A midsummer exploration of
O‘ahu's offshore meadows.
August 7, 2002 Honolulu Weekly
"All you’re going to see is a bunch of dead reef and no fish," a friend said when I told
him I was going to swim on the reef at Diamond Head.
"Where the reef is, the waves are," warned another friend, Kate, an avid swimmer who
prefers swimming in deeper water. "Plus, when it gets too shallow I always end up
cutting my feet."
It’s common to find people who prefer swimming outside the reef or on sandy
bottoms, rather than on the inside reefs. But what if you think of reef swimming instead
as cruising — or floating — across a meadow?
With this adventure in mind, my friend, Michael, and I drove to Diamond Head on a
partly cloudy, windy Wednesday morning. From Diamond Head Road, we could see that
a medium-size south swell was running. The outer reef was dotted with surfers and
boardsailers. Inside, the spent waves rippled across the shallows toward the beach. The
stretch of inner reef was calm and empty. The pale blue and green field — the reef —
The tide was middling and on its way up. We trudged down the path to the beach
where we donned fins and goggles. Our plan was to swim the reef from beneath the
lighthouse to Black Point. We jumped in and swam about 30 yards out to sea then headed
east toward Doris Duke’s house.
We were on a 2-to-3-feet-deep reef that looked kind of flat and dull. But the Diamond
Head reef is not, in fact, dead. Looking more closely, we found cauliflower coral and
lobe coral, and red, green and purple-colored algal growth. Wana stretched their spines
and surgeonfish darted about. Here comes a puffer, there goes a triggerfish.
We floated over a mat of tough brown limu stalks growing vertically in a thicket like a
crop. The stalks (genus Sargassum) bowed down and stood up with the passing suck and
surge of wavelets. The reef shallowed to 2 feet, a wave crashed on top of my head, and
everything was bubbles. We began to relax and let the water carry us, swaying like the
plants, on the reef.
The final stretch toward Black Point was a few feet deeper, and we could dive down
and check the fish hiding under coral heads and ledges. We saw uhu, wrasses and
colorful butterflyfish. Michael bothered an ugly brown eel. We got back to shore through
a sandy patch at Ka‘aläwai, in front of some houses tucked behind naupaka.
I was kind of disappointed the intimate journey was over — floating on a reef is
refreshing to the routine mind’s eye. Michael says it’s the shiny stuff that piques his
curiosity. He likes to look for things that aren’t supposed to be there — golf balls, money,
fishing lures, lead weights, surfboard fins — objects that tell human stories. He told me,
"That wasn’t a bad little swim. It was all right." He said this more than twice, so I guess
he meant it.
My sentiments exactly.