Sunday, September 22, 2013

Night Surfing North Shore

     Usually I put up photos to go along with my adventures, but for this one words will have to suffice. A small north swell pushed its way against Oahu's north shore this weekend. Wanting to get in on the surfing action I packed my board inside Heidi's new Toyota Echo. I was pretty surprised that the board fit inside the tiny car as well as both of us thanks to the rear seats folding forward. We sped off towards our friends' place over in Waialua, just west of the famous surfing mecca of Haleiwa.
     After a neighborhood get together some of the guys broached the subject of moonlight surfing. The moon was full a few days ago, but still big and bright. Five of us grabbed boards and walked to the beach around 11pm. As we strained our eyes to see the far off breakers we noticed a couple of things. First, the waves were big enough to occasionally close off the channel we use to paddle out. Second, the moon had tucked behind some clouds, that were only getting thicker.  Our group of five became a group of four. Not to be deterred I grabbed my board and with a few looks around at the group and some raised eyebrows, we hit the water running.
It was a calm night without a trace of wind. The water was glassy on the surface except for the walls of white water following the rumbling sound of the waves in to shore. With the moon still low in the sky the waves would take the form of dark shadows steadily marching in before breaking and tumbling over in a foamy white. Even with the moon behind the clouds we could see the waves forming out beyond us. Now the trick was to predict where the wave was going to break. This proved to be the hardest part.
     Sometimes waves would sneak up on me. Other times I paddled hard only to have much smaller waves than I thought pass harmlessly by. And yet the other extreme, of waves slightly bigger than I anticipated, crashed down right on top of me. Luckily the waves were pretty fun sized, chest high or so. I got the hang of it after a while, or just got lucky, and chose some really fun waves to ride. Once I was up riding it seemed much more like surfing during the day.
     As the group dwindled down to two I couldn't help but notice how much harder seeing the waves became as the moon got higher in the night sky. The telltale shadows disappeared. And in its place waves rose out of the glassy surface right in front of us. Years of surfing and being in the ocean helped me to stay calm and soak in the beautiful experience. I looked down at my watch, 12:00 midnight. Not a bad way to ring in another day in Hawaii.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

117 feet Underwater and Totally Dry

At the surface read to dive
Today I had the rare opportunity to make a dive in a submarine here in Oahu. Atlantis submarines offer a chance to join the exclusive 100foot club without being trained in scuba diving. I was invited to go for a ride along to check out the operation. I have seen this kind of submarine in action over in Maui. While I was scuba diving on the wreck of the Carthaginian this company's sub came and check out the same wreck. I could see the tourists inside snapping photos. Now I had the opportunity to see how the other side feels. It is pretty amazing.
Plane wreck seen from the sub
YO-257 wreck
 The pilot, sitting up in front, does all the maneuvering by sight. He has a giant bubble windshield, and a co-pilot at the rear giving him distances. The narrator for the trip sits up front spouting off information about the underwater area and the fish. The sub deftly moves between quite a few wrecks strewn about the bottom. Old shells of airplanes, a Korean fishing boat, and a huge military refueler all act as artificial reefs. They attract coral growth and small fish, which attracts bigger fish as well. We saw lots of giant trevally, a big school of Heller's barracuda, and pufferfish out in the blue. We even skidding along the sandy bottom at one point, I was assured the sub had a steel skid plate for just that purpose, and I could see mantas shrimp diving back into their burrows. 
  Now I think I will stick with scuba diving but I think this is a pretty ingenious way to share the underwater world with people who otherwise would never get to see it. The sub cruise lasted about 50 minutes. Now I will just have to dive the shipwrecks here and wave hi to the crew who I met today.
Our Deepest Point- 117ft

Sunday, September 15, 2013

50 Shades of Blue

Hanauma Bay, Oahu
  Oahu's southeast shore is very rugged and has some real gems if you look hard enough. A very popular one is Hanauma Bay. Over a million visitors come to this idyllic bay every year to sunbath and go snorkeling. But just around the corner you can find almost deserted beaches, hikes out to lighthouses, and some amazing shades of blue water.
   Hanauma bay is so popular because of the easy, protected inner reef. It is a great place for people learning how to snorkel or who just want to sunbath and take a quick dip to cool off. This spot use to be notorious for people walking on the reef and the effects of this can still be seen today. Old, dead reef, which should have new coral growing on top of it still remains dead close to shore. Luckily conservation efforts were slowly put into place, and in 2002 visitors were required to pay a small fee and watch an educational movie about how to not harm the reef ecosystem. It will take a while for the inner reef to recover but the outer reef is already making a comeback.
Inner reef at Hanauma Bay

