Powered by twin Cummins engines, it's not a rare sight to see the good ship Kilikina skipping across Oahu's waves to speedily deliver divers to the best dive spots. Under the banner of Hawaiian Diving Adventures, LLC, she plies the waters to provide a luxurious diving experience for up to 13 passengers. Kilikina boasts a freshwater shower, rinse buckets for expensive camera equipment, and comfortable wide seating, thanks to a clever tank-storage system. She doesn’t cater only to experience divers, however; she also serves as the launch point for guided snorkeling tours, which provide close encounters with local wildlife and reefs.
An offshoot of Roberts Hawaii, which began giving tours of Kauai and other Hawaiian islands in 1941, Hawaiian Ocean Thrills sends a variety of watercraft splashing along the sandy shoreline of Waikiki Beach. Visitors navigate the crystalline waters aboard humming jet skis, gliding banana sleds, or skipping bumper tubes. Guests can also experience the big blue at a distance in a parasail that soars over the waves and affords views of the Oahu skyline. They also swim, snorkel, and lounge on the beach, taking a break from the water to munch a sandwich or salad lunch and make sure their toes don’t turn permanently pruney.
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.
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.
Epic Hawaii's tour guides leave no corner of Oahu unexplored. With Hawaii's rich culture, history, and ecology dictating their paths, they take visitors on snorkeling adventures off the North Shore. Tour-goers hike through majestic waterfalls and rain forests, and they kayak from Kailua Beach to Moku Nui Island, where seabirds thrive.
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.
From the pristine beaches of Waikiki, Diamond Head, or North Shore, instructors with CPR and lifeguard certification lead students into Go Nuts Hawaii's open-water surf lessons. Privately or in groups, students find their sea legs atop long boards that can be rented or bought onsite; alternatively, they can skim the water buoyed by the shop’s standup paddleboards. Waterproof accessories add a technological edge to voyages and range from cameras for aquatic action shots to waterproof headphones for drowning out mermaids loudly counting their pirate gold. The company's helpful staffers—including one Japanese-speaking member—put customers and surf students at ease.