Afraid of Snorkeling? Just Do It Your Way. | Back to Hawai’i (Days 1-2)

Let me reiterate it one more time: I never thought I’d ever come back to Hawai’i. It’s not that I wouldn’t want to; the desire was certainly there, it was that the time and finances and real reason didn’t seem to be there. Oh, how wrong I was, and oh, how thankful I am for this one opportunity to show me my lack of correct judgement!

But let’s start, very briefly, from the beginning. In February, I was approved for my OPT — which basically means I can stay one extra year on a student visa to get some experience in the industry that’s connected to my major at school. I studied journalism, so I had to find something related to writing and, well, journalism.

And that’s how I ended up going on a research trip to Hawaii this past summer. What is that? Oh, it doesn’t seem to be related to my major in the slightest? Well, it’s all about how you put things. You see, the research was a part of writing a guide to the island of Hawai’i — and it did, indeed, include quite a bit of writing, as I was the only one focusing on the geology of the island and had, therefore, a whole section to write all by myself. And so, when filling the paperwork for the government, I simply focused on the writing part, how it was going to teach me this and that, et cetera, et cetera, and it worked (or, you know, at least it seems it worked — nobody came to drag me out of the US just yet).

And so, after a month or two of initial research, I landed on the island at the beautiful Kona airport, forgot how well the porous igneous rock soaks up water, and sat down on one of them, seemingly dry, to wait for the academic director to pick me and a few other people up.

The open-air Kona airport, photo from my first visit in 2018

The usual ice-breaking moments happened that afternoon, and then, very early in the evening, we were all allowed to go back to our units and, finally, sleep. We had three units at the base; two newer ones that housed seven people and one older one that housed five. I was in the older one; and even though it meant our stove didn’t function from time to time and one of the bathroom doors didn’t lock, it was still the best one; we could walk from the back door right to the ocean.

The ocean was so close in fact, that when we walked in for the first time, we were told that the windows had to be closed that morning because the surf breaking against the shore was so high the ocean water sprayed inside. This was on the first floor, mind you, not the ground floor.

I prepared my lunch for the next day for myself and one of my housemates and then, the five of us went straight to sleep. The journey to the island was long for many; I’m lucky to live on the west coast, but besides me and two other participants, everyone else had to go through several layovers.

The morning came a tad too early the next day, and all research teams headed out to the same place in Kekaha Kai State Park: Mahai’ula and Makalawena beaches. It was our opportunity to get to know each other better, find out how strong of a hiker each of us was (this applied especially to the hiking team), and learn to snorkel (for those of us that didn’t know how to do it).

Black lava fields with the Hualālai cone in the background, covered in green and yellow vegetation

The ride was quite bumpy; the road to the trailhead was more-so just broken-down lava. Any non-four-wheel drive car would have been in quite the amount of trouble, should it attempt to get there. But the views were staggering; the lava fields stretched on and on, and the slopes of Hualālai rose up until they met the low-hanging clouds.

Note: this series is more of a (lesson) diary than how-to’s or trail guides, as these will be published in the upcoming guide to the Hawai’i island by Global Treks & Adventures. 🙂

I was one of the people who didn’t know how to snorkel; and, honestly, after all my previous experiences with trying to learn it, I was in no hurry to get into the water, even though the beaches were beautiful and the waters were, supposedly, full of marine life.

Mahai’ula Beach

My past experiences with snorkerling were such: every time I attempted it, I took a proper gulp of seawater, no matter how advanced the snorkel, no matter how many times I’ve tried. For some reason, snorkels turn to sipping straws whenever I attempt to use them.

And so, after being convinced that I should give snorkeling in the Mahaiula Bay a try, I came to an agreement both with myself and Ihi that I’d go in the water with goggles but not a snorkel and just hold my breath. From past experiences, I knew I could hold my breath for quite some time, so it seemed reasonable enough — and I joined everyone snorkeling, just without the snorkel.

(Yes, Ihi isn’t the academic director’s real name, yes, I will be changing names in this diary to keep people’s identities safe. Ihi is a tiny yellow flower, native to Hawai’i, and I may or may not keep using plants as names.)
Views between Mahai’ula and Makalawena beaches

And oh boy, was it worth it. A Hawaiian green sea turtle, several sea urchins, and many fish later, it was time to leave the water, even though there was zero desire to do so. Hayden Cove proved to be a great spot to observe marine life. Holding my breath ended up making my life a little more complicated than that of those who knew how to snorkel without drinking half the ocean but still, I was grateful Ihi convinced me to go in.

We then hiked to a second beach, further from the trailhead and with slightly rougher waters. On the way, we passed a Hawaiian monk seal sunbathing on a strip of sand and, very clearly, enjoying itself. This one had a name, as it came swimming from another island; the volunteer guarding the seal told us that on Hawai’i, they don’t name seals out of respect.

Hawaiian monk seal sleeping in the sand

Named or not, this one looked to be having the best time of its life, rolling around in the sand and drifting in and out of sleep while we continued on towards Makalawena beach.

Puu Alii Bay had, indeed, slightly rougher waters and I was, once again, unsure of whether it was wise to go in, or if I should, perhaps, sit that one out. But the inner debate was a short one; I had one week on the island, and who knows if I’d ever get back there. So I accepted Naio’s offer to be swimming buddies for this one (to keep an eye on each other) and went into the waves.

(Yes, Naio is another plant native to Hawai’i, also known as false sandalwood. It grows from the coastal to the sub-alpine dry forests.)

And thank god for doing so — Makalawena Beach was so much more fun! There seemed to be less marine life, but the surf was a bit higher, and Naio and I ended up “surfing” the waves and finding colorful fish hidden under rocks on the bottom of the bay — which required us to dive quite deep. We were last out of the water.

On the way back, we found Noni, or Indian mulberry — a member of the coffee tree family. (I recommend having the Seek app by iNaturalist on your phone whenever you go outside; it helps you identify plants, insects, birds, fungi, mammals, fish,… anything in the living world.)

By the end of the day, the hiking team was short one member — and the culture team gained one. The next day, each team — hiking, culture, and marine — would go off on their own journey, conducting their own research, and filling their own reports.

Noni fruit

Back to the snorkeling: I think it’s the same with everything in life. If you don’t succeed at doing it the way others do it, don’t resign to thinking you just can’t do it; find your own way to do it. There isn’t only one correct way to snorkel and enjoy marine life, just as there isn’t only one way to do and enjoy anything in life.

If, at once, you don’t succeed, filling your lungs with half the ocean, perhaps it’s time to rethink things and do them differently to make them work for you.

Ha-ha look at me, weaving life lessons into a simple diary-style post about snorkeling! I know what you could say; “it’s not that deep, bro.”

Well, unlike the ocean.

Okay, I’m going to walk myself out. You have a great day; I’ll see you next week, perhaps with another (not) deep lesson!

Cheers,
—Pav


Previous posts from Hawai’i (in chronological order from oldest to newest)

2018:

2021:

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