Waikiki Beach hardly seems like the place one comes for a little rest and relaxation, but after the craziness that was the previous nine days driving all over the Big Island and the North Shore of Oahu, we were stoked to check in and chill out. We stayed at the new Hotel Renew, which is a quiet, sophisticated boutique hotel located just one block from Waikiki. Everything about this hotel was perfect: The rooms were really nice, and the location was so central and convenient yet tucked away off the beach so the remnants of late night partying on Waikiki don’t keep you up if you’re lame like us and prefer to be back in your room by 10pm. I’m not lying either when I say that Renew has the most luxurious beds I’ve ever had the pleasure of sleeping in. SVV and I were those guests who stripped the bed down to the mattress to find out who made it!
There was a great complimentary breakfast bar each morning and an even greater happy hour every afternoon. My friend Nancy, who I met when I first moved to San Francisco and who lives in Honolulu now, met us over at the Renew bar with her husband and pup Buddy for some mai tais. And the best part: Rooms start as little as $130. I just finished a Redbook road trips story highlighting 27 cities on the mainland, and let me tell you, there was rarely a city—even places like Dallas—where I could find hotels under $200 to feature. So $130 in prime real estate in Oahu is a steal. Also, there were these totally trippy mirrors in the bathroom that did weird things with your eyeballs; we were obsessed.
We are coming to KILL you in our sleep! Bwahahaha!
The first morning we woke up in Honolulu, we headed to the Marriott on the next block where the office of Aqua Zone was located. We hadn’t been diving once in the week and a half we’d been in Hawaii; it was time to remedy that.
I’ve always been diving in remote places—Borneo, the Great Barrier Reef, the Cook Islands, a number of Caribbean locales—so taking a boat from the center of Honolulu just a couple hundred feet off shore to the dive site felt funny to me. Actually, it was the first time either of us had done any “city diving.” Kind of cool, as you could see all of Honolulu when you surfaced.
After doing my big step off of the stern of the boat, I looked down and was hypnotized by the deep blue void that seemed to stretch forever below me. I’ve gone diving in more than a dozen countries, and I’m forever blown away by how different the color of the same ocean can be from country to country. You know how Hawaii has this special kind of shimmering, glass-like water that looks like it was extracted directly from a gemstone when you’re gazing at it from above the surface? Well, that’s even further enhanced from below.
We began to descend the 100 feet to the wreck, slowly and holding onto a rope as the current was strong. SVV and I reached the bottom and started to flit in and out of the ship’s many compartments. Wreck dives are our favorite. I can’t help but feel like Ariel every time I’m exploring one!
We spotted a turtle, and I began to follow it around the bow of the wreck. That’s when everything went awry.
Not being one to miss a second floating alongside one of my favorite creatures, I drifted upward with him (her?) as I snapped his (her?) photo. Then, without warning or reason, I got sucked into a current and started shooting to the surface! In my 100+ dives, this has never happened. Before the dive, I was a bit afraid I wasn’t properly weighted—if you don’t dive, I should add here that you wear a weight belt with a varying amount of weights (usually, for me, anywhere from 8 to 12 pounds) depending on the water and its salt content—and the current was so strong, I felt like an astronaut who was getting pulled out to the far reaches of Outer Space.
I honestly had no idea what was happening: I was kicking as hard as I could downward, waving my arms like a frantic chicken and dumping my BC, but the bubbles were covering my face so thickly, I couldn’t see a thing.
This wasn’t actually a photo of me shooting to the surface, but it’s a lot like I felt I probably looked as it happened.
Next thing I knew, I was on the surface. I went 100 feet in a matter of seconds. And being me (i.e. paranoid, a hypochondriac, a drama queen), my immediate thought was, “oh no! I’ve definitely got the bends. I’m going to have to face my worst fear: death…or, even worse, the compression chamber of doom!” (I didn’t. I was totally fine. Not so much as a headache. Though definitely not a safe way to ascend and definitely not recommended.) SVV, being the concerned husband that he is, watched me drift away then decompressed properly and joined me on the surface.
When the divemaster surfaced 10 minutes later with the rest of the group, he was really cool about it. More anal dive shops would have chastised me (even though it was not on purpose), and I would have definitely gotten a scolding and my hand slapped. But the guys at Aqua Zone were so laid back and accommodating. “You OK, Astro Girl?” he asked. “You need more weight after all, eh?” And that was it. Nice dude. He reminded me of the human version of Spike the surfing turtle from Finding Nemo; at the very least, he could have easily voiced the character.
But that didn’t distract from the fact that I was sufficiently freaked out. You see, diving is a very dangerous sport (duh). You’re made to go through safety classes, equipment checks and refreshers for a reason. I always plugged my ears during the sessions that talked about getting air bubbles in your bloodstream and worse, as I’m about as squeamish as they come. I do know that one little error can be the cause of a lung expansion injury. I’d always been so careful before, and I was pissed at myself for looking like such a rookie surrounded by a handful of experienced divers.
The thing about diving—and anything in life really—is that when you have a bad experience, the best thing to do is get out there and do it again. When I got sucked through a narrow, rocky channel in the middle of a cyclone in the Cook Islands into a den of black tip sharks, it was a good thing it was the first dive and we were just three people on a zodiac in the middle of the sea; I was forced to go out and do the second dive of the morning. In each situation, the getting back in the water and getting over the fear that such a traumatizing event could occur again was crucial to my future in the sport. Had I just gone back to my hotel on either occurrence, I’m pretty convinced I would have never gathered the nerve to dive again.
And, naturally, the second dive was totally fine—a walk in the park. It was shallower (40 feet) and a drift dive so we floated with the current (instead of getting sucked upward). The water was pretty murky, but there were so many turtles. And you know I love me some turtles. These guys were massive; I swear, some of them were as long as me (5’6″)!
I’m just happy my dive time in Oahu ended on a high note and that I didn’t let one minor mishap taint the whole experience.