The ocean has always been a siren’s song for me. It beckons, but also leaves me with a sense of fear and foreboding.
I learned to swim at the Elks Club in Honolulu. There was hardly any beach there, but an old wooden pier served as the platform for entering the water. Inside the building was a locker room where I went with my dad to change. It was in the basement facing the ocean so I could hear the sound of waves outside.
Never being a good swimmer, I always struggled in the water. When I stopped stroking, I sank. Even today when I swim laps in a pool, it’s hard work to keep my body moving, and when I try to float, my feet sink.
I love to watch the ocean, but I don’t venture out very far. In the mountains I’ll go off by myself, but I don’t like swimming out deeper than anyone else.
Another beach we frequented when I was a child, Gray’s beach, is a small spit of sand surrounded on one side by a cement wall breakwater and on the other by reef. Its shallow water and gentle waves were an ideal place for me to splash around. Out in the distance was a marker imbedded in the reef that seemed as far away as China. I could never swim that far. When my wife and I went to Hawaii on our first trip together, we swam out to it. She’s a good swimmer and set the pace. I was amazed that it wasn’t very far out anymore.
I enjoy snorkeling in shallow water, where I can watch the fish below me, but put my feet down when I get tired. I’ve never gotten into scuba diving, having tried the equipment only twice in swimming pools.
I did a lot of bodysurfing, but little board surfing. I now enjoy small waves that will push me in but not knock me over. Whenever I go to Kailua beach, I limp into the water to catch a few waves. Then I feel like I’m truly back in Hawaii.
Now that we’ve moved to Southern California, I go for walks along the sand. The crash of waves, the squawk of birds, the aroma of salt water and the sand crunching under my feet bring me alive and back to my roots.