Hawaii: Big Island Arrival

80’s Disco to Paradise

Leaving home this time had a bittersweet edge to it. Spring was finally springing in Maine, and my youngest boy was about to be the starting pitcher for his little league game for the first time (he wound up striking out 5 batters in 2 innings). One good sign was that the major appliance and vehicle breakdowns that normally occur while I’m away handily happened in the past 2 weeks: broken dryer, broken heating system (ongoing), broken oven door, broken commode.

I travelled alone this time, as my partner Heather is on an assignment in French Polynesia for National Geographic. She’ll make the 6-hour flight up here tomorrow. It’s crazy to think about how the Polynesians did the same route in canoes.

I flew Alaska Airlines for the first time, BOS-SFO-KOA. The first leg was 6.5 hours on nicely appointed Airbus A320, recently absorbed from Virgin Air, which explains the black leather seats and 80’s disco lighting. The seat back had screens, and the crew was friendly. My seat was broken, however, and wouldn’t tilt back. I should have asked for another seat but didn’t. My bad. Nice selection of streaming movies. I watched at least 2. Good snacks. I read, did word puzzles, and slept a bit. Out the window, the familiar patchwork of the farms of Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin led to the plains, the Badlands, the Rockies, then grey to green as we approached California. I love picking out points of reference from the air, and I could see the town of Tiburon, where a good friend lives, including the lagoon where I went for a warm-up splash with him before the Alcatraz  swim a few years back. Our pilot did a lap around San Francisco Bay, over the massive red salt ponds, then swinging back for touchdown. A 30-minute layover gave me enough time to eat exactly 1/2 of a spicy chicken Thai wrap and take 3 gulps of water before my next flight to Kona. For this 5-hour leg, I had an entire row of seating to myself. I moved right in, spreading out my stuff, and kicked back with a book.

Ryan McGuckin is our guy on the ground in Hawaii. He’s a professional lifeguard, and has been working with us since out very first Hawaii trip 6 years ago. He picked me up at the airport and we drove to Harpers Rental to pick up our 15-passenger van. It’s how we get our guests around the island to go to our swimming spots.  We talked about our schedule for the next couple of days, and I sent him home.


Checking into the King Kam hotel in Kona, the first thing I did was throw on a bathing suit and jumped in the ocean. As much as we complain about air travel, I cannot help but be impressed that I can get from Boston to Hawaii in one day with time for a swim, 3 pork sliders and 2 beers before collapsing into bed in a jet lagged fog. Staring out at the ocean the next morning from a seaside restaurant, it was easy to tell the swell was up, as the waves were splashing over the road in front of me and soaking some unwitting tourists in the process.  I paid careful attention to where the waves started breaking, in some cases not too far inside the swim course. There were a lot of people out there swimming, though, which I took as a good sign. I walked around a little to digest, then hit the water. This is the famous Ironman Triathlon swim course, which we’ll swim a couple more times this week. About 300 yards into the course, it gets fairly shallow, and the big pacific swells pull you 3 feet out to sea, then 3 feet back towards shore. More mental note taking in case we have similar conditions for guests.  I love swimming at this place. Groups of swimmers large and small congregate here, and the whole scene is just great.


I spent the rest of the morning hanging around the pier and the beach, watching kids train in outrigger canoes while their little brothers and sisters razzed them from shore, playing in the water and climbing back up with a ladder that had been rigged for the purpose. It’s cool to see the kids walking to the pier with their paddles over their shoulders, akin to the kids back home in Maine walking to the fields with lacrosse sticks. I sucked down a couple of coconut waters at the beachside bar and grabbed lunch before heading to the grocery store for some provisions, then up to Puako where we’ll be for the week.

So now I’m in this awesome oceanfront Polynesian/Scandinavian Style home all by myself. I’ve been alone way too long, which I’m not particularly good at. Thankfully, our culinary coordinator Clare showed up and took me out to dinner. Tomorrow is Heather’s arrival, followed by guests and the kickoff to this adventure!

  • Hopper