A small, wooden paddle is a powerful catalyst in the hands of a master. It first brought people across the vast ocean to these small spots of land. For a dozen of us in a double-hulled canoe much more recently, it was also the key to Hawai history, geography and culture.

We met in Hawaii Kai for the two-hour paddling experience; the first time for each of us. It began inside the storefront with an introduction to the parts of a paddle and some basic instruction by our guide. Four of us came together: my partner Rick and a younger couple, fellow philosophy graduate students. We have all lived in Hawaii for four to five years. The others were all visitors: a family of four (parents with two teen-aged daughters), a couple in their late 30s and a slightly older woman. We were in varying degrees of physical fitness, but none of us were super athletes. Together, we newbies learned to match our strokes to propel the double-hulled canoe from the dock through Hawaii Kai Marina, out into Mauanlua Bay – and back!

At first, we focused on the basics, like making sure the paddles faced the same direction, moving in synch, and not splashing the person in front of us (too much). As we got a little better at those, the guide expanded his story to tell us of Hawaii history, including the creation of the community we paddled through and the beautiful mountains surrounding it. Out in the bay, we felt the motion of the waves move us, even as we sat still. We learned how to position and move our bodies to help power the canoe. We watched other, experienced paddlers as they practiced for the opening of the season.

Our tour was at sunset, which is apparently uncommon for this company. We watched the sun begin its descent on the water, returning to arrive back at the marina just as the sky turned pink. Following the tour, the talk-story continued, as the guide showed us on a map where we had been and used his hands to show how the island of Oahu was formed. Everyone lingered in the shop, watching the photos our guide had taken, visiting, checking out the local artwork and jewelry on display. The time together seemed both satisfying and yet ending too soon, all at the same time.

As the one who organized our tour, I especially appreciated the communication from Hawaiian Surf and Adventures. They sent a confirmation email as soon as I made the reservation, and two reminders (a week in advance and the day before). We had a gift certificate, but the price of $49 person posted on the website seems totally reasonable. They offer special pricing for families and say they are able to accommodate ages five and up. While no special athletic ability is needed, it is necessary to get in and out of the canoe, move up onto narrow wood seats and back out without holding on to anything, so mobility impairment would be a problem. Private charters are available.

Our friends said their favorite part of the tour was the stories the guide told. I have been considering paddling for some time, and this was an easy non-threatening way to check it out. The approach of learning about this wonderful place through paddling was unique, and I know it will remain a powerful memory for us all.

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