MAKAHA, Hawaii --
We set sail for the calmer waters just beyond those that create the
famed surfing break known as Makaha.
My goal, and that
of the dozen others aboard a catamaran off western Oahu, was to
swim with dolphins; not trained dolphins found at aquariums and the
like, but feral ones, out in the wild.
Now, Im a fairly
avid adventurer. I grew up skiing and road biking and have hiked
the Appalachian Trail, surfed all over four of Hawaiis islands and
hiked and camped in the deserts of Arizona, the lush forests of
Oregon and the mountains of Colorado. Ive even slept in the
occasional snow cave carved out of a mountainside or on rock walls
a few hundred feet above a canyon.
But what I was
about to experience on that warm Oahu summer morning, with my
girlfriend, Abby, was unlike anything I had encountered
Theres a protocol
for swimming alongside a pod of dolphins in the open ocean, but
there were no trainers at sea with us.
In fact, our crew
never left the catamaran deck, with the exception of one guide who
dove into the water on our last stop to snap some photos of sea
Our guide did
instruct us on how to act if we found ourselves within mere feet of
a wild dolphin in open ocean.
them and with them, not at them, she said. If we stopped, she
cautioned, they would swim by. If we swam with them, they might
stay and play.
The lecture ended
with the caveat that there was no guarantee we would be able to
swim with the intelligent mammals, nor were we assured of even
seeing one that day.
Side Specialty Tours does guarantee a dolphin sighting. If clients
do not spot one on the half-day sail, they are invited to return on
another sail at no charge.)
Luckily, within a
few seconds of her disclaimer, three dorsal fins emerged in unison
from the waves, not 20 feet from our boat.
We rushed over to
see them, only to learn that it was a whole pod of dolphins,
perhaps 20 in all, and they were on both sides of the
The boat slowed
and eventually stopped. We were told to put on our snorkeling gear
and flotation vests and to prepare to swim.
A ladder was
lowered from the center rear of the catamaran, and we began walking
the plank into the water. When all 13 of us were in the water, we
swam in different directions.
By that time, the
pod was out of sight, either underwater or completely gone. The
captain waved for us to swim inland, as hed spotted the pod heading
in that direction.
somehow separated from the rest of the group, Abby and I followed
his lead, swimming in the open ocean, looking at the patterns the
waves made in the soft sand below. A few crabs crawled on the ocean
floor, and a school of clownfish swam by.
ourselves, wed almost forgotten what we were there to
I popped up to
the surface for a moment when a pair of fins headed right at me.
Sliding the mask back over my face, I slipped underwater, grabbed
Abbys hand and spun her around.
A pair of
Hawaiian spinner dolphins were swimming right at us. We froze. When
the duo got within six feet, they veered to the right and turned to
look directly at us as they passed, as if beckoning us to follow.
Still holding hands, we turned and kicked, free arms extended, and
swam for what felt like days alongside the dolphins.
At one point,
Abby -- an experienced swimmer and diver -- let go of my hand and
dove underneath me, swimming upside-down so she could look up at me
from a few feet lower.
one dolphin inverted itself, swimming below its partner in the same
way. They were mimicking us.
Specialty Tours wild dolphin encounter sailings depart from Oahus
Waianae Boat Harbor, slip A-11. The tours last approximately four
hours and are priced at $95 per person, including a light breakfast
and use of a snorkeling mask and fins. Call (808) 306-7273, visit
www.sailhawaii.com or e-mail [email protected].
the reporter who wrote this article, send e-mail to [email protected].