peaks of the green mountainsides, leaving the sky clear over the ocean where we were. The cool breeze kept us from getting too hot, although the sun was strong.
As we crossed to the far side of the bay we were in waters off fashionable Kahala and Black Point, an area popular with wind-surfers. At one point a young windsurfer quietly glided by, nodding a greeting to us.
Coming around Black Point we saw some of the most fashionable houses on Oahu. Some are built in Cape Cod style, others have large picture windows. One is designed in Middle Eastern style.
Excluding the scuba divers we saw in Maunalua Bay, it was there that my kayak-mate, Becky, and I saw our first sign of wildlife, a green sea turtle resting on the surface. When we gestured to the other kayakers to have a look, the alert turtle dived out of sight.
Coming around Oahu's landmark Diamond Head Crater, we passed more surfers and fashionable homes, and drew nearer to the hotel forest of Waikiki. Yachts, para-sailers, other kayakers and pleasure boaters shared the waters with us. I thought back a few hours to the grander spaces of Maunalua Bay, where we had the ocean nearly to ourselves.
We passed a few swimmers on the way in, and drew a fair amount of interest as we pulled the rugged boats up onto popular Sans Souci Beach near Waikiki.
For this introductory trip, the price was $30 apiece, not including transportation, which Gray works to arrange through car-pooling.
Trip for Same Price
Another half-day or full-day trip available on Oahu for the same price is the Chinaman's Hat to Kahana Bay trip in Windward Oahu, the north shore, which includes a short journey up the freshwater Kahana Stream.
A third trip for the same price is from Sunset Beach to Haleiwa on Oahu's North Shore, which includes a side trip up the Anahulu stream. The trip is limited to summer months because waves are too big in the area during the winter.