April 07, 2012
It was hard to believe that we had been in Hawai‘i for almost a year and I had yet to stand-up on a surf board. So I decided that I should look into getting a surfing lesson so that I could use a suitable board, learn about the local conditions, and get some useful tips on how to get up for the first time. The names of a couple of instructors were recommended to me but it was going to take a bit of research to find out how to contact them.
In the meantime, it was the spring-break holiday for Hawai‘i Pacific University so on Tuesday (March 27th) Kathy and I decided to go up the Manoa Valley. Rainy weather had put us off our original plan to hike on the Maunawili Trail, on the windward side of the Ko‘olau Range but we were exceptionally lucky that the showers stopped and the sun even emerged during our strolls around the Lyon Arboretum and up to Manoa Falls. The Arboretum is run by the University of Hawai‘i, whose attractive main campus is further down the valley, and once we had finally found our way onto the trails (the exit from the visitor’s center was surprisingly challenging for us world-travelers) we enjoyed the views and the steady hike to the modest ‘Aihualama Falls at the upper end of the gardens.
For a while we were a bit mystified by the loud, pterodactyl-like squawks (or at least what we imagine pterodactyls sounded like) coming from the tree-tops. Eventually we saw some of the large white-parrot-like birds that were responsible and after cursing my decision not to bring the binoculars we concluded that maybe they were cockatoos. If I had read the map a bit more carefully, I would have immediately known that in the arboretum there are indeed wild populations of salmon-crested, umbrella, and Goffin cockatoos from Indonesia. We had to wonder who thought that introducing such raucous birds would be a good idea.
The trail to Manoa Falls was much busier than the arboretum paths and being wet from recent rain was extremely muddy. This made me glad to be wearing my hiking boots although in comparison to most other people on the trail, my feet looked rather over-dressed. The almost-free-falling 100 ft (30 m) drop of Manoa Falls was rather more impressive than the smaller cascading falls in the arboretum. We were astonished by how many people blatantly ignored the cable-fence and various “keep-out” signs by the pool at the foot of the falls. A large warning sign explained that in 2002 a major landslide dropped 30 tons (27 metric tons) of material into the pool from 600 ft above (183 m). Luckily, no one was injured but perhaps explaining that good fortune has made some subsequent visitors complacent about ignoring the warning.
As we returned from our invigorating hikes, I was telling Kathy about my plan to take a surfing lesson when she described the bad experience she had endured when she took one of the six lessons that Dan had given to her. She went with a sister and her two kids on a day when the waves and associated currents were really too much for beginners. The kids had fun but Kathy and her sister struggled in the current, did not get to catch any waves, and feeling abandoned by the instructors were definitely not pleased. Consequently, Kathy seemed happy to offer the two remaining lessons to me.
So on Thursday morning I set-off to “In-between Beach” (the popular surfing launch-point right next to the Ala Wai 800-dock) with some trepidation. After all, Kathy’s experience was not a good recommendation for these instructors but it did look as though I was going to enjoy some much better conditions. As it turned out, I was really lucky. The waves were a perfect size, there was little current, and the class was small enough that as the only first-timer I was assigned my own instructor, Izumi. We started on our boards on the beach and Izumi gave me clear and simple instructions. I looked good crouching on the board on the beach but previous unsuccessful attempts to stand had made me skeptical about how easy this would be in the water.
I should not have worried. Surf instructors have figured out that happy students are the ones for whom it is made easy to stand at the first opportunity. The benign conditions (1 – 2 ft waves, < 1 m) meant that my long-board did not need too many pushes from Izumi as we paddled out (the most exhausting part of the whole activity) and I could easily cope with plowing through broken waves. Once she had me positioned correctly for a suitable wave, Izumi gave my board a good shove at the appropriate moment and all I had to do was concentrate on hoisting myself up onto one knee and then standing with knees bent and back straight. Yes, all of that (well, almost a straight back) and quite a long ride on my very first wave. We had not discussed dismounting yet, so that part was rather inelegant but I was jubilant.
The waves are breaking because of the shallow reef and where I ended up was only about waist deep so it was important not to dive- or fall-off too deeply. There is little living coral on the reef in this popular area but sea urchins can be a problem for the incautious so I had been kitted-out with hard-soled reef shoes. I also wore a tight shirt and shorts to protect me from chafing myself on the board, so I hardly looked like the “little surfer girl” that the Beach Boys sang about but I had fulfilled my ambition to stand on a surf-board and that was what mattered.
