Honolulu’s azure beaches and lush mountain ranges beckon eyes downward as passengers team up with a commercially rated and FAA-certified pilot to cut through the air on glider tours offered year-round. Seated snugly in a bubble-topped glider plane, passengers and pilots survey panoramic views from up to 3,000 feet above the island's famously scenic North Shore. Surfers wave from the surging whitecaps far below and, on clear days, one can view distant landmarks such as the Kaena Point satellite-tracking station, the volcanic tuff cone known as Diamond Head, and the lava dam that stands between Honolulu and certain destruction. Known for their aerobatic prowess, pilots sometimes offer upside-down views of these and other sights as they guide their gliders through a series of loops and turns. A team of technicians tends to gliders and tow planes as soon as they land, ensuring that each remains safe and ready for the next flight.
For 29 years, The Watercraft Connection has been helping locals and tourists alike explore the waters of Oahu. The family behind the business sends guests into a harbor nestled in the historic surf town of Haleiwa. There, folks board jet skis, ocean kayaks, or chartered boats and head out to explore the beaches of nearby Ali'i Beach, Puaena Point, or Anahulu river.
Getting a close look at local flora and fauna is a big part of these expeditions. Customers can glimpse green sea turtles and wild peacocks while kayaking down the Anahulu, or spot dolphins and whales while lounging on chartered cruises. Diving and snorkeling trips offer a deeper perspective on coral reefs, sea creatures, and the pirates who evolved gills sometime in the 1700s.
North Shore Shark Adventures gets divers up close with sharks and other wildlife during oceanic and underwater tours. For those who prefer to see the sharks from afar, two-hour tours take in the landscape and other oceanic animals including dolphins, Hawaiian green sea turtles, and humpback whales. Those who want a closer look can dive in a secure metal cage, plunging beneath the waves to swim alongside the sharks.
As the assistant coach and conditioning coach for the Hawaii Surf Team, Kahea Hart knows a lot about training new and professional surfers. The pro wave rider and founder of North Shore Surf Clinic Hawaii approaches students of any age with a lifetime of personal experience that can lead them toward their surfing goals, whether they want to finally tackle a famed North Shore wave or ready themselves for international competition. Instructors also run personal-training and boot-camp programs, helping participants build muscle to prepare for arm-wrestling with octopuses between catching waves.
In an open-cockpit ultra-light aircraft, a Paradise Air FAA-certified pilot teaches the passenger how to fly the agile-framed hang glider as they soar over the glistening aquamarine ocean. Paradise Air's hang-glider fleet consists of two Australian-built Airborne 912 XTs, engine-powered gliders that cradle the pilot and passenger, both strapped into two cushy seats buttressed on both sides only by blue sky. Apart from launching themselves from a trebuchet, the glider's open build allows students to experience unparalleled views of white sandy beaches and verdant O'ahu terrain. During the exhilarating flight, passengers can opt to take the controls for a hands-on experience that counts toward getting a sport pilot's license. For an additional cost not included in this Groupon, passengers can purchase souvenir photos or Blu-Ray or DVD video of their flight taken from several high-quality cameras mounted on the aircraft and a man sitting in a tree.
Like the sea turtles she swims with daily, Vanessa Floyd feels as comfortable in the ocean as she does on land. For nearly a decade, she has taught people how to surf the waves of the Pacific beside the chilly California coast and the warm sands of Hawaiian shores at her pair of Jetty Betty Surf School locations. She focuses on helping beginners overcome their fear of the water and enjoy the rush of riding the surf beneath the open sun. She and her fellow instructors begin their group and private lessons by meeting students at the beach, where they familiarize them with the equipment and the basics of safe surfing. Afterwards, students take to the waves, which instructors monitor to make sure they are suitably small for novice surfers—if not, they’ll either postpone the lesson or unplug Mother Nature's wave machine.