A Soar Spot
We finished our breakfast of bacon, eggs, toast, muffins and fruit. It was a pretty solid breakfast, but you couldn’t get much further from traditional “Hawaiian” fare unless you were eating muesli, kippered herring with maybe a borsch slushy on the side. After breakfast, the girls wanted to go for a dip in the pool and I wanted to go for a drive. I’d booked a glider flight with Honolulu Soaring for 10 a.m. at Dillingham airfield which was 15 miles away on the northern tip of the island. I’d pitched the idea to the ladies but none of them felt that adventurous so I thought I’d check out the North Shore in the early light of morn enroute to the airfield. It was 80 degrees and sunny with a hint of a breeze. I rolled the top down on the Mustang and headed out.
As-soar-ted Sites on a Morning Drive
The house was perched on Pupukea ridge and once outside the residential area, Pupukea Drive turned into an audacious switchback that sliced its way down the almost vertical 350 foot drop from the ridge to the base of the cliff. After that it was a gentle incline to Foodland. I was too intent in trying to stay on the road rather than rubberneck and risk taking a more vertical path in rolling the car down the hillside. Aside from catching glances of the Pacific on my left and dense, verdant vegetation on both sides, what stood out in my mind was the “falling rocks” sign I’d passed at the top of the ridge. The switchback had an incredibly sharp turn that would have challenged a unicycle before the grade once again became kinder. I made it to the intersection next to Foodland without the acquaintance of igneous rock to my noggin from above. I took a left on to the Kamehameha Highway (henceforth referred to as the Kam Highway. It’s not that I’m too lazy to add the extra letters, it’s just easier to read. Okay… it’s also because I am too lazy to add the extra letters.).
It was literally night and day in comparison from our drive the night before and the view under Earth’s yellow sun was spectacular. Associating the word “highway” with the Kamehameha is akin to calling Hunter River, Prince Edward Island a burgeoning metropolis. It’s not going to “burgeon” much beyond its current population of 300 or so and with that fact the “metropolis” part becomes self-explanatory. The Kam Highway is a cramped, two lane road encroached upon by vegetation, fences and… well, of course chickens. When the words “Kamehameha” and “Highway” collide in the same sentence it becomes an existential paradox given my experience of highways. That being said, it’s also one of the most beautiful drives in respect to scenery I’ve ever encountered. However, be prepared. When traffic is heavy during big wave season, you get to look at that scenery for a very, very long time from a whole lot of different perspectives as you move 12 feet, then stop for 12 minutes. Not much traffic this morning though.
Initially, I only caught glimpses of the Pacific Ocean through the thick greenery, gigantic ferns and the treeline of palm and other deciduous varieties of tree. That changed when the highway took a sharp left and Waimea Bay exploded into view. I’d seen pictures of Hawaii and always thought they’d been airbrushed to make the colors more vivid. I couldn’t have been more wrong. The bay itself was a bold, rich turquoise and this provided a harmonious counterpoint to the brilliant buttery yellow of the sun-drenched sand of the beach itself. For me, it was hypnotic and when the sun was shining it drew my eyes every time I passed that week. While I didn’t go off the road, I was drawn to rubberneck the view like a leashed dog passing a hydrant. I’ve yet to see a picture that captures that vivid contrast.
As Waimea fell behind the vegetation grew sparse for large stretches on the seaward side and I could see the breaking whitecaps of the Pacific surf rolling in. In the distance, the Waianae Range shimmered golden green in the early morning light, cut with deep shadows by the vertical couloirs breaking up the symmetry of the range; wrinkles in its primordial face. It wasn’t long before I arrived at Haleiwa Town, which is the focal point for the Mecca of surf that is the North Shore of Oahu.
I made the turn into Haleiwa and passed a rather large park on the ocean side in which palm trees lined the sea wall like street lights. I could see the harbour and marinas a short distance across the water. Passing a couple of surf shops I then crossed the Rainbow Bridge spanning the Anahula River. It was postcard picturesque but it left me wondering if the word “rainbow” had a different definition in Hawaii. I would have named it “White Bridge Yellowed with Age” which admittedly, isn’t nearly as sexy and maybe a tad too literal.
