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.
Along Waikiki's beaches, surfers ride waves, curling over the horizon and gently splashing into the water just before reaching the sand. Kai Sallas—no stranger to tall waves—takes his beginner-level students nearly a mile south of Waikiki to a friendly, isolated shore that's ideal for learning to long board without a crowd.
An acclaimed professional surfer, Kai belongs to a breed of world-class athletes whose competitive talents are accompanied by teaching acumen. The long-board champion relished teaching family and friends how to surf as early as age 12. Before teaching professionally, though, Kai amassed a long list of awards from around the globe, including the coveted Professional Longboard Association championship twice and playing Peter Pan twice in a dolphin-only performance. In 2009, he came ashore to his home in Waikiki and opened Kai Sallas' Pro Surf School Hawaii. The venture made him a second-generation surfing teacher, since his father also taught surfing for 35 years. Housed in the Waikiki Beach Marriott, the business has evolved to not only include surfing lessons but also tours.
Hawaiian WaterSports set up shop with the intention of equipping residents and visitors with everything they need to enjoy the aqua waves and waterways of Hawaii. The shop realized that goal with two locations, each stacked to the gills with surfboards, kiteboards, kayaks, snorkeling equipment, and books on how to beat mermaids at Marco Polo. Hawaiian WaterSports is an official IKO kiteboarding center and its IKO-certified instructors teach students wind theory and the skills necessary to set up, launch, and ride their own kiteboard. Expert surfers on staff can also take squads of aquatic adventures out into the curling sea for lessons specifically designed to get beginners hanging ten and perfecting balancing technique for future limbo competitions.
Windward Watersports, home to one of the only certified kiteboarding schools on Oahu and professional kiteboarder Jeff Tobias, feeds wave-hungry visitors a steady diet of water-sport thrills on kiteboards, sea kayaks, and surfboards. Beginners steam toward an off-shore sandbar to safely launch into a kiteboard lesson with a certified instructor on a two-way radio helping novices navigate the warm crystal waters and grasp the kiteboarding basics, such as how to set up a four-line inflatable kite, kite theory and the wind window, and how to ensure heirloom swimsuits remain in the family using the double-knot technique. Waterbugs wishing to explore the rolling spray via the self-guided kayak eco-tour will take in a host of native coral, birds, turtles, and if lucky, a glimpse of the rare endangered monk seal. Kayak rental also includes paddle, safety vest, and the combination to Davy Jones' locker.
Oahu endears itself to both visitors and locals with its truly breathtaking scenery. The Ko'olau Mountain Range slopes across the island with rolling green hills and steep peaks that overlook Kailua Bay. Off the sandy shore, the ocean plays host to an array of aquatic wildlife, such as sea turtles, dolphins, exotic fish, and kayakers. The last of these creatures comes from Twogood Kayaks, whose trained naturalists lead tours through the area's brilliant turquoise waters and offshore islets filled with natural coves and 12 species of seabirds.
In addition to garnering a reputation for making and selling some of the swiftest kayaks over the past 30 years, the staffers also train the next generation of competitors during camps and clinics.