Catch Flights … and Maybe Some Feelings …

There’s a feeling. There’s definitely a feeling. You feel this feeling as soon as you step off the plane.

What I love about the Honolulu airport is that there are parts that are open air – you walk through the bustling terminals, not even glancing at where the other flights are headed because, well, you’re already in paradise, and you come to a long corridor with no windows, lined on either side by palm fronds and other vibrant greens, while the floral scent of Hawaii wafts all around. 

Actually, the last time I walked this corridor, it was nighttime. If you ask me, there’s nothing like arriving at a new (or old) destination in the dark – you meander through the airport, exhausted from basically trudging through airports and sitting in a confined tube with complete strangers, almost in a zombie-like state. Then, you finally make it outside, where you have to hail a cab or a bus to find your rental car or take you to your hotel, all the while the new scenery is obsconded in darkness. 

You don’t really get the lay of the land until you wake up. 

It’s almost like a dream. You go to sleep in darkness, wake up, and as soon as you walk out the door, you’re whisked away to somewhere completely exciting and unfamiliar – or familiar but just long missed.

It’s fresh, it’s invigorating, and it’s motivating. The first new day I wake up somewhere other than where I’m used to day in and day out, I just want to explore – whether it be new hidden gems or old stomping grounds I haven’t seen in a while.

When the dream’s over, you return to your zombie-like state so as to numb the pain of leaving, trudge back through the airports and endure the lines and people, and when you wake up again, you’re back home. 

Trust me, it was real. It happened. You have the pictures to prove it. And that floral-print muumuu you just had to buy.

Hawaii is different because although I’ve been a number of times, each time I go, it feels like the first time. It still feels new and exciting to me. I guess maybe that’s because I get there only every few years, if that. 

But that’s, in a way, what makes it that much more magical when I go there – the paradox of the blissful happiness upon landing and, in the back of your mind, the impending dolorous departure, always accompanied by tears (whether others know it or not – I generally try to hide my whining). 

I know I won’t be back for a while, so I make the most of every moment and experience each thing as though I had not experienced it before.

I think the last time I made it out there was one of my favorite times, really because it was without “adult” supervision – just my cousin and I, without our parents. Obviously, we were/are both adults, but nonetheless, it was liberating, in a sense. Don’t get me wrong, traveling with my family is great, and they’re fun and always willing to do adventurous things, but there’s just something about exploring and navigating the world without mom and dad – you feel like a real adult.

In any case, my cousin and I departed New York on a really cold, early morning right after Christmas. Another reason traveling feels like a dream – the disparity between the climates, if you’re traveling somewhere radically different from your home. We waved goodbye to the snow and ice and said aloha to the beach, the palm trees, and the warm sun. 

Having someone who lives out there is super convenient because not only do we not have to book a hotel (incurring extra expense), but also, we feel like locals, like we belong, going back to a house in a residential neighborhood with the rest of the locals rather than a hotel room in a tourist spot with all of the other tourists.

What I love about the Hawaiians is that they’re always eager and enthusiastic about teaching you their culture, their way of life, their spiritualism, and their ancient relatives who provided the foundation for who they are as a people. However, they are very protective and defensive of their culture and their land, and they stand at the ready to combat anyone who tries to desecrate or contaminate any part of what makes them who they are – who could blame them?

Us haoles come in and have the tendency to disrespect the things they take very seriously.

My aunt lived out there for 20-something years, married a Hawaiian, and therefore, two of my cousins are Hawaiian-bred. So the Hawaiians and their way of life mean a great deal to our family. And like I said, every time I go out to visit, I feel like it’s a new experience.

It definitely doesn’t get old to me. Waking up in the morning, looking outside and reminding myself that I’m still there, there’s definitely a comfortability that I develop, but I maintain my humility and remind myself how lucky I am – and pinch myself to make sure it really isn’t a dream.