 For strong swimmers who are confident in their skills, there is a cut in the inner reef which leads out to the deeper part of the bay. Once you are outside of the reef wall the bottom starts to drop and the patches of coral become noticeably more colorful. Just outside of the cut is a great place to find green sea turtles, called Honu, here in Hawaii. Following the bay out on the right side is where you can find the best reef with schools of fish and if you are lucky a passing shark. The park volunteers will give a very vocal warning about swimming out to the outer parts of the bay. Currents can be swift and the lifeguards here have made many saves over the years. So know your limits but realize if you had to deal with all these non-swimmers who frequent Hanauma, you would probably issue the same warning.

Boogie boarders at Makapu'u with the lighthouse far behind
  Around the corner from Hanauma the coastline becomes very wild. Steep cliffs and wind shaped pancake rock formations stand between the road and the sea. Sandy beach is a big body board beach break, similar to Big Beach on Maui. People are smashed into the sea floor annually here at this beach. Offshore islands provide some beautiful scenery and Molokai can be seen in the distance. Makapu'u is the beach after you pass Sea Life Park. Just before you get there you can pull off on the right side of the road and take a very cool hike out to the lighthouse overlook. During the winter it is an amazing place to watch humpback whales. Makapu'u beach itself is usually very uncrowded. If you are looking for a place to take in the sunrise or just a local secret stretch of beautiful sand, Makapu'u is the place for you.

Makapu'u Beach

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Friday, September 13, 2013

Drift Diving Oahu's Sea Cave

Pete fighting the current
The pancake cliffs
    The winds were starting to kick up, throwing waves and spray onto our sturdy dive boat. I was out with Island Divers here on Oahu checking out a couple of offshore dive sites. After a successful exploration dive of a wreck called Big Barge (not even the instructor had been there before), we decided to fight the wind and head closer to the coast to dive a site called Sea Cave.
    The water was again nice and clear, however the current was very strong. But we were planning a drift dive where we could go with the current and get picked up by the boat down the coast. Luckily the group was all advanced divers so we hit the water and immediately descended with no problems. We could see the opening to the sea cave above water but under water it was totally different. Pancaked rocks form a 60 foot deep cliff. At the very bottom of the cliff there was a wide opening which led into the sea cave. 75 feet into the cave the roof disappears and sunlight filters down from above. A white tip reef shark slipped through the shadows inside the cave.
Inside the Sea Cave
White tip reef shark

Once out of the cave we easily sped down the coast on the current. Turtles and and an eagle ray past us effortlessly gliding against the current.
   The ride back in to Hawaii Kai harbor was nice and easy going with the wind and waves. I'm looking forward to more of these advanced dives here on Oahu.

Drifting with the current
Sea turtle in flight

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Diving Big Barge, Oahu

  Today I headed out to the offshore waters of Oahu for my first boat dives since moving to this island. I was invited out to ride along with Island Divers to check out their operation. Our first dive was just under 100' at a site called 'Big Barge'. This huge barge had sunk onto the sandy bottom and became a magnet for marine life. Blue dragon nudibranchs crawled over the top while fish of every color swam through the cracked structure.
  At the very back of the barge a huge superstructure, possible a wheelhouse, had toppled over. Inside grew a forest of black coral which lit up bright orange under the strobe light. I looked hard to see if there were any long nose hawkfish hiding in the coral but I didn't see any. The wreck itself looked like great frogfish habitat but I also came up empty on those.

