Surfing Queens and Canoes

This post was originally on Michele’s blog Where in the World:
Traveling and living adventures before and after children.

When I close my eyes I see waves.  I’ve been surfing nearly every day that we’ve been in Waikiki — today was my last, and seventh surf lesson.  The surf instructors at Beach Boys tease me because most people take one lesson and then proceed out into the waves unattended to figure it out by themselves.  But after having tried that in Newport, RI last summer, I saw my week in Hawaii as a custom surf camp so I went out each time with an instructor.  I find that I learn something new each time (how to steer, how to handle the second push of a wave), and it’s nice after wiping out and swallowing a heap of seawater that there’s someone there who notices and shouts “You ok?”

The first two lessons that I took were group lessons for $40/hour.  Those seem to be set up mostly for total beginners.  The lessons start on the beach to practice paddling and standing on the board.  At Beach Boys, most instructors taught newbies to get on their knees then one foot, then both feet.  As expert as such company made me feel, I decided a private lesson (at $75/hour) might help me learn a bit quicker.  So after that I chose to go for the pricier private lesson (although they did cut me a deal after I kept coming back).  I’ve gone out with several different instructors, all men — Zack, Junior, and Tony.  If there are any women instructors, I haven’t seen them.  I’ve taken the most (four) lessons with Tony, a sturdy tanned Italian guy born and raised on the island who can move quite nimbly around even on the 11 foot board he takes out with him.  As for me, I’ve graduated down to a 10 foot board and have stuck with that for the duration.  In fact, several of my instructors have informed me that the board I purchased in Newport, RI, an 8 foot 2 inch epoxy board is too small for me to learn on.  They all think I should be with a 9 foot 6 inch or a 10 foot board.

Tony finds it funny, but I’m not joking when I tell him that I’m actually scared to go out each time, and yet I am totally compelled to as if I were addicted.  What can I say about surfing?  I don’t think it’s a sport most people learn in their mid-thirties, and I can see why.  Fear holds us back.  As I’ve surfed around, I’ve seen quite a wide age range of talented surfers from about age 7 to 77.  I haven’t seen as many older women in the water as older men, but they’re out there, and they’re damn good.

In Waikiki, the surfing can get quite crowded — to the point that it’s a bit hazardous.  As I finished my last lesson, the Beach Boys instructors were taking out a group of 25 newbies in already crowded waters to learn to surf.  Let’s just say, I was glad I was done for the day.  Apparently there are not many surf rules in Waikiki, although supposedly you should get out of the way of oncoming surfers riding a wave.  Although this sounds simple, it can be a challenge when you have people coming at you from all sides.  It’s also hard to judge without knowing the locals who can steer around you and who cannot.

One day when it was particularly crowded, I asked Tony if we could head out slightly to the left of the mob scene in the water where I saw some nice waves breaking.  He said that was where the locals surfed and it was a slightly bigger and more challenging ride, but we could give it a try.  I hadn’t realized it until then that each of the breaks had a name.  Where most people surf (and have surf lessons) in Waikiki is called Canoes, according to Tony named after the canoes that take out passengers to paddle in and ride the waves.  To the left of there is Queens, an area more highly rated and more popular with the locals.  Later that day, Geoff discovered this site that lists all the breaks — check out the difference between Oahu ( and Southern New England ( — a bit depressing but I guess it could be worse.

The waves in Queens were bigger, and leaned sideways a bit so the ride was more across than straight ahead.  The larger waves give you more of the downhill ride, in addition to just the whitewater push ahead.  Throughout my week of surfing I learned how to steer (with the weight of your back leg), how to stop (get down on the board and put your hands in the water, or more quickly shift your weight to the back of the board), how to fall (belly flop or back flop since the water is shallow and the bottom rocky), how to keep ahead of the wave (step forward on the board), in addition to things like finding the right wave and timing your paddling into it.  But maybe most importantly, my fear seemed to wane a little bit each time.

If you haven’t tried surfing, I highly recommend it.  When you catch a wave and ride it into the shore, it’s pure elation.  It makes me think of the Woody Allen line, “It’s the most fun I’ve ever had without laughing.”

Waikiki: My Kind of Winter

This post was originally on Michele’s blog Where in the World:  Traveling and living adventures before and after children.

When I had first pictured Hawaii in my mind, I had imagined something along the lines of Blue Lagoon. Although Waikiki does give you the feeling that it’s been crafted by Hollywood or Disney with its smooth stone sidewalks and carefully spaced palm trees – it doesn’t quite match my mind’s pre-conception. I had pictured the beach as a serene, romantic place, when in fact it’s no less crowded than New York’s Jones Beach on a hot summer day. I suppose the contents of 60,000 hotel rooms spilled out onto the beach mid-day would be anything but peaceful. But despite the throngs of honeymooners and Japanese tourists, Waikiki has its redeeming qualities. It’s rare to discover a beach with fine soft sand and clear blue-green water where you can take a baby out swimming safely in relatively calm waters as well as take surfing lessons a few feet away. And I love the fact that they let everyone bring floats and boogie boards into the water (boats even wash up on shore).