We stayed out for at least an hour and I rode many waves without too many wipe-outs. By the end, I had graduated to catching my own waves without any push from Izumi, I could finish the ride by sitting- rather than falling-down, and I could sit-up on the board to watch and turn for suitable waves. I was not standing very tall and steering was still very rudimentary but overall the years of watching my friends surf in Cornwall and the balance I had developed skiing seemed to have been useful and both Izumi and I were very pleased. I was exhausted from all the paddling and, predictably, my shoulders ached for the next few days but I had done it. The memories of trying to stand on a short-board in rough, freezing, Cornish conditions, with no one to help me get started were finally unimportant and I could dwell on my wonderful Waikiki experience for a long time.
To aid my recollections and to show Randall what I had accomplished (he had lost sight of me once we paddled away from the beach), I succumbed to the soft sales-pitch from Kenny and bought a CD with a dozen or so photos of me during my lesson. Surfer Kenny helped the instructors when necessary but he made his money by photographing students and selling CDs of their pictures for $30. Not cheap but how else could you get in-water pictures? Knowing that waves always look smaller in photographs (as we had discovered from Tregoning’s heaving decks), Kenny had worked out that taking pictures at an angle made the waves look more impressive. He had a van in the parking-lot by the beach and after quickly downloading and organizing his photos he could show them on a monitor in the van so that each student could decide whether to purchase a CD. Not a bad job.
I was incredibly grateful to Kathy for giving me the lesson and the incentive to fulfill a life-long ambition. I was grateful to Izumi and the “Girls Who Surf” team for making it easy for me to succeed, and I was very thankful for the perfect, sunny conditions at Waikiki. We have borrowed Dan’s long-board and when the conditions look good and we are not too immersed in boat projects, both Randall and I will paddle out and while one uses the boogie-board, the other will surf (in my case on the inside break, while Randall will go outside where the waves are a bit larger)…at least that is the plan.
We have borrowed Dan’s board again because for April and May he is working in Fairbanks, Alaska. His two-month assignment as acting Refuge Manager for the Yukon Flats National Wildlife Refuge is part of his Leadership Training Program and sounds very interesting. Kathy will visit him towards the end of his assignment and we may or may not see him in Honolulu again before we set-sail for Alaska in June (or so). With this in mind, despite having a million things to organize before he left on Sunday, Dan and Kathy took us hiking with them on Saturday.
To stay dry, they selected the ‘Aiea Loop Trail on the leeward side of the Ko‘olau Range. The drive there afforded an excellent view across Pearl Harbor from its northeast corner. The trail was fairly busy but we did not complete the loop, part of which Dan considered rather disappointing. Instead we walked up one side of the loop and then beyond it part of the way along the ‘Aiea Ridge Trail, returning the same way. The narrow and much less-traveled ridge trail is appropriately named with steep slopes falling away on either side. It can be followed up to the Ko‘olau Ridge where there would be views over to Kane‘ohe Bay but this would have made a 15 mile round-trip (24 km) which was a bit more than we needed. As it was, we had lovely views into the Kalauao Valley to the north and the Halawa Valley to the south, the latter being dominated by the H3 interstate highway which disappeared into the Ko‘olau Ridge through the Tetsuo Harano Tunnel.
Dan was sure that because he did not have his camera (already shipped to Alaska) we would see plenty of rare birds including the endangered O‘ahu ‘elepaio. This bird eluded us although several Japanese white-eyes got us prematurely excited. However, as we were finishing our lunch Dan saw something swift-like whistle past. Eventually we all saw the Mariana swiftlet, a species that was introduced to Oahu from Guam in 1962. Although non-native to Hawai‘i this population may become globally important because the species is endangered in Guam as a result of predation by the invasive, brown tree-snake. According to our bird books, the O‘ahu population of Mariana swiftlets are only known in the Halawa Valley, are most commonly seen on the ‘Aiea ridge, and are thought to nest in an irrigation tunnel or small caves.
In addition to this rare bird, Dan also identified two endemic species of plants that are only found in the Ko‘olau mountains, a species of Hawaiian bidens and wooly ‘ohi‘a (Metrosideros rugosa). He also showed us some spindly sandalwood trees. Sandalwood used to be common in the forests of the Hawaiian Islands but after foreigners discovered it there in about 1810, the aromatic wood became very popular for the manufacture of furniture and incense in Asia. It was exported in huge quantities until the over-exploited forests were devoid of the precious commodity. It is now an endangered species.
Some authors (e.g., Alan Ziegler in “Hawaiian Natural History, Ecology, and Evolution”) suggest that the exploitation of sandalwood “was a major early factor in the breakup of the traditional Hawaiian way of life”. Hawaiian chiefs found that “they could personally gain vast stores of foreign good” in exchange for sandalwood so they “relentlessly forced their subjects to collect vast amounts of this material.” As the accessible populations were annihilated, commoners were compelled to travel far upland and consequently had to “largely neglect their usual agricultural and other subsistence activities”. Old social systems “began to disintegrate, starvation became commonplace, and eventually the faith of the formerly loyal subjects in their rulers was all but lost.” By the time the sandalwood bonanza had ended in 1830, whaling had become an important industry in the Pacific and many Hawaiians turned their energies to providing the stores that whaling ships needed. Many men left their villages to work in the whaling towns of Lahaina (Maui) and Honolulu, thus eroding the traditional social structure even further.
