Monday, April 18. The rain has passed, the sun is shining, and the Mokulua Islands (Mokes) are practically inviting us over. Evan, a local friend I’d made on a hike, and I are itching to get out and explore after a couple stormy days stuck inside. So we wheel down my aunt’s two kayaks, Evan locks up the wheels with his bike lock, and we put all our belongings in my kayak, as Evan’s is missing the necessary buckles to hold on the lid.
The way out isn’t too difficult. Though we’re heading upwind, the aqua water is calm, and the beautiful weather makes the arm workout actually enjoyable. We pass over the reefs by Lanikai, noticing how shallow they are as we stick our GoPros in to film the fish.
Nearing the first Moke, the sea gets a bit crazy with messy waves coming at us in two different directions from around either side of the island. Waiting for a small break in the waves, we both manage to get in safely and pull our kayaks onto the shore. The sun is gone, now hidden by a thick cloud cover, but we’re too distracted by a couple of seals to care.
We spend a short time exploring the island, fascinated by the rugged cliffs dropping down into a washing machine of crazy seas. Due to huge waves, we unfortunately feel it too dangerous to make it around to the spot we wanted to cliff jump, so instead we sit and observe. Evan notes that the ocean is considerably more aggressive than the last time he was here. “It’s so humbling, seeing the power of the waves. Imagine what it would be like to suddenly be sucked in. How small and fragile you would feel.” Evan says.
With the weather severely changing, and the sea getting crazier by the minute, we decide to skip the other side of the island and head back to Kailua instead. Miraculously, we both successfully launch our kayaks off the island, pretty pleased with ourselves for not getting knocked over by the multi-directional waves. But as we soon find out, the biggest challenge of the day is still to come.
So here’s where we go wrong. We start paddling back straight towards Kailua, meaning we’re also going directly towards the reef. Though calm easily passable before, this reef is now getting pelted by heavy waves. “Evan, we should go around this and paddle parallel to the beach before heading in,” I yell, as my kayak rises up and over a growing wave. But it’s too late for Evan, who’s about 10 meters closer to shore than I am. I catch a glimpse of Evan’s kayak being carried away as I paddle out past the looming set of large waves, and by the time I make it past the waves and turn around again there’s no sign of him or his kayak at all.
I wonder if I should I go back and try to help? But not only is the thought of getting flipped by a wave terrifying, I also have all of our belongings including phones, wallets, and GoPros, in my kayak. I can’t risk losing all of that. Besides, I figure, he must be heading into shore, as I can’t even see him.
Though I’m now probably safe from any breaking waves, I’m well out at sea and very far from my comfort zone. Plus, I’m alone. I begin to paddle parallel to the beach back towards Kailua. Not only is the water rough with whitecaps and huge swells, but the wind that I thought I’d be riding along with has changed. When you go on a roundtrip, you don’t usually expect to paddle against the wind both ways, but this time I have no choice.
I’m so far out that I can’t even see flat island, where I’m trying to aim. And no matter how much I paddle on the right side, my kayak keeps turning right and pointing out to sea. All I want is to be back on land. My arms have never hurt so bad, and I just want to give up. I see another kayaker off in the distance and start yelling for help. No way can he hear me in these winds, I realize. Looks like I would have to paddle in myself.
With every swell, I pray it won’t turn into a breaking wave. I think to myself that if my kayak ended up flipping, I’d have to ditch everything and just swim to shore. 45 minutes of hard work later, I finally catch a glimpse of flat island, and seconds later a sea turtle pops up right next to my kayak. Ok, things are looking up… I reach the bay, and though still windy, the water is much calmer. There are about 15 kitesurfers out taking advantage of the winds.
I finally pull up to the beach, never so glad to be out of the water. A family walking by senses something wrong and asks what happened. I tell them how I’ve been separated from Evan for around an hour and that I have no idea if he’s made it to the beach or is still stranded somewhere in the ocean. Even if he’s made it ashore, I can’t contact him since I have his phone. The family dials 911 and hands me their phone. The police transfer me to the surf rescue office, who have no rescue reports. Guess I’d have to just walk down to Lanikai and hope to find him.
