Into the Kai

Kai is the Hawaiian word for ocean; and whether you were born in Hawaii or are a haole (non Polynesian), you’re going to have a relationship with the kai when you are there. The stories I’m about to share with you offer some insights that might save someone’s life…and sometimes not. That’s just a fact.

In the Hawaiian Islands, each part of the coastline is unique to herself; and depending upon the time of year, month, and weather conditions, the kai will demand your undivided attention.

Story #1: Close Call

While fishing in a marina, tied to one of the docks in a little two-seater boat, waiting for the poles to wiggle from a possible fish, a million dollar plus yacht was tied in its slip about four slips over. At some point, we glanced over to find that a toddler had worked her way down the steps to the ocean. She reached out with her left arm to advance and slipped into the water. The person with me immediately dove in, disappearing under the water for the longest time. He finally appeared with one live baby girl who got the chance to live another day. The baby girl was returned to her mother, and their lives continued.

Story #2: Surfer Girl

I’m currently living on a sailboat in a marina in Oahu. Just beyond the marina is one of the many places you’ll find surfers connecting with and enjoying life in the kai. A young girl, about 11 years old, walked past me on the boardwalk to the jetty with her surfboard tucked under her arm to get in a sunset hour of surfing.

At the end of the jetty, with waves crashing against the rocks, she had to depend on her timing and balance to leap off the rocks onto her board and paddle out past the reef and past the breaking waves to enjoy her zone. I could feel her confidence, the pure power of her being; and it was simply amazing. 

I watched this young girl cutting waves like she owned them, over and over again for just over an hour. She returned back to the point where she first jumped off the rocks and climbed up the jetty with her board back under her arm. You could clearly see she’d had a personal experience out there in the kai. At 11 years old, she had became one with the sea, her young life fully connected with it.

Story #3: Beware of “Sneaker” Waves

Two men from out of town were fishing on a finger of rocks in the kai. A large swell—much higher than what they had already experienced—towered over them. As the wave retreated, one of the men stood up. Everything was gone. Sadly, only one person went home that day.

Story #4: Never Turn Your Back to the Kai

A family was visiting the island. The grandmother, mother, and daughter decided to get photos of themselves by the ocean, minus the men. As the men were stepping away, they turned, only to witness their female family members being swept out to the kai, never to be found.

Story #5: Give Your Full Attention to the Kai

A child's mother was sitting on the beach, texting on her phone. She did not notice in time that her child was about to drown…but it happened—just that fast.

Story #6: Don’t Underestimate the Power of Rogue Waves

While at Oahu’s North Shore, a powerful rouge wave was coming in at a high rate of speed. The lifeguard called out over the PA system for everyone to get up and move back from the beach immediately! Standing at the beach’s edge, I couldn’t see what the lifeguard was talking about. The lifeguard’s speech quickened, and his words became more urgent. I tossed my camera gear into my bag and started heading toward his voice. As I looked around, I noticed people getting their phone cameras ready and not moving away. The lifeguard then said waves like that could break your back and kill you. NOW, RUN! To my right was a woman ready with her phone camera. It was then that I tucked her 5- or 6-year-old daughter under my arm and ran to safety as quickly as I could in the deep sand. The wave came rushing in, just as the lifeguard had warned. I turned and witnessed people caught twenty plus feet high up in the middle of the wave like they were stuck on wallpaper. Then I heard the explosive sound of the wave crashing ashore. The child’s mother had been captured by part of the wave. Yelling that I had her child, the lifeguard came to the steps to protect me from her outrage at my “kidnapping.” I was just happy that her child got to live another day.


Here’s something I feel is important, and I want you to take notice. Some of us who have grown up with the kai have a learned awareness, not only of her beauty, but also her raw power and her hidden dangers. Without experience, we can watch people surfing, swimming, diving, or just playing in the kai and may only see the ease of it all. However, we don’t know what knowledge and experience each of them have acquired. So it’s easy to be fooled into thinking we can do it, too, even without their knowledge and experience because they make it all look so inviting and easy that we want to jump in to participate, too—a dangerous and potentially fatal decision for novices.

I’ve never heard anyone anywhere say, “ They’re overly protecting themselves.” So consider the following safety recommendations.

Know these facts:
🔹You can sweat underwater.
🔹You need to drink water as if you’re on a serious hike.
🔹Your brain will fool you. For example: If you’re snorkeling, your water side will feel cool, while your back, head, and body are cooking and causing sunstroke or maybe a heart attack.
🔹If you’re snorkeling and breathing with your face underwater, exhale first before taking in the next breath, so as to avoid accidentally breathing in water.
🔹Some of the newer snorkel masks do not allow you to expel enough of your old air, which can cause a buildup of carbon dioxide, leading to unconsciousness.

Consider bringing with you:
🔹Bottled drinking water; you can freeze some of them.
🔹Clothing to protect your skin from ultraviolet radiation.
🔹Sunscreen protection for sun exposed skin.
🔹Umbrella so you can create your own shade.

Safety considerations:
🔹If you start feeling that something is beyond you, then don’t do it. Your safety counts on you knowing yourself and your environment around you. If you’re starting to flinch, then it’s time to question yourself and maybe have your adventure on another day.
🔹Know where you are, tell someone where you are, and have a list of your emergency contacts.
🔹Stay within your comfort level at all times, and enjoy your life another day. After all, how else will you be able to share your stories?

I’ll leave you with this. Although we must always respect the raw power and hidden dangers of the kai, she is also one of the greatest wonders on this earth, She continues to elicit from us a sense of awe and connection with life. To witness the beauty of a sunrise or sunset or the moon glimmering off the kai touches our souls. Observing her endless waves crashing ashore is exciting, yet somehow calming, too, as she infuses us with a sense of her rhythms and her timelessness.

Derek Wolf

Herbs for Comfort
Income Blogger School

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