Tours for those who hear 'call of the ocean'

HONOLULU -- Tori Cullins grew up riding horses in El Cerrito in Southern California -- "cowboy country," as she calls it.

Today, she rides the waves in a 42-foot catamaran with guests from all over the world, on commissionable aquatic "surfaris" through her backyard -- the waters of Oahu's pristine leeward coast.

A marine biologist, Cullins founded Wild Side Specialty Tours with her husband, Armin, a licensed captain and certified dive master, in 1996.

"Being on the water pretty much every day nurtures a deep love and respect for marine life," said Cullins.

"There is nothing more grounding than to be on the water communing with amazing oceanic companions," she said. The variety includes tropical fish, spotted eagle rays, green sea turtles, spinner dolphins and, during the winter months, humpback whales.

Night excursions showcase such sights as the moon, the constellations and meteor showers. The lack of air pollution in rural leeward Oahu guarantees clear skies, making the tableau of heavenly bodies even more brilliant.

Wild Side's charters, which are commissionable at 20%, are limited to four to 15 people, ensuring an optimal personal educational experience.

"By keeping the groups small, it's safer, and we can give everyone one-on-one attention," said Cullins. "There's plenty of room in the boat to lie down and sunbathe. It's like sailing with friends rather than being on a crowded tourist activity."

Tour participants are invited to interact with, photograph, swim and snorkel among a fascinating array of marine life. No tour is exactly the same, said Cullins.

"We are democratic about the experience our guests want to have," she added. "We are part of a large network of friends and crew members of other boats who tell us where animals have been seen. We pass this on to our passengers so they can make informed decisions about how they want to spend their charter time. Every day is a new adventure."

What remains the same is the way participants feel by the end of their journey, according to Cullins: "joyful, rejuvenated and more aware of the fragility of Hawaii's marine environment."

"We do not seek volume on our tours," she said. "We aim only to provide a quality, thought-provoking and potentially life-changing experience. Our charters are for anyone who hears the call of the ocean."

For more information, call (808) 306-7273, e-mail: [email protected] or visit

Book it: Wild Side Specialty Tours
Wild Side's tours aboard the Island Spirit's 42-foot catamaran include dolphin encounters; stargazing; full moon, sunset and meteor shower sails; kayaking and snorkeling excursions; and whale-watching cruises (from mid-December through mid-April). Private kayaking and sailing trips, including wedding charters, also may be arranged. Most tours last four hours.
Time: Morning trips depart at 7 a.m.; sunset and evening cruises leave about one hour before sunset. Meteor shower tours can leave anytime at night, including 2 a.m. Passengers meet at Waianae Boat Harbor, Pier A, for all tours.
Price: The cost is $95 per person, including a continental breakfast and snacks on the morning tours, and dinner on the sunset and evening tours.

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