Thus, it was an enjoyable and educational hike, followed by a relaxing evening at Dan and Kathy’s house. Bidding Dan farewell until we know not when, we were returned to Tregoning the next morning. Life has continued much as usual on the 800 dock with the occasional threatened fist-fight, wafts of marijuana, and loud, profane, drunken arguments. When one of the latter included our neighbor and an ex-boyfriend we were not thrilled, especially when we heard another neighbor ask whether the ex- was armed before encouraging him to leave. But we received an apology later and generally everyone has continued to be friendly to us. Other cruisers have joined us further out on the 800 dock which may have helped calm things down a little.
Not long after I returned from my waterfall hikes with Kathy, we were hailed by Deb and Terry who had just arrived from Panama on their boat “Wings”. They had met our former companions, Dan and Kathy on Sea Star, in the Bahamas (they are now on their way back to Jamaica) and so had been looking out for us. We were amazed that Deb and Terry had enough energy to find us after their 30 day passage but they are on the final leg of their global circumnavigation, returning to Seattle in July, so perhaps they are relatively used to long crossings. It reminded us that we were at sea for all of last April.
Deb and Terry came over to Tregoning on Thursday evening where we were joined by Hannes and Sabine from “Cayenne”. We had a fun time exchanging cruising tales and discovering that the others had been in the same marina in Spain for several weeks in 2009/10 and knew several cruising couples in common. It also turned out that Hannes and Sabine had been good friends with a man who was murdered and his wife attacked under bizarre circumstances (he was invited on a supposed pig hunt but his remains were found in a fire) in Papua New Guinea. We had heard the story on the cruiser grape-vine but had previously been a bit uncertain about its authenticity. We also heard how Hannes, a retired Austrian policeman, had been badly shot by a bank robber in a stolen car. The extraordinary story made us especially impressed that someone with an injured hand and only one lung was successfully cruising around the world.
Bob and Becky, friends of Deb and Terry also on their way back to the Pacific Northwest after a circumnavigation, arrived a few days later on “Stardust”. Finally, Peter and Margarita arrived on “Sea Time”. They had been our neighbors in Honokohau and after waiting to get their furling jib repaired had stopped in Maui to pick-up his son and girlfriend, Ollie and Connie, who were on a two-week vacation from Germany. They were staying at the Waikiki Yacht Club and overall the Ala Wai Harbor was getting pretty full. At Randall’s suggestion, we all got together to enjoy an evening at La Mariana Restaurant on Thursday (April 5th) and we had good fun. Both the food and music were better than on our previous two visits with Dan and Kathy (first when Carl was carted out on a stretcher and then with Mike). Along with the Austrians and Germans, Randall and I had arrived at the restaurant by bus but for the return journey, Becky was a good sport and crammed all 12 of us in the SUV that they had borrowed and drove us back to the harbor. A little worried about being stopped by the police (what is the maximum capacity of a Chev Tahoe?), it was not until we stopped that Becky learned from Peter that she had been carrying two retired-policemen (him and Hannes) who were both impressed with her steady driving.
We had been looking forward to being joined on Tuesday (April 10th) by good friends from Florida, Sue and Jerry. Sadly, one of their cats became ill and they decided that they could not leave her as a responsibility for their neighbors and still enjoy their trip. We hope that they will still be able to join us if not in Hawai‘i maybe in Alaska and that Anna recovers soon. If we do not go elsewhere in the meantime, we can stay in Ala Wai until June 7th when our 120-day annual allowance for a temporary mooring is used up and we will have to go to another harbor. We have plenty of boat projects to keep us busy until we leave for Alaska. The heater installation alone is taking considerably longer than anticipate because of difficulties securing the ceramic tiles that provide thermal insulation for the wooden bulkhead where the heater will be mounted. We also had thought that the heater’s fuel could be gravity-fed from our diesel tank in the engine room but to do so the bottom of the heater would have to extend below the floor level. So now we have to wait for a suitable fuel pump to arrive from the mainland.
Still, we are slowly making progress towards being Alaska-ready and even if we are not joined by Sue and Jerry, we hope to revisit Maui and Moloka‘i briefly before turning north towards our departure point on Kaua‘i. We also keep our eyes on the surf and both Randall and his “little surfer girl” hope to be hitting the Waikiki waves a few times between projects.