Three miles off the coast, the guides hand over the snorkels, and then it's time. Tour members climb down into the floating cage and slip just beneath the water's surface. There they peer through large poly glass windows into the deep blue ocean as swimming shapes, perhaps hazy at first, pull into focus.
When the tour-goers finally glimpse the creatures, it might not exactly be love at first sight, but one thing is for sure: after spending time face-to-face with a Galapagos, sandbar, or tiger shark, they'll leave that protected cage with a whole new appreciation for these carnivores of the deep. That's of the utmost importance to Hawaii Shark Encounters, since the company hopes to turn each person they meet into a "shark ally," an advocate for the animals' global conservation.
With its pink sails filling with ocean breezes, the Island Magic Catamaran carries passengers out to sea in search of painted sunsets, playful humpbacks, and salty sprays. During sails, the crew carefully handles the 30-passenger vessel, allowing it to float lazily on glassy water or race against the island's fast-flowing swells. In addition to cruises, the team leads snorkeling adventures near Turtle Canyon, where sightseers can splash among green sea turtles before they finish hatching into boring, shell-less lizards. Sunset cruises depart 1.5 hours before the sun dips below the horizon, allowing passengers to admire the waves as they catch the last few bits of sunlight.
South Pacific Watersports' expert captains send patrons on thrilling aquatic excursions, promoting both watery amusement and the conservation of Hawaii's delicate oceanic life. Adventurers cling to a rollicking bumper tube with up to three other guests as it skims the wake of Koko Marina tethered to a zooming motorboat or a benevolent plesiosaur's neck. Up to five folks can then clamber aboard a boat to Maunalua Bay, where knowledgeable instructors lead a 20-minute course imparting the basics of standup paddleboarding before turning pupils loose on the tide. Perched atop provided boards, students draw lengthy paddles through the surf while soaking in views of the ocean floor's inhabitants and mermaid sock hops through the bay's crystal-clear waters. The 90-minute outing also doubles as a full-body workout as paddlers buff up arms against rippling waters and clench abs and quads to stabilize their balance.
Aloha Activities equips adventurers with the tools needed to cruise Oahu in style. Over the course of 24 hours, speed racers perch on a 50cc Daelim moped and scoot past swaying palms, crashing azure waves, and people crushed by the realization that they don't have a moped. The two-wheeler's 1-gallon tank should last for about 70 miles, and a complimentary lock and chain allow ample freedom to make pit stops and take advantage of photo ops at leisure. For an additional fee, customers can join a guided tour to visit volcanic formations, look at waterfalls, and get a rare glimpse of the world-famous ocean.
Somehow, every scuba-diving trip is distinct, even visits to well-traveled locations. Pearl Harbor Divers' team, for example, had visited the wreck of the USS Scrimmage, a World War II minesweeper, many times before. But one evening, while slipping through the water above the site, the crew heard a puff of air burst from the ocean, drowning out the motor. A humpback whale then crested just 15 feet from the boat. When the captain cut the engines, the crew realized they were surrounded by whales, which continued to break through the surface and catch breaths tinged with ocean spray in the moonlight.
In the shop, which is certified by the National Association of Underwater Instructors, guides work toward such unique experiences on scuba diving and snorkeling trips. They lead clients—including handicapped divers—to sunken ships, airplanes, lava caverns, and coral reefs throughout the Hawaiian Islands. On these dives, groups encounter common creatures such as sea turtles and native fish, as well as rare marine animals such as shy Pacific bottlenose dolphins, manta rays, and endangered Hawaiian monk seals. The instructors pride themselves on their ability to teach and engage by imparting the facts and historical significance of wrecks. They can also name and discuss each species that divers spot, at least the ones documented by science. On the nighttime Dive the Abyss adventure, divers are tethered within 40 feet of the boat and watch bioluminescent creatures, many of which are still not cataloged by zoologists, arise from depths of up to 2,000 feet.
In addition to dives, instructors conduct courses that work towards open-water or instructor certification. Chatter about past adventures drifts from a full-service pro shop, where technicians sell, service, and repair equipment from brands such as Atomic, Aeris, Oceanic, Mares and Zeagle.
A manmade island floats 300 yards off the shore of Waikiki Beach. Its inhabitants shriek as they plunge from its three 5- to 15-foot cliffs or plummet down a slippery slide into the ocean below. Intrepid sorts don snorkels and masks to mingle with the aquatic fauna that skirt its hulls. Others strike out aboard kayaks and standup paddleboards, steering past an ocean trampoline and its buoyant visitors. Those who choose to remain on the island's sun-drenched surface recline in teak lounge chairs, tipping back refreshments from three bars or munching on morsels fresh from the grill. The founders of Waikiki Ocean Club might prefer to call it a catamaran, but at 145 feet long and 65 feet wide, the site functions as both an island and watery amusement park. As swimmers and sunbathers gather around its decks, scuba divers seek out marine life below the waves and helmet-diving excursions ensure that hair stays dry enough to kindle a fire. Jet skis, AquaQuads, and rigid inflatable boats ferry riders away from the club at exhilarating speeds; boat tours to secluded snorkeling locales and celebrities’ beach houses highlight resplendent scenery. After dark, the floating fairground transforms into a DJ-manned dance floor, awarding Friday-night guests with an unobstructed view of fireworks over Waikiki.