I’m not really sure where to begin with my Hawaii travels, including the last time I was there, so my Hawaiian excursions are probably just going to come out in installments. One particular experience I think I would like to detail first is how I finally got out on the water to surf. Now, I had first tried it years ago when I went out with my parents, but I dabbled in it again on my most recent trip, though was unsuccessful at standing up. But I totally did it the first time I tried, I swear – beginner’s luck, I suppose. Honestly, it isn’t as difficult as I expected (if you’re staying on the small waves – clearly, I would not describe surfing Pipeline as “easy,” nor am I belittling the talent it takes to excel at this sport, but the baby waves at Waikiki provided a perfect environment for beginners). I can’t really say what I anticipated, but I remembered being surprised at not having too many difficulties. I think the hardest part was actually paddling the board a fair distance from the shore, as it was wide and heavy.

So I get out there, I’m with my Hawaiian-born cousin, who actually is a champion skimboarder, and we’re waiting for a baby swell to come through. It’s kind of like a rush of panic when you see the set rolling in, and I can’t help but imagine what it must be like for those big-wave surfers watching these 20-, 40-foot waves thundering toward them. And, of course, the fleeting thought of sharks circling my feet vulnerably dangling in the ocean, waiting to basically solidify my fate as an amputee for the rest of my life, crossed my mind, as well. 

A decent-size wave lolls across the ocean, and I begin to paddle. Literally nothing else is going through my mind at the moment but paddling and moving my arms as fast as possible. The wave catches up to me. I feel it’s driving force propelling my board forward. The board stabilizes, and I do a push-up to get myself standing. I look to my right and see Diamond Head looming over the ocean, guarding the island like a ghost and it’s ancient past. I look straight and see the beach and the people littered across the sand. 

It was surreal. It didn’t feel like multiple moments but rather one dot, one, singular, rushing, adrenaline-fueled moment that left as soon as it came.

I’m literally surfing. Like, actively. Like, the verb, surfing. “Ing.” Me. I was standing on a board in Waikiki and surfing in the Pacific Ocean.

It happened so quickly, and I sort of panicked and began to overthink what I was doing (a product of anxiety), which is basically when I kneeled down and sort of hobbled off the board into the water. I remember as I sunk down, slipping slowly into the water and being enveloped by the warm-cooling, almost comfortable and soft, Pacific, I could touch the bottom, as we weren’t really too far out. The wave had essentially dissipated, and I faced the reality of what had just happened. 

It was definitely an amazing experience; obviously, I’m not good, but the feeling that accompanied having just actually, literally, surfed was extraordinary. 

Paddle-boarding was super hokey after this.

Then came the celebration with shave ice on the beach while watching my parents hilariously make their surfing attempt. I gotta give them credit, though, for trying. Like I said, my family is definitely fun to travel with. Their gallant attempt, however, was fruitless – basically, they didn’t stand up at all and kind of just paddled around for a while. It was entertaining, and I laughed the haughty laugh of someone who was able to say, “Well I was able to stand up.” 

My pride, unfortunately, diminished the next time I tried it – I was so close to standing but didn’t feel it was stable enough and basically let the wave push me closer to shore as I just laid there on the board. One of the instructors who was out there with someone else yelled out, “Stand up!” but I was like, “Nope. This isn’t happening.” I was disappointed in myself but vowed to go out again the next time I visited to reclaim my pride. I left it somewhere out there in the ocean, and the only way to get it back is to paddle back out and grab it.

Can’t get too cocky; the ocean will remind you very quickly that it owns you.

I don’t know. There’s definitely a feeling. A feeling I can’t quite put my finger on, even after all these years. What is it? Maybe it’s the island air, or the angle of the sun, or the tropical climate, or the vivacious colors of the flowers, or the pervasive salt smell of the ocean – I’ve been other warm, tropical places, but they don’t have the same feeling. 

Magic? The spirit of the ancient Hawaiians? Must be the spirituality. Has to be. It’s as if everything is steeped in rich culture, bold heritage, and ancient spirituality. I mean, honestly, look toward the verdurous mountains and tell me they aren’t majestic, in more ways than one.


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