By Everett Potter
The view over Hanalei Bay on the north shore of Kauai must be one of the most wondrous in the world. With a backdrop of the rugged mountains that form the Napali Coast, looking like a dragon’s back covered in green, it’s a setting that has drawn filmmakers to shoot The Descendants, Jurassic Park and South Pacific, among many other movies. This Bay still has something wonderfully primeval about it, even when viewed from the tony perch of the St Regis Princeville Resort.
So it was that one morning of our recent stay, we headed to the beach along the Bay for an early morning snorkel and sail on an outrigger canoe from a company called Island Sails Kauai.
Having done what seems to be about a thousand such excursions in 30 years of seeing the globe, I was looking for a big sign, a youthful attendant with a clipboard, a giant catamaran at anchor, party boat provisions laid out, and 60 people milling about in T-shirts and flip flops.
There was nothing. Just the beach and beautiful Hanalei Bay, with small waves lapping at the shore.
“Maybe we’re early?” I volunteered.
We dug our toes into the wet sand and watched a half dozen surfers paddling out to the break, their bodies glistening in the morning sunshine.
“I think this where we are supposed to go,” I said to my wife and our 11 year old daughter. Soon another family of three joined us on the beach, waiting.
A few minutes later, a small red hulled outrigger canoe came out of a cove and headed directly to where we were standing. A very small boat. On board were two men and a woman. Youthful, smiling, happy: the crew.
“Trevor,” said the shy blonde haired captain, as he stepped ashore.
He was quite possibly the fittest human being I’d ever laid eyes on, with the Zen-like calm and the faraway look in the eyes that I’ve only ever seen in extreme athletes.
The six of us climbed on board and Trevor paddled us out over the waves using a handcrafted wooden paddle. We listened as he told us how he had built this sailing canoe by hand, a replica of an original Hawaiian sailing canoe. While he now sailed it around Kauai on short excursions like this one, he had also sailed it from Oahu to this island, about 100 miles of rough open water.
This blonde. blue eyed Hawaiian-born sailor seemed to be from another world as he spoke to us about the surf, how mild it was now in summer, how big it became in winter.
“We get 100 foot waves,” he told us matter of factly. “We love to ride them.”
“What’s it’s like to ride a 100 foot wave?” asked my wife.
“It’s great, but if you get caught, it’s like being in an avalanche,” he said. “You have to be able to hold your breath for minutes at a time. Then you come back up and do it again.”
In the middle of Hanalei Bay, with the nagging refrain of Puff the Magic Dragon in my head, he anchored the boat, passed out snorkels and masks, and in we dove.
In minutes, we were watching sea turtles, enormous beasts of up to 250 pounds. This spot was known as a Turtle Washing Station, and indeed, a fleet of tiny fish was feeding on the shell backs of these animals. The three of us floated effortlessly in the water.
Then I glanced down, along the anchor rope, and there was Trevor, sitting on the anchor, thirty feet below us. He checked the anchor’s grab. Then he resumed sitting on the anchor.
“He has gills,” I thought.
We went back to looking at the turtles and when I turned to check on Trevor, he was still there. It had been minutes. Several minutes. Here was a surfer practicing for the big one six months hence.
My wife tired of the snorkeling but my daughter and I swam for close to an hour, watching as many as five of these giant turtles swimming in the deep water just below us. Later, we clambered back onto the deck of the catamaran, Trevor hoisted sail, and off we went on a thrill ride across the waves coming into Hanalei Bay. With the extraordinary green background, it was not hard to imagine Polynesians sailing the Pacific and approaching this same shore. We were flying. Trevor guided the outrigger using his paddle as a tiller. We hit the waves and the salt spray covered us.
We’d been out on the water for less than two hours but it felt like we’d taken a profound journey. I suppose in the scheme of things, we had. We thanked Trevor and his crew and walked back across the beach.
As for the gills, I’m still not sure.