Utterly useless skills. Bailing out an outrigger canoe. Teetering on a hunk of waxed fiberglass. Clinging to a parasail 300-feet above the waters off Hawaii. Chasing a pod of spinner dolphins.
My daughter and I are back from Oahu with a new set of resort skills that have little or no use in the real world.
And I wouldn't have it any other way.
A few days into our stay at Waikiki, I realized that my 14-year-old daughter's choice of activities seemed to eschew anything that might have any educational value or relevance to our day-to-day life. And why not? For most teens, vacations aren't about building a resume. They're about adventure, exploring limits, and bragging rights back at school.
With that realization, I relinquished my control of the schedule and activity selection. Both of us will get a break from our traditional roles: Dad setting the rules and guiding choices; daughter naturally testing the limits of her independence. I stopped trying to steer her inland where I had hoped to learn more about the island history, check out the ranches, and explore the sawtooth volcanic ranges on horseback or foot. Instead, I let her go. The result: a tension-free, water-sport vacation - and a better relationship.
We motored out of Koko Marina, about a half-hour east of Waikiki, towing behind us three "Wild Things." Captain Troy, a surfer from California who came here about 10 years ago,
was taking six of us out to explore a reef. We would each have our own two-person, motorized glass-bottom skiff or "Wild Thing."
We jumped in, and my daughter grabbed the throttle-grip of the Honda outboard. "Flip that little lever from neutral to forward," said Troy, checking her out. "Twist the grip to go. Hold the kill switch in your other hand. Push the handle in the opposite direction to where you want to go. Got it?" Jasmine nodded eagerly. I watched dubiously. We set off zigzagging across Maunalua Bay. Troy zipped ahead, toward a reef and started to toss food out to attract the fish. But suddenly our boat swerved and our reef adventure took a detour.
"Dolphins!" Jasmine screamed. And we were off in pursuit, bouncing across the waves as Dad clung to the sides like a hobo holding his last dollar. A pod of 15 to 20 spinner dolphins were racing us just below the surface as we careened along. On both sides and in front they were pacing us. Occasionally a pair would arc together out of the water or a single dolphin would showboat by dancing on his tail.
"Look Daddy! They're under us!" Peering through the plexiglass bottom, I could see half-a-dozen blue-gray dolphins running a few feet beneath us.
"Mom, we're dolphin chasers!" shouted 13-year-old Alexandra in a little runabout bouncing nearby.
The dolphins could have outrun us, or veered away. But they stayed and for about 15 minutes we frolicked and played tag with them. Later, Troy told us that this pod spends it days in the relatively shallow and safer waters between Hawaii Kai and Diamond Head. "At night, they go hunting, joining larger pods that can number in the thousands. By day, they half-sleep here," he says. "You don't see this every day."
"Could we swim with them?" asked Jasmine. "No," Troy said firmly. "They know the sound of every boat in this marina, but they're not used to people in the water. They'd scatter."
"You were fortunate. We only see dolphins about 1 in 10 trips here."
Wild Thing glass-bottom boats at Reef Adventure, Koko Marina Center, (808) 395-6133. Rates: Adults $39, Juniors (5-12) $29. Under 5 free. Free hotel pickup.
Day on the Bay package deal: Wild Thing ride, snorkeling in Hanauma Bay, plus choose one: jet ski (30 minutes), parasailing, scuba diving, banana boat or bumper-tube ride. Adults $99, juniors $79, includes lunch. Tip: Call direct. Many travel agents in hotel lobbies get a commission for steering customers to particular companies. Reef Adventure doesn't market itself through the hotel agents.
Other ways to get close to dolphins:
Sea Life Park, another 10 minutes up the road from Koko Marina, offers a program called Splash U. Participants get a behind-the-scenes tour of the dolphin facility and an opportunity to stand in the water with dolphins, give them hand signals, and touch them. "As she stood in the water in her swim suit, she was quivering with anticipation," says Mike, describing his nine-year-old daughter entering the dolphin pool. "I heard a high-pitched squeal that I thought was the dolphin. It was Julia."
