Here we are, all together at last, on the Big Island of Hawaii! The warm, sweet pacific breeze is the first sensation of a new adventure as each of us step off our flights and walk through the gate of the small outdoor airport, where we’re welcomed by eager and smiling faces. As we wait for everyone to arrive throughout the day, we eat snacks, play games and start to learn about each other. It is dark by the time we all leave the airport and make our way to Spencer Beach where we’ll set up our first beach campsite. Even though we’re sleepy from long flights, the positive energy is high and close friendships are already forming! We’re all excited to start this expedition together!
OUR FIRST WEEK IN PARADISE:
After a good night of sleep, we are off on our first adventure to experience outrigger canoeing along the Kona coastline! We’re up early and cook crew prepares a tasty, simple breakfast with fresh island fruit as we watch the sun rise on the pacific for a peaceful moment. After a quick group circle, we all pack up camp and hop in the van with our gear, turn on some good tunes, and make our way to downtown Kona to meet with the Kona Boys at their beach shack. When we arrive, we are greeted by Brent and Eric, our instructors for the day. The sun is already hot in the early morning, and we’re all applying our sunscreen and holding our snorkels in hand eagerly as we listen carefully to our instructors. We’re buzzing to see what the day brings!
After an exciting morning of snorkeling, paddle-boarding, and traditional canoeing involving Hawaiian chants and synchronized paddling, we’re all hungry for our first lunch together on a soft grassy patch nearby the beach. We set down our cooler and reflect on our favorite activity as the cook crew lays out the sandwich fixings. We all laugh together and comment that our group is unique; in less than 24 hours, we all feel so comfortable with each other! Everyone feels safe and appreciated.
The end of the day brings us to a new beach named Hookena. It’s a breathtaking spot, located at the base of a long, winding road just south of Kona. As we finally arrive at our spot and start to spread out our tents, we all pause to appreciate the beauty of the cove that the beach is tucked into. Sam and Jai keep everyone laughing with their jokes while some of us race into the water where we are met by a sea turtle, and cook crew prepares fettuccini alfredo with chicken for our evening meal. Owen impresses his leaders, and the rest of the group, as he quickly masters the art of slicing and sautéing chicken…it’s delicious! As we all finally sit down to eat, we huddle in to talk about the highlights of the day. Some of us are still a little sleepy and tuck in early after dinner, while others sit outside a little while longer to enjoy the warm breeze and stare up at the stars in the sky.
Our next two days involve sea kayaking in two incredible locations: Kealakekua Bay (Pathway of the God) and the deeper waters near downtown Kona. After a some simple instruction, we mount our kayaks and head to the historically significant Kealakekua Bay for a majestic paddle to an epic and austere snorkel spot close to the Captain Cook Monument. It’s a 45 minute tandem paddle across the picturesque bay, complete with an in depth and exciting history lesson of the ancient Hawaiian civilization and the arrival of Captain Cook. Clay and Owen impress us with their coordinated rowing abilities, which they attest to the outrigger canoe lessons the day before, while Sarah and Jai hang back to soak in the amazing views. Hanna W. and Paige splash water at each other playfully. As we finally port on the rocks, the guides lead us through the short walk to the monument. We pause to taste the fruit of a tamarind tree; the flavor of a Warhead or Sour Patch Kids. We delight in the surprising taste, before we head over to the snorkel spot, where we leap into the crystal clear waters and stare down at our hands. We’ve never seen water so pristine before, and looking past our hands, are amazed by the views before us. Coral and beautiful fish abound as we swim around the cove. This is one of the top snorkel locations in the world, and it certainly earns its reputation! As we leave the cove, we all feel so fortunate and celebrate with some delicious and refreshing shaved ice.
The sea kayaking along the Kona Coast is an experience all its own. For many of us, it will be a memory that is engrained in our hearts forever. We paddle out into the open waters until our guides spot naya (Hawaiian for dolphins) and shout it out emphatically. We all quickly hop into the water with our snorkels on and our hearts racing. What happens next is pure magic. We are surrounded by playful pods of dolphins, some leaping out in front of us even! Most of us have never seen wild dolphins this close before! Paige surfaces and proclaims that she was only inches away from touching one; Clay can hardly contain his excitement as he swims eagerly towards the pod. Sarah snaps photos of many of us with her underwater camera. As we paddle back, the naya dip under our boats, and many of us are amazed to the point of silence, simply overwhelmed by what we’ve just experienced. On shore, we are greeted by beach chairs and lunch, and one of our guides named Hiko-who we all agree is a legendary man for his free-diving abilities and humbleness-chops open a couple coconuts which he’s climbed a tree to get for us (further enhancing his status in our group).
The 45-minute van rides back to camp become a time to laugh, sing and discover a lot about each other. We all feel like a family, and Hanna P. comments that every day has been perfect so far. Sam agrees. We return to Hookena to a sunset and a warm meal. We’re ready for surfing tomorrow!
Our three days of surfing are some of the best we’ve all had! Beach Boys blare from our car speakers as we approach the site, and we all put on our surf booties. We swim out, and everyone is feeling confident! Our instructors Charles, Mack and Kalaio are fantastic, and guide each of us through the waves. Everyone gets up on the board multiple times each day. Hanna W. and Sarah are often seen riding out the same wave together, appearing as if it’s the easiest thing in the world, while Austin makes it seem as if he could surf in his sleep! Jai has also found a new passion, and we are all impressed by his natural ability on the board! Sam learns some great wedging techniques and feels accomplished. Next to the sound of the crushing surf, the second loudest sound is the shouts of our group, as everyone emphatically cheers each other on, especially Zack as he conquers wave after wave on the final day!
One day, we stop at Hapuna Beach on the way back from surfing to the campsite—one of the most beautiful beaches on the Big Island—to enjoy our lunch. Lillie helps bury one of the leaders in sand and Molly makes everyone laugh with her infectious laugh, while Jai, Owen, and Austin throw a football around. We watch as Clay and Sam race into the water to do some long-awaited body-boarding. After a week, we’re sitting in the van on the way back to camp, and we can all look around at each other and earnestly say that everyone feels really happy to be here, with each other; we’ve gelled so well as a group, and Jai comments gratefully how cool it is that we can all relax and be ourselves without any reservations. It’s a beautiful thing, and knowing we have two more weeks together of new adventures is so exciting! We’ve purchased Hawaiian shirts as our group outfit and we can’t wait for our service project, for our volcano adventure, and for the sailing trip! We’re having a blast.