Red Bull doesn’t give you wings—McDonald’s does. Thanks to good ol‘ Uncle Ron and my telephone book of bad habits, I’ve got the kind of freakish back fat that could be mistaken for flight-aiding appendages. Couple that with hair follicles feisty enough to make even the Missing Link jealous, and I’m a twice-certifiable circus freak. Also: not much of a beach person.
It isn’t that I don’t like the water—I love it—but being a country kid means comfortably hiding under jeans and jackets and, before you know it, building up a healthy layer of blubber for a long winter that will never come. But the ocean—on an island and for an islander—is unavoidable. So this week, I put aside my inhibitions and baked not one but two salmon-colored layers onto my otherwise hoary flesh, thanks to a pair of unique seafaring adventures.
The first was a maritime expedition last Wednesday, aboard the Pacific Whale Foundation’s Intrigue, as the Maui Ocean Center released six juvenile honu into the waters off South Maui’s Pu‘u Olai. Of the 50 some-odd folks on board (including 25 lucky students from Kihei Charter School), I was the only one wearing a beanie. This was baffling. I know it’s been a while for me, but I assumed beanies were mandatory for boat-boarding. Sure, I was cheating a bit in that I wear my beanie so much it’s knitted itself to my head, but could I have removed it I wouldn’t have, as it seemed a fair homage to Jacques Cousteau.
Fortunately, John Gorman, head curator at the Ocean Center, is a sprite incarnation of Cousteau, so I didn’t feel too awkward with my lonesome head garment. And like his famous doppelganger, Gorman is brimming with knowledge. One of the more interesting facts he shared is that the turtles—hatched in captivity at Sea Life Park Hawaii and shipped via air cargo to the Valley Isle at the tender age of about two months—were reared for two years by his staff in preparation for their release and fed a careful diet that mirrors what they’ll eventually be eating in the wild. I felt hunger pangs for them, and so helped myself to another croissant from the cabin.
Snacking, I peered for some time at green sea turtles, who were not so much green as they were black and kissed with ehu-like wisps of flame. Etched with a Dremel tool into the rear of their shells were two letters, “M” on the left and one of “A” through “F” to distinguish each of the six.
Lingering around the tubs for too long, I had a knack for getting in the way and nearly collided with one of the (cuter) caretakers, who was focused on readying the green sea turtles to be torpedoed out into the wet, wild blue yonder. Someone handed him one of the 30-pound creatures, but he refused it saying, “No, that’s MA. Where’s MF?” He then reached into one of the tubs and pulled out a turtle that looked exactly like the other, saying, “There’s my boy!”
“Why’s he your boy?” I asked, clearly annoying him. As MF flapped his powerful fins and the caretaker flexed to maintain his grip, he replied, “Well, he’s got a bit of a personality, as you can see.”
After oli and other rituals by kahu Charles Kauluwehi Maxwell, Sr., the turtles were one by one carried into the water, and they flew furiously out of view into the deep. Everyone cheered and the sea’s temperament seemed to respond too, as it was astoundingly malia for the whole morning, until we hit a stiff headwind at the very end of our voyage.
My second ocean expedition needs little explanation beyond its title: “Gay Surf Sunday.” Friend of the paper and MauiTime blogger Julie “Coco” Yoneyama (@JulieYakaCoco, cocosays.com) had invited me to surf at Launiupoko with her and her crew of mahu dudes. Needless to say, it was an invitation I couldn’t pass up, as I neither surf nor am gay. Nervous as I was, a bunch of down-to-earth gay guys and Julie turned out to be quite possibly the most supportive surf instructors on the planet, and I managed to not fall (because I didn’t ever quite stand up). Sadly, the lesson ended early when a shark was spotted, and I bee-lined to shore faster than Phelps.
At the end of my week, though sunburned and sore, I was happy. More than anything, it made me wonder why I’d shied away from the water for so long. Nobody died from looking at me and if I made a fool of myself, I’ve so-far survived the shame. And it felt good to stretch my wings.
Anu Yagi welcomes comments, and will be hanging out at www.mauifeed.com/kulakid You can also follow her on Twitter at @anuheayagi