Cost: Adults $79. Children under 12: $67. Four sessions daily. Reservations required. (808) 259-2500. For more info, visit the Web site: www.atlantisadventures.com/slp/splashu.more.asp.
Kahala Mandarin Oriental Hotel has a 26,000-square-foot dolphin lagoon that offers a similar opportunity for hotel guests to sign up and participate. There are three bottlenose dolphins and daily shows. (808) 739-8888.
Pop hangs 10
What would a trip to Hawaii be without trying the sport that the native Polynesians invented? There are several places on the beach at Waikiki that will rent you a board and give you a quick lesson. Based on our experience, we would suggest that you start with Hans Hedemann and his crew of professional curl riders who operate out of a cramped shop at the Diamond Head Beach Hotel.
Several parents and five teen girls gather on the beach outside, skirting a Japanese wedding photo session on the hotel lawn.
"OK, girls, listen up. Parents, too."
A 10-minute beach lesson by blonde and bronzed Bob gives us the rudiments of hanging 10. It's not as complicated as I thought it would be. If you can find the center of the board, do a push up, and fall off with out jumping in feet first on the sharp coral, you've got the basics. "Ladies and gentlemen, please note that in the event of an emergency there are four exits on this craft: to the front, back, right and left," says Bob with a grin.
With that, we're each told to grab a board. "Ah, Bob, what about him?" says another instructor, Charlie, pointing at me.
Bob rubs his chin, frowning. "You better give him the 12-footer."
Oh, yeah. Give the Big Bertha board to the dad with the expanding waistline. Charlie hands me a flowered board that looks more like a local shirt than a wave rider. And it's only slightly smaller than the USS Enterprise.
We paddle out into the surf, with some trepidation. There's one instructor for every two or three students. Hedemann's surf school is a bit pricer than some in Waikiki. But the student-instructor ratio is better. Ask John Elway, former quarterback of the Denver Broncos. Or actress Carrie Fisher (Remember Princess Lea in Star Wars?). They're among the "graduates" of Hans's surf school. And most of the instructors are current or former surf professionals, like Hedemann.
As we paddle out toward the docile three-foot waves, I'm skeptical. Is 10 minutes of instruction going to be enough?
As a swell approaches, Charlie tells me to start paddling furiously and gives my board a shove from behind. "Stand up!" he yells. With my hands at my waist, I push up from the board and shove one foot forward. The wave slides past and I coast to a stop, still standing.
OK, so it wasn't a photo op. At least my dignity is not ground into the reef.
Within minutes, everyone in the group, parents and teens, have all ridden their first wave with varying degrees of success. It's remarkably easy. Of course, we're just getting started. Charlie suggests we try controlling the speed. "Walk forward a bit to speed up the board. Step back to slow down."
While waiting for the next set of waves, and trying to regain my breath from paddling out, I ask Charlie about how he got started.
"My mom!" he enthuses.
"Your mom was a beach bum?"
"Finest kind!" Charlie grew up in Florida where his mom taught him and his brothers and sisters how to ride. He still surfs professionally. That's why he's here. "Summers are real busy with lessons," he says. "But it slows down in the winter, and that's when we go to the North Shore to surf the big waves."
We're out in the water for at least an hour. Everyone's exhilarated - and exhausted. "The Denver Broncos didn't last as long as you did," says Charlie. "They're big, but their muscles are in the wrong places for surfing," he laughs.
We smile reassured. We've all got the bug. This is one resort skill we can't wait to hone again.
SURF-LESSON BASICS Group rate: (two to five people) $50, one hour; $75, two hours. Surf camp: $150 per day including hotel and lessons.
For more information on Hans Hedeman Surf School, call (808) 924-7778 or visit www.hhsurf.com.
Hedeman says his instructors, all pro surfers, will work with anyone age 5 and up.
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society