Wherever I go, I get asked the very same question: Where are you from? A question whose answer elicits yet another question: Do you surf? “Well, I try to,” is normally my answer. But the truth is I am hardly ever really in Hawaii long enough to get my surfing skills up to a level that will earn the title “surfer.” In the past year, I may have hit the waves (at least I’ve tried to) a total of five times; predictably, being from Oahu’s North Shore means having to answer such questions. After all, Oahu’s North Shore is synonymous with surfing. As a matter of fact, it is billed as the “surfing capital of the world” because it is the host of many annual surfing competitions.
Far too often, though, tourists come to Hawaii harboring a misconception: that taking a surfing lesson turns them into “surfers.” Well, not quite. Surfing ranks high on the list of one of the most difficult sports to learn. To master it and to truly be regarded as a “surfer,” it takes years and years of practice and patience. So, instead of getting frustrated by not being able to ride a wave, opt for any (or all, if you are an adrenaline junkie) of the activities mentioned below. I had a friend tag along to help me document the “super adventure” and because it was his birthday, so I thought sharing the experience would make a perfect gift. In one day, we swam with sharks, went skydiving, and rode a glider for “Top Gun”-like aerobatic moves.
Swimming with sharks
At 6:30 am, we were advised to be at the Haleiwa Boat Harbor and to look for Hawaii Shark Encounters, which was the company we had chosen for this part of the adventure. The instructions were very simple — bring a towel, sunscreen, sunglasses, and any other accessories you may need. It was also recommended that those who have issues with motion/sea sickness to take preventive measure. And being that Haleiwa is about an hour away from Waikiki, where most tourists stay, Hawaii Shark Encounters provides a shuttle service for a fee, of course.
Visitors who seek to raise the hairs on the back of their neck will not be disappointed with getting face to face with what many perceive as a “predator.” Meeting sharks up close and personal is surreal. Seeing the beauty and splendor of sharks as they rise from the depths to greet you is truly one of the most fascinating events that can happen to a person. This experience will profoundly affect your feelings toward sharks because certain notions about these often-misunderstood creatures will be dispelled. The crew from Hawaii Shark Encounters gave an interesting lecture on the history of the boat and its relationship with the sharks that came up from the deep waters to swim around the boatful of shark spectators in a safety cage. We sailed back to the harbor after the two-hour adventure, and I was ever glad I acquiesced to the unique experience. I saw a 13-ft. shark that day. The sight of it being in such close proximity to me made me shiver (or maybe it was the cold North Shore morning water that did it). In any case, it was an unforgettable moment.
The adventure entails traveling out three miles to view these amazing creatures. Upon both the outgoing and incoming excursions, it is not irregular to find dolphins, sea turtles, and, in the winter months, the famous Humpback and Pilot Whales. Two-hour tours are scheduled throughout the day from 7:00 am to swim and view sharks from the housings of a metal cage.
It was a little after 9:00 am when we got back to the harbor, so we decided that breakfast was the best option to kill time before our next scheduled adventure – skydiving.
For my 21st birthday, a friend had given me a skydiving certificate as a gift. Inasmuch as I wanted to take on the offer, life for some reason just rolled along, and I never really had the chance to go skydiving. Years later I had asked to redeem the gift, but it was a futile effort.
Accidents resulting in a few broken body parts negated that gift no matter how persuasive I presumed I was being.
But on that day of August 1, 2008, I had made a conscious decision to go skydiving. Thanks to Frank from Skydive Hawaii for allowing me to join the long list of other thrill-seekers that have come before me. To get to Skydive Hawaii, we were told to take the first gate entrance at Dillingham Airfield, which is located on Kamehameha Highway in Mokuleia.
In so many words, skydiving means signing your life away through what easily could have been a nine-page disclaimer form. The words “YOU COULD DIE” have never resonated such excitement in the way that it did that day. First time jumpers are given a video to view that shows the entire skydiving process. The experience meant a lot of waiting time, because one jump rotation can only take a maximum of six jumps, including single and tandem. For the experienced, solo jumps are available. First timers and beginners take the plunge in tandem with certified professionals, for obvious reasons. After each jump rotation, the gear is repacked then suited on the jumper. Those who for opt for a video (highly recommended) are given the chance to do a pre-jump spiel, then off to the aircraft.