  The visibilty was great. When we jumped in we could see the bottom about 90feet below us. Even with the great visibility you can't see the end of the wreck. It just disappears into the blue with everything else.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

A Photo Journey Through Japan's Past and Present

Tokyo/Blade Runner
A Photo Journey Through Japan

Living in Japan for two years gave me the chance to explore a lot of the nooks and crannies of the very spread out nation. At the end it made me realize how much more there still is to explore when I am lucky enough to return. From new age skyscrapers to temples built hundreds of years ago, Japan is a photographers paradise. In Tokyo you can weave your way through boutique shopping malls and spot ancient temples by the tall trees that surround them. Suddenly you are surrounded by nature and a calmness that only Japanese temples can bring. Zen rock gardens, meticulously manicured landscapes, temples built with wood as an extension of nature, and flowing rivers connecting it all are what you will find waiting for you. On the weekends I would find old walking paths through cities that would lead from temple to temple. Wherever you end up, it is easy to hop on a train and find your way back home.
Tsukiji Fish Market, Tokyo
There are some cities which a traveler cannot miss. Kyoto, Kamakura, Hakone, Hiroshima are a few. Tokyo is amazing as well. You can climb up a skyscraper at night and look down over the cityscape that inspired the movie blade runner. The Japanese people are friendly hosts, the local cuisine is delectable, and the sights are one of a kind. Only too late did I find out that there is amazing scuba diving down south near Mr. Miagi's home of Okinawa. Nudibranchs galore for those adventurous enough. Plus migrating humpback whales a little ways offshore. Also a bit of a trip.
  I did find the incredible snowboarding in Niigata and Nagano, although a trip up to the north island of Hokkaido would be the ultimate snow vacation. Cold, moisture rich air from Siberia hits the Japanese Alps and drops soft, dry, snow on the leeward side. Time your Hokkaido trip with the huge ice festival, just remember to book way, way in advance!

  Soccer and baseball games are huge, you just have to trade yakiniku and ramen for hot dogs and pretzels. And anything western still sizzles over here. From styles and trends to sports and hobbies. I have since met tons of enthusiastic surfers from Japan as well.

Kinkakuji- Zen Buddhism Temple in Kyoto
A-bomb dome in Hiroshima
  These images are just a few of my memories from this amazing time of my life. I look at these and wonder when I will go back.

Floating Torii of Itsukushima Shrine

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Which Hawaiian Island has the Most Beautiful Beaches

    Beaches of the North Shore

  An Oahu friend told me the other day that no other island can compare to Oahu's beaches. "In fact it is like one big beautiful beach", he said. So I decided to put that to the test. I drove up to the North shore starting at sunset beach down to the beach town of Haleiwa. That was farther than I needed to go to start thinking my friend might be on to something. The softest, whitest sand stretches for miles. Surfers leap off the sand into the ocean to ride the swell which happened to coincide with my north shore visit. Not a coincidence.
And think...this is only a fraction of one side of the island. Give me enough time and I'll have the full picture of this island we call Oahu.

Friday, September 6, 2013

The Last Ride of the White Stallion

   A thousand miles from the US/Mexico border at Tiajuana is the tip of the Baja peninsula. Along the way there are many surprises waiting for the adventurous traveler to find. Secret surf breaks, rusting ship wrecks, colorful vineyards, cactus filled deserts, and grey whale breeding lagoons are all packed into this amazingly diverse area.

A few friends and I spent a month in early 2009 driving in the now infamous 'white stallion' to Cabo San Lucas and back, covering what would be the last 2,000 miles of that car's life. And while the car no longer lives on, the memories are everlasting. And there are some good ones.

  Surfing was a big part of our agenda. Hitting waves like San Miguel in Ensenada, El Canoje, Tres Alejandros, and La Bufadora definitely pushed our skills to the limit. I tried windsurfing for the first time at my buddy's place in La Ventana. And the obligatory street vendor bacon wrapped hotdog search commenced over on the Sea of Cortez side of the peninsula. We did make time for camping in dry river beds, looking for new born whales in Magdalena Bay, and drinking some Cabo Wabo in downtown Cabo San Lucas. We hardly ever got lost but when we did it would turn into an amazing camp out under the stars. We were a bit unsure of the white stallion's ability to push on several different times, but we stayed optimistic and made sure to have a celebratory shot of 100% agave tequila whenever we made a new destination. El Jimadore is still my favorite to this day.

Grey Whale spotted in Magdalena Bay!
   For those looking for a surf getaway but don't have the time for a place like Bali or South Africa, Baja is there, just across the border, beckoning.