I’m a lifelong Hawaii resident who is not inclined to sign up for a guided Oahu snorkeling tour. I know the best places for exploring the reefs that ring Oahu. Grew up doing it. I certainly wouldn’t pay a stranger to show me around places I’ve been. Much less on a chartered tourist catamaran. But when a friend of more than twenty years who is inclined to do The Math floats the idea, I’ll listen.
“I don’t know!” she said. “It’ll be quirky and fun! Why not?” I’ve learned to trust the instincts of my friends, especially the ones who raise families and launch amazing restaurants by trusting their guts and diving in. The kind of people who are willing to take the whole family on an international vacation by flying stand-by. There is wisdom in whimsy. Peril, too, but not on this boat.
Getting to the guided Oahu snorkeling tour
We got to the Haleiwa Boat Harbor early. The drive from town only took about 25 minutes from the HAT Blog Home Office. It was also 7:30am on a Sunday morning. Captain Don and his North Shore Catamaran crew of the Ho’o Nanea at North hadn’t yet turned up, but they did before long. We lucked into a parking spot in the shade. Our Gen X cohort was not far behind. The Dads shared “We’re actually doing this?” shrugs as I shuttled adult beverages into the ample and iced cooler provided by the boat.
We headed into light winds toward Sharks Cove, just past Waimea Bay to one of Oahu’s most famous and frequented snorkeling spots. “Meh,” I thought as I reached for a seltzer on a gentle sea. I dived that reef as a kid.
Also, I was soon taken anew, seduced again by views of the North Shore from the ocean beyond its shores. Massive windfarm turbines churned lazily in the hills. I could see the crowd at Laniakea Beach, “Turtle Beach”, and the takeoff zone for lunatic surfers chasing impossible blue monsters on carefully and expertly crafted surfboards during the North Shore winter season. I’d probably not do that in winter when the ocean can and will rise with indifferent menace.
“Well, this is nice,” I said to my wife. She agreed.
“Pass me a seltzer,” she said, waving a finger at the cooler.
I was handed snorkeling gear by one of the all-female, expert crew. After, we moored outside of the Marine Protected Area. “I always spit in my mask to clean to de-fog it,” I said. “I probably shouldn’t.” It felt like a confession.
“We have a spray for that.”
I swam off on my own to familiar reef structures. I never lost sight of at least a couple of bodies in our group. Then, we stopped playing lifeguard, watched our guides point out hidey-holes for octopi, “tako”, and followed those amazing creatures scampering along the sea floor. Even in a familiar place, I found quirkiness. I play-acted spearfishing papio like I did for real as a feral kid on unsupervised summer vacations long ago. It felt good to flex swimming. My ocean knowledge muscles have been dormant for longer than I’d care to admit.
The wind kicked up and my narrow ‘okole (“behind”) got cold. I think I was the first one back onto the boat, the first to ransack a pile of sandwiches from Storto’s in Haleiwa Town. The warm shower of fresh water from reusable plastic bottles heated by the sun was sublime. It was a fine wash on an Oahu snorkeling tour.
Once collected and safely accounted for, our party, stalwart oceanic conveyance, captain, and crew headed back to Haleiwa. The crew lofted the main sail, and we picked up pace on the quickening breeze. It was exhilarating. A pod of rambunctious dolphins joined us, spinning and twisting in our wake and in front of it. I guess I’ll never know who among us was happier. I’d bet it was the cetaceans. They didn’t have to drive back to town.
Sure, it was decidedly “touristy.” But I’d do that Oahu snorkeling tour again.