The sea turtle munched coral 10 feet below me. I had kicked my way into the channel where the reef separated. The calm surface of the water betrayed the omnipresent current heading out to the dark blue of the Pacific.
Located on north shore of the Hawaiian island of Kauai, Tunnels Beach is recognized as one of the best snorkeling spots the island. Palm trees line the shore of the crescent shaped bay, dense jungle and sharp mountain peaks paint the landscape behind them. Tunnels gets its name from the lava tubes that form the underwater caverns just offshore.
Oh yeah, it’s also the surf break where a 14-foot-long tiger shark ripped the left arm off of 13-year old Bethany Hamilton in 2003. Yes, that Bethany Hamilton. The one who’s story Hollywood made the movie “Soul Surfer” about. Two years before I flippered out to roughly the same spot.
Jenn and I were in Kauai for our ten year wedding anniversary. I cashed in airline miles earned over years of business travel to fly first class to the island. Jenn’s cousins, John and Amanda, gifted us their two bedroom condo at the edge of a bluff overlooking the ocean in Princeville.
We fully explored the island in our rented Jeep. We hiked Waimea Canyon. Took a sunset catamaran cruise along the Na Pali Coast. Took a short hike on the Kalalau Trail to Hanakāpīʻai Beach. Entered the Waikanaloa Wet Cave. Took surfing lessons with a local at Kealia Beach. Cooled off with copious amounts of shave ice. And took an epic tour of the island from above.
Jenn reserved our tour with Jack Harter Helicopters. Based on research I did before we left, I was adamant that we reserve a helicopter without doors, knowing this once in a lifetime opportunity to capture this magnificent island from above would be muddied by the plexiglass of the larger tour helicopters.
Which meant taking my first ever helicopter ride in a Hughes 500. Just me, Jenn, the pilot, and a lone backpacker along for the ride. I strapped into the five point harness. Thousands of dollars of camera equipment wrapped tightly around my wrist. Half an ass cheek hanging over the edge of the doorless aircraft out into the void.
Headsets on, the pilot gave the thumbs up and took off, the nose of the helicopter pointed to the ground as we left the solid confines of earth. Up we went. My fear subsided, despite the thousands of feet of empty air between my right ass cheek and terra firma. We banked sharply and flew into collapsed cone of an ancient volcano, the helicopter’s blades slicing frighteningly close to the Jurassic-looking walls. The pilot pointed the nose down, we picked up some speed, he banked again, and we shot out over the Na Pali coastline.
As we came around the island, I noticed the reef. It was where we snorkeled days before. I trained my camera on the blues and greens and shot away. No sharks to be seen from above.