Wednesday January 22nd the day a swell of 40 – 50 feet hits Oahu’s North and West Shores, the biggest in many years, but is pretty much un-ride-able for surfers since equally strong winds blow out the waves. The night before a front gets pushed over the island driven by strong South Westerly winds. Everything rattles all night long and sleep is difficult. As is it with strong winter fronts the wind turns West to North-west afterwards. I watch as the wind establishes itself and slowly builds throughout the morning. It never turns to full NW as it did on Jan 3rd. but there has to be a spot along the Eastern Shore that we can kite and catch some of the waves wrapping around the coast. By early afternoon Stephen and I join a group of kiters and windsurfers watching Rainbows or Penis Pint, depending on who’s talking. One windsurfer is out and a kiter is going out. This spot is between Kualoa Ranch and Kaaawa at the end on Kaneohe Bay, where the steep Koolau mountain range touches the sea, a powerful spot geographically, visually, and in Hawaiian lore, where sailing canoes lowered their sails when they passed in the old days. Since the wind didn’t clock around all the way to NW it is slightly offshore and extremely gusty averaging 20-30 mph with much higher gusts. The waves are messy.
Stephen suggests we do a down-winder all the way to my house at the other end of the bay, 7 miles point to point. We drive back to Kualoa Beach Park about 1 ½ mile back and park next to a father and son windsurfing team from town who also rig. Wiley Daniel, the 9 year old up and coming windsurfer is the first one out on his 2.4 sqm sail and just rips. Since the wind is a bit off shore here also and whips around the corner of the mountains, it produces gusts that make the water look on fire. An area a couple hundred feet wide is lit up all white maybe 15’ high. Smoke on the water indeed. These gusts, which come through every other minute or so last about 30 seconds and are followed by a lull with shifting winds, making for potentially very dangerous conditions for kiters, especially during launching and while we are still on land.
I launch Stephen and he is off without a hitch. Then I ask the windsurfer to launch my kite. I am controlling the bar with my right hand, carrying my board with the left. Once the kite is in the air a lull arrives and the kite starts dropping only to be hit by the next gust a second later. I get instantly dragged on my stomach towards the extremely shallow (12”) water, but first towards some rocks. I hold my board like a shield and it takes the impact, which leaves two dings. I get off with a scraped knee and a major scare.
I gather my wits and try to keep the kite in the air. It drops two more times while it drags me over the shallows and I drift more and more downwind towards Chinaman’s Hat, before I make it out into the cleaner wind and deeper water.
Kaneohe Bay is the largest Bay in the Hawaiian Islands protected by a barrier reef. On the reef is where the waves brake, quite a bit away from shore. Soon we were out in the waves, which did have considerable size. The wind was side-shore from the left, perfect for wave riding if you are goofy footed. Most people who surf, snowboard, or skate, windsurf or kite have a preferred foot in the back of the board to steer. If you like to have your left foot in the back you are goofy and it is your lucky day. Stephen and I are regular, so we are out of our elements, in this case in more than one way, far off shore, super strong winds, in unknown waters among wildlife that is not always benevolent. A lot of stuff can go wrong. For example, we could have gotten stuck when the wind dropped, which North Western winds are know to do sometimes. What leveraged our risk taking was the fact that once we gotten away from the immediate influence of the mountain range, the wind would push us towards the end of the bay where I live. Since the wind was so strong I imagined it would blow for the rest of the day. It did, but not without giving us a couple of scares when it got light several times, seemingly for good.
Once out and warming up to the conditions, we enjoyed the constant waves, the strong wind and the amazing view, regretting only not having brought a go-pro with us. On the way up we had stopped by the hardware store so Stephen could get some wing-nuts for his under-water housing for his big camera. He was only prepared to either shoot or kite, but not shooting while kiting. Oahu’s Windward Coast is breathtaking from the moment you turn the corner at Makapu’u all the way up to Laie, but Kaneohe Bay, at this end with Chinaman’s Hat and the ragged mountains going straight up, so close to the ocean is one of the sweetest spots on the planet, in my book. Here we were in brilliant sunshine, miles of breaking waves to ourselves turning and turning our way down the bay. Once we got close to Kipapa Island the waves got cleaner and more organized. Unfortunately the wind got a little lighter worrying us weather it would hold. Downwind off Kipapa, we encountered two other kiters, who had come out by boat. We kept going riding the breaking waves until we hit the channel facing the Marine Corps base and turned into the bay for the last couple of miles of flat-water runs. We landed our kites safely on the lawn in front of my cottage. Now we had to get my car and drive back up to get Stephen’s. The windsurfers were just packing up and we shared a cold one looking back at an epic adventure.
PS. None of the photos fully show the gnarlyness of wind and water, nor the amazing beauty of the day and landscape. We’ll work on it and will get it one day. While it is 7 miles point to point, we kited at least twice the distance.
See also my previous blog about a Kaneohe Bay adventure:
What else happened. Last weekend my band Alice Neel played at Optimystique in Haleiwa, the center of the North Shore. We played an early set at 3:00 PM that was mostly watched by other musicians, one of which said that he wanted to produce our album. That same evening I had to go to the Hawai’i Arts Alliance fundraiser where Printmaker Allyn Bromlyn was being presented the 2013 Alfreed Preis Honoree. I was one of 5 artist invited to print 60 postcards each for the event. My van loaded with amps, guitars and drums made the hour 1/2 drive from the North Shore to the Kahala Hotel on the South Shore without problem within the last mile when it was stop and go. Here I was in my nicest elegant Aloha attire, stuck bumper to bumper between BMWs, Porsches and the like. The last mile took another 1/2 hour. When I pulled up in front of the glitzy hotel to valet park, the van was smoking and leaking antifreeze. “This is a biohazard,” yelled the guy in charge. “Just park it a quickly as possible,” was my response, ” and be gentle. Can you drive a stick?” It had to be parked in the staff parking lot.
Check the What is Yoga? post for my taking-a-shower-with-boiling-antifreeze story.