One hundred feet beneath the surface of Maunalua Bay, the Corsair⎯a World War II airplane—rests on a sandy floor. Its massive shell and magnetism for schools of soldier fish lures deep-sea explorers to the site every year. As divers propel themselves alongside the plane's wing and fuselage, they get an up-close look at the wreck's current residents, which range from colorful goatfish to reclusive moray eels.
With more than 30 years of experience, the scuba instructors at Waikiki Diving Center lead daily dives for certified divers to submerged sites such as the Cosair wreck. Earning a five-star Instructor Development Center designation from the Professional Association of Diving Instructors, the center's team coordinates parties of 12–14 people and takes them out on one of two customized dive boats—The Submariner or Snoopy V—for adventures ranging from snuggling sea turtles to earning PADI open-water certifications. To enhance visitors' experiences, Waikiki Diving Center's crew arranges complimentary shuttle service to and from Waikiki hotels.
Though he earned a Ph.D. in Biomedical Sciences from the University of California San Diego, Matt Zimmerman decided to pursue his love of the ocean instead of science and move to Oahu. He founded Island Divers Hawaii there as a way to share his enthusiasm for scuba diving as well as the discoveries it can share, from intricate coral to schools of fish locked in a never-ending struggle for tenure. Zimmerman and his knowledgeable staff teach dive courses for curious students and lead boat charters that give divers the chance to test their new skills in pristine waters.
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.
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.
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.