Haleiwa has one main road, and immediately after crossing the bridge I arrived at its one main intersection. I was now in downtown Haleiwa. There was a 76 gas station beside which is parked the Blue Water Shrimp truck. Food trucks are everywhere on the North Shore and apparently it’s mandatory to patronize one while visiting… but not for breakfast so I continued on my journey. Along the main strip are a number of colorful shops, some restaurants, a couple of strip malls and within three minutes, I was through Haleiwa and continued on to Dillingham.
Skirting Waialua via the Farrington Highway — which in terms of North Shore highways is as substantial as the Kam Highway – there were fields, mountains and trees on my left, fields and ocean on my right. Parachutes blossomed in the sky ahead. I hoped they weren’t jumping from gliders which had sub-standard maintenance. Fortunately, it turns out Dillingham airfield is shared by Honolulu Soaring and a number of skydiving companies. I parked the car and headed in to the office.
The North Shore from Above
I’d booked a 30 minute sight-seeing tour as I was over the 205 pound weight limit for the acrobatic flight. For some reason they’re apprehensive about flying 360 degree loops with the equivalent of a human refrigerator aboard the plane. Go figure. I had been up in gliders a few times in the past and it’s a gloriously pure flight experience so I was pretty excited.
It was mostly overcast by the time I boarded the plane, but still a balmy 80 F. My pilot was Big Don and at 6’5” I felt the nickname was appropriate. Unfortunately for me, his size mandated the front seat so I was in the less roomy and somewhat more visually restricted rear seat which would make video recording less than optimal. The glare on the canopy in the interior didn’t help much either. The tow plane raced down the runway and with a jerk we were on our way up to 2000 feet at which point Don released the towline and we were catching thermals, warm currents of air pushed up by the Waianae Mountains.
The mountains of Oahu are different than any I’d ever seen. They looked ancient and oddly unstable. They appeared to be comprised of pale greyish, ochre coloured stone and the mountainside was covered in patchy scrub and stunted trees. Very Planet of the Apes. Very Flintstones. They appeared frangible and crumbly. I wouldn’t be surprised to discover “Waianae” is Polynesian for “dried road apple.” We bumped upwards with each thermal updraft as we hugged the side of the Waianae mountains until we reached 3,000 feet, or “angels three” as it might be called in B grade WWII flick. I could make out walking trails up the side of the mountain and could see individual hikers as we blew by them.
Below stretched the airfield and there were huge ponds nearby which were obviously artificial. When I asked Don about them “shrimp farms,” was his response. White fingers of froth smeared across the aquamarine water close to shore, blemished with patchy deep blue shadows from coral formations. The surf break appeared frozen like a frosty rime on blue stained glass from that height. Further out the colors bled into a rich cobalt blue. The only sound aside from our conversation was the wind rushing by the canopy.
Gliding over Dillingham Airfield on the North Shore – The Movie
BIg Don was very accommodating when I asked if we could do some hammerhead turn stalls after we leveled off at 3000 feet or so. He’d pitch the nose up and bleed off airspeed until we stopped moving and were hanging frozen in the air for a split second. In that moment, the five point harness bit into my shoulders as we experienced negative four g’s but what was really striking was the absolute, barren silence without even the sound of the wind. It’s somewhat unnerving coming out of a stall because suddenly the plane slides backwards for a moment, until Don yaws the craft on its axis until he’s pointed the nose straight at the ground then banked on the wingtip to reverse direction. At the bottom of the dive and we were pulling 6 g’s. It wasn’t my first experience with this maneuver so no change of underwear was required. We leveled off at around 2,000 feet, got back to the mountainside and rode the thermal escalator back up again.
We spent the next half hour climbing, stalling, and whipping around and all too soon we were lining up the runway for the approach. Swooping down, there was the tiniest of bumps and it was over. For me, gliding is the most exhilarating roller coast ride I’ve ever experienced.
We deplaned and then there was post flight euphoria where one exults over the experience… but you don’t want to exult too hard. One must always be conscious of the exultation principle whereby the correlation between expectation of the sum of the tip increases proportionally to the amount of enthusiasm demonstrated by the client. So I feigned indifference and left. I’m kidding! I always tip well… although from Don’s reaction I think I over-tipped. No matter, it was worth it to me. I climbed back into the Mustang and headed home for lunch. Joanne and I had surfing lessons booked for the afternoon and I was ready and raring to go.
Next time on TTWTH: Haleiwa Surfing Lessons or “Surfer Down” in my case
Previously on TTWTH: Pupakea First Impressions: Sunrise