We’ve spent most of the past few days at Waikiki Beach, although we did decide to rent a car yesterday to explore the rest of the island. With surging mountains, roaring surf and too many beaches to count, Oahu offers quite a scenic drive. Yet after being turned away from one beach after another (too rough surf at one, a Portuguese man-of-war warning at another), I think we’ll stick to Waikiki for the final four days of our trip. That said, I did enjoy watching the surfers at the Bonzai Pipeline even though the waves only hit 5 feet or so today (versus the winter peak of 20 feet) and got in a quick swim in giant waves at Waimea Bay.

Our other excursion out of Waikiki was Saturday when we woke ourselves up early at 9 am (jet lag has allowed us to eat late and sleep in) for the weekly Farmers’ Market at the Kapiolani Community College on Diamond Head Road. We were glad not to have missed it since we found not only tasty breakfast (hot beignets, homemade spicy ginger ales and the most buttery cranberry scones), but also some local fruit to take back to our room – mangosteens, mangos, rambutans, apple bananas (which taste like pre-ripened bananas).

For the most part, food in Oahu has been good, although you definitely have to seek out reviews from a reliable source. The guidebook we brought Oahu Revealed offers wonderfully detailed descriptions of beaches, attractions and hotels, but I’ve found it doesn’t quite match our sensibility with food. It’s hard to take any book seriously that gives an ‘ono’ (meaning ‘delicious’) rating to McDonald’s, and I’ve found some of their recommendations off the mark. For example, Maui Tacos proved a definite disappointment with bland burritos (maybe it’s just too far from Mexico here to get that right). And some of their exclusions are unfortunate, like the great sandwiches at Ruffage Foods (I had tuna avocado and Geoff had a veggie burger avocado).

The restaurants are often geared toward tourists, which often make them a disappointment. And Waikiki obviously is a serious tourist destination. Any town with a Tiffany’s as large as the one here means business. And surf shops – well, take your pick. There are actually two Billabong stores across the street from each other. And there appears to be a Haagen-Daz every few blocks in case you’re feeling a tad faint (which I usually am). But by far, the most ubiquitous chain here is a regional shop called ABC Stores which carries everything you might need in a pinch – suntan lotion, allergy medication, milk, and sarongs – as well as plenty of souvenirs like pins, cups, t-shirts, flower barrettes, and kona coffee. The abundance of these stores seems almost absurd – on a short walk, we counted eight of them – but they certainly do offer comfort. Everything you need is there should you need it. And I suppose that is part of why Waikiki has become what it is today.

There are many families here on vacation, and I can see why. Although it feels so much like a remote tropical destination, Hawaii is just another state in the U.S. This provides comfort on many levels – there’s no problem getting money, speaking the language, driving a car, etc. In addition, the beach seems to please kids universally. Mirabelle sings “going to the beach” every morning and adores playing in the sand, swimming in the ocean, and wearing as few clothes as possible. The poor thing – she certainly doesn’t realize that in a few days, we’ll be back to bundling her in umpteen layers before leaving the house, only to proceed as quickly as possible from one indoor location to another.

Leaving Taipei


This post was originally on Michele’s blog Where in the World: Traveling and living adventures before and after children.

It was our last morning in Taipei. We were a bit sad to go and not just because we had a 8 hour 20 minute China Airlines flight ahead of us. Taipei surprised us as with its varied culture, tasty cuisine and relatively baby-friendly city. Of course, we were extremely fortunate to have Allan and Susan as our hosts who helped navigate our outings, choose the restaurants, and speak the language for us. The few times we went out by ourselves, we managed with a lot of pointing (most menus have pictures) and gesturing. I realized that cab drivers were more likely to understand the word “okay” than “yes” which came in handy and not surprisingly, Geoff started recognizing certain Chinese characters during our trip. We were certainly glad we came to Taipei, knowing that as much as we packed into our week trip, there was still much to be explored. We never had a chance to take some day trip to the north coast like Yeliu which looked mystical with its sandstone formations, and we never made it to the National Palace Museum – not too surprising since it wasn’t until we moved to Paris that we finally went to the Louvre.

For our last half day in Taipei, we (of course) chose to get breakfast at Yungho Soybean Milk & Porridge King. Allan and Susan met us there, and Susan (who loves peanuts) introduced us to two new dishes there – peanut soup and a sticky rice wrapped around mashed peanuts.

Before we headed to the airport, we decided to take a quick trip back to Wistaria Teahouse to buy a tea set, complete with the pot, cups, bowls and wooden spoon. We got back just in time to get our bags into our car service back to the airport.

The flight which left at around 3 pm essentially was an overnight flight since it arrived in Hawaii 6 am local time (although in Taipei that’s midnight). Since we were crossing back over the dateline, it would be Thursday morning again when we arrived in Honolulu. The flight was fairly uneventful, except for one bit of rough turbulence about 30 minutes prior to landing that had me regretting deeply the decision to fly China Airlines. But it ended well, and the passenger behind us commented on our way leaving the plane how “easy” Mirabelle is. It has been remarkable, and I say this with three days of travel behind us and one day of travel left. I’m not sure if it’s the preparations, the presents, the pacifier, or just the fact that Mirabelle really likes Lady and The Tramp. But overall, my fears have not at all been realized. We have all slept well, ate well and traveled well. And I think when we’re back home, we’ll be planning our next adventure.