I had the great (mis)fortune of being paired with a major adrenaline junkie named Richard. He literally hung by the aircraft door as the plane ascended to about 14,000 ft. (The jump ranges from 10,000 to 14,000 ft., depending on the weather.) By normal procedure, he was supposed to have been attached to me by that point, but not Richard – he was totally nonchalant about it all. I was under the impression that he may have jumped way too many times in his lifetime, so much so, that skydiving had become second skin to him. When it was time to jump, he pointed at me to get in front of him. I felt somewhat safer, as I knew I was attached to someone who had a parachute. Then off the aircraft we went. In two words: blissfully peaceful. Sort of paradoxical that way, as I knew I was diving towards gravity at top speed, and yet I felt at peace. My take, at least.
To cap the day, we decided to try aerobatic gliding. We didn’t expect much from the experience, as we foolishly believed no other experience could top swimming with sharks and skydiving. Were we ever mistaken. Gliding doesn’t exactly sound like an adventure. However, at Steve Lowry’s Acroflight International (located at the second gate of Dillingham Airfield), you will find instructors capable of aerobatic gliding, which is an amazing experience to say the least. Gliding is quite literally breathtaking in that you have the aerobatic option, which will allow you to experience up to 9 G’s of acceleration force (or nine times the force of gravity) through loops, barrel rolls, inverted flight, and so much more. I myself hit 6 G’s. Not much to brag about, but the experience gave me a “Top Gun”-like sensation that I know Tom Cruise himself did not feel when he starred in that movie. The experience was, by any measure, unexpected. It has certainly sparked my interest in aerobatic gliding, so I may just be knocking on Steve’s door in the near future to teach me how to do those “Top Gun” moves. I had a miniscule taste of what it feels like to fly the glider as, under Steve’s very watchful eye, I got the chance to aviate the glider myself before we landed.
On Oahu, the timeless radiance of the islands meets the modern luxuries of today – hike down a lush mountainside, just minutes away from the most exotic city in the world; enjoy the entertainment of a luau under the stars one night and dine at a five-star restaurant another; and sunbathe all day on the North Shore, then dance all night in Waikiki. There’s no shortage of things to do on Oahu. And yet most people only expose themselves to the regularity of island tourism, rather than doing the research and finding something truly extraordinary to spice the visit.
But a trip to paradise should be exalted to leave you memories to go back to should you only make such a trip once. So be daring and take the path less traveled and take on one or all of the aforementioned adventures. You will not only be guaranteed a mouthful of spiels to brag about when you get back to your ordinary life, but you will help guys like Frank of Skydive Hawaii and Steve of Acroflight International to stay in business. It is quite a big disadvantage that they are not necessarily on the traditional tourists’ path, but they, too, need the business.
It is of great importance to add that Acroflight International sets itself apart from the rest of its competitors because of its owner, Steve Lowry. With an undeniable passion for flying, Steve believes in “giving back to the community.” To meet this goal, Steve has set up a nonprofit organization called “Young Eagles.” The national program is open to local residents between the ages of 8 and 17 and headed up nationally by the famous actor Harrison Ford. It is a flight instruction program that was developed to welcome young people into the world of aviation. According to Steve himself, the program has served as the launching pad, literally and figuratively, for “local kids who have gone on to become pilots and fire jet pilots.” Go on and give Steve a call at 1 (808) 221-4480 to commend him for his passion for flying and for translating that passion to inspiring others to follow suit.
When you’ve done that, ask yourself: what could possibly be greater than a relaxing vacation full of swimming, golfing, snorkeling, shopping, scuba-diving, camping, hiking, and site-seeing? Simple, a balance of leisure activity with the exhilarating experience of the more exciting things Oahu’s North Shore has to offer.
For more info:
Hawaii Shark Encounters: 1 (808) 351-9373
SkyDive Hawaii: 1 (808) 637-9700
Acroflight International: 1 (808) 221-4480
As this article was pegged for our Thanksgiving edition, we decided to make a YouTube video to share the experience. In two parts, these videos were raw clips added together, so they are in no way of professional standards. We hope you enjoy them nonetheless.
Part One: Sharks and Skydiving
Part Two: “Top Gun”