Since I don’t know the code to Evan’s bike lock, I can’t access the wheels to roll my kayak home. Of course not, otherwise this whole ordeal would just be too easy. I text Aunt Jane the problem, and she and two of her friends help me get the kayak back. Just as Jane and I are about to drive down to Lanikai and search for Evan, he walks up to the house, both of us shocked that the other one is ok.
As I walk with him back down to the beach to help grab his kayak, I get to hear his side of the story…
EVAN: For me it took 3 waves…
The first wave is huge, like a hill, and I remember dropping down the other side catching a bit of air. This is when I know I’m in trouble. The second wave comes and I suddenly can’t even see Christina, just a wall of water. I ride this one, and it breaks right after me, and I realize that I’m already way too close to the reef. I start paddling hard, but the third wave is already here. I see Christina for a brief second before she is gone again, and all I see is a mountain of water in front of me. It’s already breaking.
As my kayak tilts vertical I know there is no way I’m staying in my boat on this one. I’m hit with such incredible force that I’m launched out of the kayak. I see my kayak flipping and then it disappears entirely. Suddenly I’m completely alone and only holding my paddle. There’s is no sign of either my boat or Christina.
I feel as if suddenly lost at sea. It’s terrifying. I start swimming to shore, which is quite far away. Upon the next wave I see my kayak and am surprised at how far away it actually is. I struggle to swim while holding onto the paddle. I get to the boat and by now I’m on the reef and am being tossed around by the waves. I keep trying to grab the reef to gain some stability so I can get the kayak flipped back over. When I do, I realize that the compartment lid where you can store items has blown completely off and the boat is completely filled with water. I try to get in it anyway but obviously I can’t keep balance and the next wave just sends me flying to the next block of coral. This dance goes on for a while with me trying to maintain balance and get the water out.
I start crying out for help and waving my hand when I can. But the people on the beach can’t hear me at all. Hell, I can barely see them. I’m looking all around, halfway standing on the coral. I’m so worried for Christina, scared something also happened to her. I realize how alone I am, just stuck out in the ocean exhausted, and I know I’m bleeding so I’m worried about the tiger sharks that sometimes come to the area.
The sun has started to go down and I’m running out of time. I’ve lost my paddle and I’m pretty much just holding a boat full of water. In this moment, I realize that no one is coming to help me, and if I want to get out of this I’ll just have to figure it out. I believe in myself. I’m either going to get the water out of the boat or give up on it and just start swimming to shore. In a last ditch effort, I start scooping water out of the kayak with my hand. It’s slow but its working enough for me to think I’ll make it. One good wave will ruin any progress I make, but at this point the water seems calmer around me. I’m still constantly moving the boat around the waves that do come while grabbing the reef for support and scooping frantically when I can.
I get enough water out that I’m willing to try getting in, worried that when I do it will just flip and all that work will be for nothing. But this time it works, and I maintain balance. I can’t see my paddle anywhere so I just start to head for shore using my hands. Then I see the paddle. It’s far out of my way to the left, but I go get it anyways because I know I will have a much better chance with it. I grab the paddle no problem and start to head into shore.
Between the reef and the shore the water is calm, so I don’t stop and I head all the way to Kailua hoping to find Christina. I’m finally feeling safe-ish. It feels like the worst is over. Straight ahead of me now is an amazing sunset. The mountains are multilayered with shades of purple, and there are rays of golden light shining from the small space between the bottom of the clouds and the tops of the mountains. This scene is a gift and a blessing.
While I feel safe, all I can think about is Christina. So I hurry to shore, always keeping an eye behind me to see if she pops up. As I pull up to shore, there’s no sign of her. Worried, I ask a woman sitting on the beach if she’d seen a purple kayak. She had! Christina had just been there and was on her phone. I’m so relieved, as I know it’s finally over, and that we’ve both made it. I race to her aunt’s house just in time to find a search party preparing to head out to find me. It’s wonderful to see everyone’s face and feels so good to be standing on solid ground knowing that this dangerous situation was now behind me. Now we can laugh and share a good story.
Turned out to be a little more adventure than we’d asked for, but as Evan said, now we can share an awesome story. Plus, I just saw my Aunt Valerie last night for the first time in months, and the first thing she said: “Oh my gosh, look at those arms!” See, there are always positives. 💪😂
As always, keep on livin’ pura vida ✌