Manta rays really do exist.



You might think of Hawaii as ringed with white sand beaches that go on for miles and miles. Here on the Big Island, though, much of the coast is lava rock, with a few long beaches and some pocket beaches sprinkled here and there., not unlike my home state of Maine. But this is a brand new baby island, still being formed today. And I mean today like today, Tuesday. Lava will pour into the sea between noon and 7pm and the island we be a little bigger.

Local Hawaiians can often be seen walking down impossibly steep paths and over razor-sharp lava called ‘a’a (ah-ah) to access the sea. Ah-ah is the sound you make when you walk on it. Pahoehoe is the smoother, ropier kind. The last 2 properties we rented in Hawaii for SwimVacation were magnificent waterfront homes, but the ocean was inaccessible due to the ah-ah. This year, the Polynesian Scandinavian Modern Industrial Hawaiian Hale we rented is right on a white sand beach on Waialea Bay. In past years, we’ve come here to swim for a morning, but this year we are really becoming intimate with the bay. It’s our home base. We roll out of bed and walk 20 steps to the beach.  

Our morning swim today was a triangular mile or so that extended across the mouth of the bay, a long sandy bottomed stretch that ends at an impossibly healthy reef that dives 30 feet below the surface and is covered in fish. Heidi, Karen and I reached the reef first, and as we looked up at the cloudless skyline of mountains (we could even see the famous observatory atop Mauna Kea at 14,000 feet), I saw a large fin poke out of the water. Hmm, I thought, and went underwater to see what type of creature this large black fin belonged to. A manta ray! The juvenile manta (only about 4 or 5 feet wing tip to wing tip) swam up from the depths to have a look at us, circled around us, and swam away. This beautiful creature broke my streak of NOT seeing a manta ray for the 11 years I’ve been running SwimVacation, including two paid trips to the spot where they shine a big light in the water and all the manta rays come to feed but decided they weren’t hungry that night. Twice.

Yafa relaxes in the sand after our beautiful morning swim.

Yafa relaxes in the sand after our beautiful morning swim.

Back at the beach, Heather donned her mask and fins and took underwater video of everyone’s stroke.  After that, we settled into our Hale for the morning and afternoon. I raked the yard and swept the decks. Books came out. Naps were taken. Bottles of San Pellegrino sipped. A simple lunch of salads and sandwiches. Geckos scampered across the walls, snapping up small bugs and moths. The Keawe trees swayed in the breeze. Birds sang. Paul and Lisa arrived, a day late after Paul's impressive performance at US Masters' Swimming National Championships. More naps.

The wind picked up quite a bit, and our outrigger canoe tour planned for the afternoon was re-scheduled for a calmer day. A change in plans. Let’s go swimming!

The next beach to our north is Hapuna, a state park with a ½ mile long stretch of beautiful honey colored sand. The wind in the trees and a glance at our own beach told me we were in for a sporty swim, as they say. I gave the guests a quick talk on swimming in choppy water. It’s all about resisting the urge to fight the waves, finding a rhythm, staying calm, breathing downwind. Jumping in, Guide Ryan led the way to our first of 2 caves on opposite sides of the beach. It was definitely a sporty swim, but everyone found their rhythm.


Slightly nauseous, I needed a ginger ale back at the Hale, but recovered quickly enough to partake in one of Yafa’s lychee martinis. Chef Dan and Clare blew in, whipped up some pot stickers and a delicious Mahi-Mahi that was swimming this morning, though not with the shrimp reduction sauce we enjoyed atop the fish later in the evening.

We capped the night with an analysis of everyone’s stroke from the videos Heather took this morning. Some of our guests, like Yafa, have been on several trips with us over the years, and I’ve enjoyed seeing their strokes improve each time. I talk a lot about proper balance in the water, and swimming in an imaginary tube, where you are not allowed to have an errant limb stick out to slow you down. I talk about transferring “free” energy from the rotation of your body to your arms. We’ll work on these concepts all week in the supportive salt water. Maybe our guests are dreaming about swimming tonight. I’d bet on it.

- Hopper